3 Best Practices Trade Associations Can Learn From Individual Organizations

trade associationsEmma FitzpatrickBy Emma Fitzpatrick

2015 has proven to be a rather moderate year of association growth, according to the “2015 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report.” Yet, one type of association continues its four-year winning streak.

Hybridization associations that combine company and individual memberships have more than doubled over the last four years, the new report states. And, fusing elements of individual organizations into trade associations remains an ever-growing trend.

While your trade association begins planning for 2016, incorporate these three best practices from individual organizations.

  1. Adapt a freemium model to leverage content and expand your audience

Trade associations have tons of valuable content, but many simply don’t know it’s there. To fix this, individual organizations are restructuring using the gaming industry’s successful freemium model. By providing some content for free, trade associations, too, can reach a broader audience.

CompTIA, an individual IT organization, proved that it works. By creating an open-access model for individuals, CompTIA added more than 50,000 members in one year. Prior, they had 2,000 member companies. The organization still offers premium membership, with more enticing content and workshops. After gaining new members’ trust, CompTIA hopes many will commit to their premier membership.

The downside of testing the freemium model in trade associations is members may not follow through with dues.

  1. Lower membership fees to foster and grow community

Each year, the average dues for basic membership in individual associations is $193 versus $673 for trade associations, found the latest Marketing General study.

Approximately 30 percent of association members cited not being able to justify membership costs with significant ROI as a reason for not renewing.

Trade association membership remains more expensive than individual organizations and just as hard to justify. To remedy, trade associations can lower dues to grow membership. Suddenly, your trade association becomes accessible to members who couldn’t financially afford it or felt intimidated.

For example, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) launched monthly due rates of $39 in July 2015. New member sign-ups rose 60 percent, Web traffic increased 40 percent and sales were up 10 percent, compared to the same period last year. Once the ACCA shows new members their value, they hope to retain them long-term.

One of the cons of lowering membership is some members may actually feel less prone to invite others. For some, the fun and allure of trade association membership is its exclusiveness.

  1. Promote the importance of the individual

With the rise of social media, people value their individuality more than ever. And they expect you, as a trade association, to do the same. One-size-fits-all trade associations no longer thrive as customer-centric brands become the new norm. Individual organizations presently dominate that market space.

Another ACCA example – the association tweaked their membership requirements to satisfy individuals. Formerly, members had to join both the national and local chapter.  Redundant, the ACCA phased this out. Instead, members could join either, resulting in a more intense dedication to the chapter the member chose.

Pick-and-choose, flexible memberships appeal to individuals who want to find the right plan for them. Trade associations can adapt multiple membership options to appeal and accommodate individual needs.

Also, try appreciating individual members in trade associations to engage and retain new members..

For example, the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) rolls out the red carpet treatment each time a company’s lead contact changes. The NADP expresses the value each lead contact brings while showing how the association can help the lead contact as well.



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