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April 28, 2020 Marketing Automation for Associations Sergio Garcia - Marketing Manager

Marketing Automation for Associations

It’s been a over a month since social distancing has caused most of society to stay indoors. The pandemic continues, we've all probably watched most of Netflix by now, eaten way too much, and organizations around the world are doing everything they can to provide value for their professional community during these challenging times.  


As society adapts to engaging digitally for a variety of needs, associations need to figure out how to best navigate these waters to create good outcomes.  

The Strategic and Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Associations, a report published last month by Association Laboratory, Inc., highlights a shift from traditional membership models to more digital ones.   

The data shows that the industry is heading in this direction with 57% of association leaders saying they are expanding investment in online education, 52% are looking into virtual conferences, and 62% plan on shifting content to a digital platform. 

Organizations have been moving to more digital solutions in recent years, but the pandemic has sped up the process. 

Establishing high-quality online experiences for your community should include leveraging marketing automation. You’ll be able to engage your community at scale, while creating highly personalized messaging with targeted content. 

In 2018, Higher Logic surveyed membership, marketing, and communications professionals at 200 associations about marketing automation usage. According to the report, respondents who use automation said their top goals were: 

With association leaders increasing investment in digital systems, you can expect more and more associations to use marketing automation to influence these goals. 

Marketing Automation for Associations  

Marketing automation for associations is about more than just setting up workflows to nurture leads. Effective automation enables you to share relevant information with specific segments of your target audience at scale - without having to manually send out follow-up emails. 

The more you’re able to segment prospects, the more you can tailor information, content, and messaging for them — which can significantly improve conversion rates.  

Member Segmentation 

The foundation for creating targeted, personalized experiences for members is understanding what they want and what they're interested in. 

It's likely your organization's marketing team has data that helps them understand what content and messaging drives engagement. However, in many cases, they can’t get key member insights easily thanks to a common issue that plagues associations - silos.    

Set up workflows to organize data that trigger according to rules set by you. These workflows should continuously and automatically refresh segments as contacts meet criteria you set. 

You can outline segments through unique data points: 

  • Contacts who engaged with a certain amount of emails   
  • Viewed specific pages on your website   
  • Clicked on specific CTA's
  • Contacts from certain States or regions    

There are numerous ways to segment your members and/or prospects which allows you to create hyper personalized campaigns.

Once you've established various relevant segments, consider the following:  

  • Should you add specific segments to other ongoing campaigns? (e.g. newsletters, content campaigns, relevant virtual events) 
  • Should you launch a lead scoring campaign to track engagement for this segment?
  • Can you identify new and unique content ideas relevant to this segment?

Marketing Automation for Prospective Members

Chances are you already have some level of marketing automation in your strategy. But, there’s always room to optimize the member experience through segmentation.

Let’s consider some unique ways you can segment your prospects: 

  • New prospective members 
  • Long-term prospects 
  • Unresponsive prospects

The common theme is they’re all leads but segmenting your prospects like this allows you to personalize your messaging based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.  

For example, with new prospects – someone who may have just submitted their email to download content on your website. 

  • Email 1 – the Thank You email — An email sent to the contact thanking them for downloading your content. You can include CTA’s to additional content with them. 
  • email 2 – An email that shares similar content — In this email you can share content that is similar to what they previously downloaded while also highlighting the benefits of joining your association. 
  • Email 3 – Subscribe to your newsletter — If they clicked through to the content you previously shared in the last email, it should trigger an automated email inviting them to subscribe to your association’s newsletter. 

Once they’ve subscribed to your newsletter you can continue to move them through workflows that send them more messaging and content that is relevant to their lifecycle stage – until they eventually convert. 

Over the years there has been so much content that covers how to nurture leads and drive conversion. For the purposes of current global circumstances, I’ll focus on how marketing automation for associations can be used to increase member retention and provide high-quality member experiences. 

Member Retention 

If your organization has an AMS platform, chances are you have an automated dues notification system tailored to your renewal process. In an ideal world, all your members click the renewal link and immediately renew their membership.  

However, in reality some may click through to the renewal page and then drop out. Marketing automation provides insights into this type of behavior and enables you to create workflows that will help increase renewal rates. 

