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January 21, 2020 Association Marketing Trends for 2020 Sergio Garcia - Marketing Manager

Association Marketing Trends for 2020

It’s a new year! In fact, it’s a new decade! As we turn the chapter to the roaring 20’s of the 2000’s there’s more opportunity than ever for associations to attract new members, engage existing ones, and grow revenue.  

As technology advances and strategies evolve, the new year brings some unique new trends you should know about to help drive growth for your association. Here are the top 5 association marketing trends for 2020 you need to know. 

1. The Membership Flywheel

Of all the association marketing trends for 2020, there's a reason why I put this at the top of the list. For any organization aiming to drive growth in the 21st Century, chances are you’ve heard of the Marketing Funnel which traditionally looks something like this. 


The old reliable funnel has been a staple of marketing for years and has helped many organizations understand the modern approach to member acquisition. 

So, when Brian Halligan (CEO of Hubspot) started talking about rethinking the way to approach marketing, by retiring the funnel and adopting the flywheel, I felt my whole world unravel! 

For years the funnel has been the backbone for success with content creation, SEO, conversion, and so much more! Even as I write this, I’m playing “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith trying to come to terms with the end of my relationship with the funnel 😭.

But alas, as consumer behavior evolves so must we. You see, even though the funnel has helped drive significant growth by understanding how modern consumers discover brands; the reality is, for many organizations, the funnel loses momentum after the purchase stage. 

If you have any doubt, consider that a membership survey conducted by our partners in success, global publishing giant Wiley, found that

  • A whopping 40% of members don’t feel engaged by their association!

Why the Flywheel Works for Associations

Most association executives already know the saying - members are the lifeblood of your association.

While the funnel helps understand how potential members may discover your association, in reality it results in many organizations (and companies in general) treating customer conversion as a measurement, a result, the final step before restarting the funnel. Also, it does not truly reflect modern consumer behavior. 

We live in a world where YouTube videos of users reviewing new products has millions of views. Where influencers are a staple of marketing, and these influencers aren’t celebrities. They’re your average, everyday consumer. Discussion forums, like Reddit and Quora, show up in page one search results for queries like “Should I join the American Marketing Association”.   

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The internet has evolved into a consistent flow of limitless conversations happening across a plethora of channels and among more people than ever before.

This constant connectivity has changed how people navigate the decision to join an association. They turn to their networks for advice, they scour hashtags for your organization on social media, and they turn to discussion forums to get first-hand insights from existing and former members.

The funnel doesn’t truly reflect the significant role your membership now plays in driving member acquisition. Also, because it’s a linear model, it doesn’t represent the momentum your association garners from providing great member benefits and quality customer service. 

The flywheel brings these forces together. It reduces friction from your internal processes generating more momentum for faster growth. It revolves around, and is fueled by, the importance of the member experience. The “delight” stage powers the “attract” stage because how you treat your members affects what prospects hear about your association. 

How the Flywheel Works for Associations 

The principles of modern inbound marketing still apply, but the application has evolved:

Customers - It’s simple, your association grows when your members succeed. Every team/department should be aligned to minimize friction for your customers, maximizing momentum for your organization’s flywheel in the process.  

Attract - As an association, in order to get the flywheel spinning you first need to provide value before you extract value. Providing a diverse portfolio of free content through blogs, webinars, industry news, campaigns, social media, and more will go a long way in driving member acquisition. Not all of your content should be gated for members only. It’s important for prospects to get an idea of what type of benefits they’ll get if they join. 

Engage - It’s important for prospects to feel engaged with your organization as they gather information. This requires consistent communication, sharing resources/content, and strong personalization.  

Delight - When your members succeed so does your organization. How can your association help members achieve their goals? An example of this is that a global membership survey by Wiley found that 61% of members listed career development in the top 3 reasons for why they joined. Despite this, 42% of members said they aren’t satisfied with their association’s efforts to support their career development. These facts highlight a significant opportunity to optimize this stage of the flywheel and generate remarkable momentum.

The Flywheel framework is the foundation for all the association marketing trends for 2020. It's crucial to approach each trend with this concept in mind. 

2. Dynamic Content for Members

The demand for personalized experiences among consumers is at an all-time high. 

  • In 2019, 72% of consumers stated they only engage with marketing messages that are customized to their specific interests (SmarterHQ)

Associations are not immune to this consumer demand. As more and more businesses create hyper-personalized online experiences for their audience, it will become the new standard for association marketing. 

This trend will cause organizations to use dynamic content to provide value for their members. To put it in laymen’s terms, dynamic content is HTML content on your website, forms, landing pages, or emails that changes based on the viewer. 

As a member matches the criteria you set for your dynamic content (like industry, job title, or based on activity history), a variation of content will display that’s relevant to the profile information of that specific viewer. 

Dynamic content increases engagement and conversions by making the member experience relevant to a specific individual.

Implementing this trend reduces the amount of unnecessary information delivered to members, therefore eliminating friction and presenting users with the logical next step in their lifecycle process.

Most of the tools available for dynamic content don't require advanced data analytics capabilities. However, they usually require a well maintained and structured, centralized customer database. Therefore, dynamic content solutions oftentimes:

  • Are integral parts, extensions, or plugins of a CRM
  • Are connected to a CRM through an API
  • Assemble separate databases, which may or may not be integrated with a central CRM and collect user data on their own. 

