Strong retention across a multigenerational membership base starts with an effective communications strategy.
Here’s what we know: Recent data shows associations are increasingly struggling to engage young professionals, effectively utilize technology to cut through the clutter, and clearly communicate membership value.
Here’s what else we know: You can reach and retain younger members by exceeding their expectations with a customized member experience that meets them where they are in their careers, and positions you to grow together.
Let’s explore 10 of the newest industry statistics revealing various association communication challenges, and thus, opportunities for strategic improvement.
10 Association Communications Stats + Membership Tips
Naylor’s 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking report is full of so many insightful nuggets that it’s worth reading the full assessment, but here we’ll cover 10 stats from the report:
#1. “For the seventh time in eight years, ‘information overload/cutting through the clutter’ weighed in as the No. 1 communication challenge for associations—more than two-thirds of respondents (70%) cited it as a “significant” challenge in 2019.”
Given the state of modern technology and content consumption, it comes as no surprise that this is an increasingly challenging aspect of association communications (especially as younger generations with advanced tech expectations emerge).
Plus, the two core challenges following #1 in the report—the “inability to communicate member benefits effectively" and "customizing for different member segments”—certainly play a role in information overload. If you aren’t customizing content for different segments (for example, new members vs. mid-career members), then you could be overloading your audience with content that simply doesn’t resonate with them. And by doing this, you aren’t communicating member benefits effectively, you’re showing them that you don’t know what they really need from your association.
Tip: Tap into tools that support the collection of comprehensive member data. This way, you can improve your association’s ability to customize and personalize outreach to different groups, ensuring you’re communicating the right member benefits to the right members at the right time. Without personalization, cutting through the clutter is only going to get more challenging for everyone.
#2. More than half (53%) of associations admit they have trouble engaging young professionals, up from 48% the previous year.
Increasingly tech-savvy young professionals are entering the workforce with advanced expectations and seeking professional development opportunities to propel their careers, but like all of us, they too are tasked with cutting through the clutter to find meaningful opportunities.
Tip: Implement membership elements younger prospective members favor, such as:
- Mentoring programs: When your older members retire, they take that industry knowledge out the door with them. Mentoring programs help support younger members while giving a sense of purpose to those older members looking to share their experiences. Maintaining a mentoring program can breathe life into your association’s value proposition while helping to address this challenge. Check out 11 Steps to Start a Successful Mentoring Program to get started.
- Mobile-friendly access: Mobile-friendly access to educational resources and membership benefits is important to younger members, who will want 24/7 access to your learning programs from whichever device they choose. Make it simple for your members to connect (on their terms) while providing a cohesive member experience.
- Customization: With customized communications, you can increase your chances of recruiting them as members and play a pivotal role in their growth while diversifying membership and working to future-proof your association.
#3. Nearly half say members have too many competing options for content, and only 1 in 4 (28%) feel their communications are well integrated.
We know. It’s a struggle, but it’s not going to get any less competitive. Executing an effective communications strategy starts with taking a step back to assess where your tech needs to change. Your systems should be working together for you, not against you, in an effort to streamline communications and processes across departments.
Your online community, AMS, CMS, marketing platform, and other tools should all be integrated and have the ability to talk to each other, passing data back and forth to make your strategy more robust and cohesive. This data helps you better understand your members, increasing the likelihood that your content delivery is relevant—an essential component of effectively breaking through the clutter to reach younger generations.
Tip: Integrate your communication tools and ensure that you and your team have a clear understanding of how to effectively use each of them to benefit your association’s members and achieve specific goals, such as personalized content delivery and improved web tracking.
#4. Although 3 in 5 (63%) believe they could improve member engagement by improving their ability to customize for different subgroups, not many are actually doing it.
Let’s get to the root problem - why aren’t associations doing this if they believe they could be successful? Is it because they just don’t want to? No, probably not. It’s probably due to other barriers (like the fact that customization can feel overwhelming without the right tools in place).
Our webinar, A Day in the Life of Your Member, can help you wrap your head around the concept of a personalized, customized member journey in a way that you might not have considered before.
Tip: Listen to this on-demand webinar to hear real-life examples of how associations use online community and marketing automation technology to create seamless communication across the entire member journey -- without extra work.
Let’s explore customization further in the next few stats (#5, #6, #7) and try to uncover the issue.
#5. 63% of respondents identified customizing member segments as a top challenge, up from 57% the previous year.