You can create tailored messages for members who abandon the renewal page by offering some additional incentive or other benefits to encourage them to renew. 

Welcoming New Members

Chances are you already have some sort of automated messaging that goes out to new members. However, when you leverage data effectively, automation opens the door to create a comprehensive welcome campaign that goes beyond a one off email. At the heart of effective automation is data and segmentation.  

Consider different types of messaging and resources you can share in a welcome campaign if you segment your membership based on multiple data points – did they create a profile? Have they completed their member profile? What type of content did they engage with when they were a lead? What sort of events might be most relevant to their professional profile? 

Leveraging this type of data, you can tailor a full welcome campaign with multiple emails that shares highly relevant content and information. 

  • A welcome email with onboarding info
  • Resources for new members 
  • Current volunteering opportunities if relevant
  • Invitations to participate in training programs or attend virtual events 

Providing highly personalized communication from the beginning of their member experience will go a long way in helping boost your conversion rates, which is more important now than ever.  

Virtual Event Promotion 

Virtual events have been a hot topic during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, recent research in an article published by National Geographic has found that people are experiencing “Zoom exhaustion”.  

This stems from the fact that people also rely on non-verbal cues to process information – which is much harder to recognize in video calls. This taxes the brain and gets exhausting when we have so many video calls during the day now. 

Amid all the virtual events and webinars your members are being flooded with daily, getting them to register for and attend your organization’s event might prove challenging. Never fear, marketing automation is here. 

Set up an email campaign in advance — promotions, reminders, and follow-ups — and add workflows to automate tasks to provide a seamless, intuitive, and engaging experience for your members that will encourage them to put your virtual event at the top of their list:  

  • Send a confirmation email 
  • Contacts' activity log gets updated based on event registration/attendance
  • Registered contacts get added to a reminder series
  • Registered contacts get added to the post-event campaign  
  • Engagement scores for registrants and attendees get updated   
  • Registrants and attendees get added to a promotional campaign for your next event  

A key thing to remember is that these tasks and workflows are not exclusive to one specific activity. Workflows created for members who abandon the membership renewal page can be tweaked and applied to your event registration page.

This can help recover a portion of contacts who make it to the registration page for your virtual event, but do not register. 

Member Engagement Scoring

Segmenting your audience is just one element of your organization's overall growth - it informs who is interested in what content. 

The other side of the coin is member engagement - this informs to what degree segments of your community is interested. Enter engagement scoring! This system allows you to profile your ideal member and identify which are most likely to become brand ambassadors. 

You can accomplish this by identifying which types of member activities are most valued, and add a given number of points to those activities. The points will then be tallied and added to a member’s score. Here’s some examples: 

  • Click a link in a newsletter (5 points) 
  • Downloads a set amount of content (10 points) 
  • Registers for multiple webinars (20 points) 
  • Attended your virtual conference (30 points)

Engagement scores will give you insight into when it's a potentially a good time to act on a high score - like adding high scoring members to new workflows or reach out to see if they’ll be willing to provide a testimonial, a review, etc.  

In the age of User-Generated Content, scoring can help you identify which members you can create content collaboration partnerships with. This insight can drive engagement for other activities like inviting them to participate in an Ask Me Anything session on a topic they frequently engage with. 

More Automation More Metrics 

One of the key benefits of marketing automation (besides having 24/7 seamless and intuitive automated marketing that will wow your community) is the extremely valuable insights you’ll obtain. 

Before getting started with automated workflows, nail down some benchmarks for how your emails perform, conversion rates, and other metrics. With the volume of emails going out, over time you'll have enough results to measure how your metrics have changed since activating more workflows and using more segmentation.  

Don’t limit your reporting to traditional KPI’s like open rates, click rates, etc. There are automation-related metrics you should start tracking, such as which trigger criteria proves more effective than others at driving conversions. 

Final Thoughts 

Amid this global pandemic the world has changed. Even when countries slowly begin to reopen, things won’t go back to how they were. There will be a new “normal”. Many will still rely heavily on digital resources and marketing automation will help set up your organization for success in this new norm.  

Take the time now to audit your current automated workflows and identify ways to further optimize the member experience.