With this strategy, when a member visits your association website they'll see career development content relevant to their job title/seniority, events near their city, and industry news based on articles they previously engaged with. 

It’s worth starting investment in dynamic content technologies and crafting a comprehensive strategy to maximize the benefits they can bring to your association. This will help to significantly boost engagement from your members and help to drive conversion from existing prospects. 

3. Position Zero for Associations

In my blog post SEO for Associations: How to Boost Traffic I outlined some significant changes Google has made to their algorithm. More specifically I spoke about the incredible impact the Featured Snippet has had on organic Click Through Rates (CTR) - decreasing organic CTR’s for the top organic search result by 20%

The Featured Snippet, also known as Position Zero, will play a crucial role in driving traffic and engagement for associations in 2020. 

In my SEO for Associations blog post, I also spoke about how Google’s BERTH update now enables the search engine to better understand the intent for search terms and deliver ultra-relevant pages and content accordingly.

The combination of the Featured Snippet with Google’s ability to populate highly relevant information, means users no long need to sift through all of the organic search results on page one to find the most relevant website for their search. 

For associations, this means if your website doesn’t own the Featured Snippet for specific keywords, you're losing traffic. 

You might be wondering what keywords/Featured Snippets should your organization be aiming to own?

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In the above image, the search query “the benefits of joining a medical association” returns a Featured Snippet currently owned by a company called CareCloud which is a software company. 

While it’s great that their blog post clearly promotes the benefits of medical professionals joining an association, wouldn’t it be better for say the American Medical Association if they owned the Featured Snippet for this search query?

In 2020, a variety of industry relevant companies, vendors, associations, etc. will compete for Position Zero. This will play a crucial role in driving traffic to your organization’s website impacting engagement and conversion in the process.

To learn step by step how to take ownership of the Featured Snippet for a specific search query, check out my blog SEO for Associations: How to Boost Traffic. 

4. Push Notifications

Your audience navigates life through a myriad of channels and content; social networks, search engines, messengers, email, blogs, podcasts, and much more. For any association trying to cut through the noise to drive engagement, you need to diversify the channels you utilize.

One alternative communication channel that is on the rise is the push notification. These are the small notification messages you get on your phone or when you open up your browser or a specific app. They are small messages that can reach audiences anywhere and anytime and are independent of websites.

Driving member engagement is a goal for most associations, and if you’re wondering how push notifications tie into the narrative, well, just consider these stats from a 2019 data analysis of over 50 billion push notifications from Sumo, PushPushGo:

  • At least twice as many people sign up for web push notifications compared to a newsletter 
  • Only 10% of the best email marketers can achieve a newsletter sign-up rate that matches the performance of web push. 
  • From 5% to 25% - the sign-up rate among site visitors for web push notifications 

Updates to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and stricter filters have limited the effectiveness and reach of email marketing. Additionally, younger members favor alternative methods of communication and prefer to deal with less touch points when engaging brands.

There are a few ways to use push notifications to boost engagement. 

  • The welcome message: Much like the first email you send to new members or new subscribers after signing up for your newsletter, these push notifications welcome members to your organization. These work especially well when you throw in added-value, like exclusive member content. 
  • Updates: Fresh content on the blog, the latest industry news, upcoming events, new courses available, etc. 
  • Reminders: Encourage members to pick up where they left off - nudge them to check out content similar to the type they’ve engaged with before. Register for the next event or webinar. 
  • Time-sensitive/urgent alerts: Delivered in real time, push notifications can display more urgency than the average email. Naturally, these work well for breaking industry news, updates to policy, deadlines, etc. 

Similar to email, there are some key best practices that will help your notifications cut through the noise. Segmenting your audience, personalizing the messaging, cadence and timing, all play an important role in effectively leveraging this channel. 

In a bid to engage members on multiple channels, more and more associations will adopt web push notifications in 2020. As the technology gets more sophisticated and personalized, push notifications will play a crucial role in driving engagement from your community. 

5. User-Generated Content (UGC)

Earlier, I shared the importance of evolving the marketing funnel into the flywheel to position your members at the core of fueling growth. To hammer that concept home, associations should look to user-generated content as a key trend in 2020. 

It’s a potent resource for helping associations who want to tap into the Millennial and Gen Z markets. You can encourage your audience to share unique content by offering them an incentive, such as a discount on dues for a limited time, or even partner with companies to bring attention to a good cause while creating brand awareness to a new market.

As I highlighted earlier, people turn to their peers now more than ever when navigating purchasing decisions. This is why your members, and customer success, should be at the core of your organization’s growth strategy.  

The great thing about UGC is its diversity. User-generated content can be as basic as blog comments and testimonials or it can take the form of guest blog posts, images and videos created by your members themselves. 

You can partner with highly engaged, satisfied members to create content and incentivize them with unique benefits. You can host contests to drive member action as well. Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

  • Ask members to be guest bloggers.
  • Host member Q&A sessions on Twitter where prospects can ask questions about membership.
  • Host a contest on Instagram asking members to submit pictures at an event or of a certain membership theme and tag you in order to enter.
  • Create educational videos featuring members who are experienced on certain topics.

attracting and retaining Gen Z members to your association