#6. Only 1 in 3 believe they are effectively leveraging their member database/AMS to deliver a customized member experience.
#7. 3 out of 5 say they need to better understand member needs, demographics, and goals.
What we can deduce from these stats is that some associations out there aren’t doing what they know they need to do and customizing outreach because, well, they feel increasingly challenged by it. And without a clear understanding of who your diverse members are, what they need, and where they’re going, how can you expect to effectively reach and retain them?
You can’t. You need to understand them if you want to better serve them. The good news for associations working to strategize is that customizing member segments is truly achievable and even time-saving with the right automated integrated tools in place. These are problems there are solutions for. You can use data signals from one platform to execute something in another platform and improve content relevancy.
For example, there are members in your online community who may be ideal candidates for a mentor/mentee relationship. You could automatically move those people into your marketing automation platform and target them with a customized series of emails gauging their interest in the program.
Tip: Education paves the way to understanding. Read our blog, Why You Should be Segmenting Your Members by Data, Rather than Type, for a better understanding of how to make member segmentation effectively work for your association and increase member engagement using customization.
On the plus side, many associations are working increasingly hard to customize member subgroups for more effective communication, even if it’s challenging. Where does yours stand?
Take a look at this graphic from page 11 of Naylor’s 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking report for data-backed insights on how associations are (or aren’t) customizing communications based on different member subgroups:
If you aren’t sure where your association stands or how different groups are engaging with your content, take some time to assess your processes and analyze how you’re collecting member data and measuring your impact. If you’re lacking in the process department, you aren’t alone…
#8. 1 in 3 (32%) of respondents say their organization has no process for measuring engagement.
If your association falls into this category, it’s time to get to work assessing the functionality of your tools and strategizing to get a process in place for measuring engagement. You should have a pulse on how engaged your member base is at all times, especially if you’re working to bolster it. Once again, it dials back to data.
Analyzing data from interactions within your online community and marketing automation tools can help you answer questions like:
- Who are your most active members?
- What types of communications are they more likely to open?
- How often are they interacting with each other in your online community?
- Which types of content are resonating best with younger members vs. more established ones?
Having a process in place to understand how these behavioral elements impact your association is critical to fostering long-term engagement. Not to mention, this data will help guide your decisions as strategize to improve your ability to meet member needs.
Tip: Check out Are You Prepared to Master the Engagement Economy?, a resource to help you learn more about the engagement economy (you’re in it!) and how to rise to the occasion and produce more targeted communications to sustain engagement and future growth.
#9. Only half have a department-specific or platform-specific content strategy, while 47% rely on a one-size-fits-all content strategy.
Based on everything we’ve discussed so far, this stat should make your head spin. A one-size-fits-all content strategy is unrealistic for associations hoping to use their content to support organizational goals like member engagement and retention.
While it might seem easier, it’s ineffective when trying to reach different member subgroups or generally improve the overall member experience.
For example, an email about an upcoming professional development opportunity might not resonate with members who are more advanced in their careers (making it clear your association doesn’t really know where they are in their member journey), while it could be exactly what a younger member was hoping to find. Either way, you’re not appealing to a percentage of the recipients, increasing the likelihood they won’t notice when you communicate something to them that is relevant, and won’t see the value in renewing.
One-size-fits-all strategies aren’t strategies at all. And if you pair this with a lack of understanding in your engagement metrics, you’re missing out on clear opportunities to appeal to different segments of your member base.
Tip: Use marketing automation to improve targeted communications. Check out this real example to learn how a targeted marketing plan increased one association’s education revenue by 32 percent, or $57,000.
#10. 50%+ said they would invest in the quality of their existing communication vehicles and improve their content strategy and curation if they got an unexpected 50% budget increase in their communication departments.
Ah, what to do now? Where to begin? Obviously an unexpected 50 percent budget increase is a dream that most associations won’t get to experience as reality, but the good news is that you don’t need more money to start really assessing the quality of your tools and improving your communications.
Tip: Invest time into really, truly understanding the capabilities of your existing communication vehicles and their member impact. Associations commonly underutilize the functionality of the tools in their tech stack, but a simple call to your provider asking for a refresh on best practices and some visibility into which aspects you might be underutilizing is a good place to start.
Future-Proof Your Association with Customized Communications
While it may seem like there’s a lot of work to be done, there’s also a lot of valuable resources out there to support associations like yours in improving your communications strategy and effectively reaching younger members and other subgroups. It all starts with understanding your tools so that you can better understand how to best serve your members.