Association New Year’s Resolution: Honing Digital Marketing


As it does every year, Marketing General Inc. this summer released its 2019 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. For a decade now, MGI has surveyed membership organizations to study the tactics and strategies associations use to recruit, renew and engage members. As always, it was a comprehensive document exploring all angles of membership marketing. But as a digital agency, we at MultiView were obviously most interested in the digital aspects of the report.

Off the top, we see in the executive summary that uptake of digital recruitment marketing among associations is increasing. Year-over-year, the number of organizations calling it a preferred channel increased from 12% to 15%. MGI also noted that associations were increasingly using various paid digital platforms. A third of organizations said they increased budget for paid online digital marketing in the past year.

This lines up with previous research MultiView conducted this past year, which found 21% of associations planned to spend more money overall on digital marketing activities in 2019 than in 2018.

Facebook remains a key player in these digital efforts. Sixty-eight percent of organizations told MGI that Facebook paid advertising was the most effective digital marketing tool for bringing in new members. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, LinkedIn trailed Facebook significantly in this area. Only 29% of associations named LinkedIn paid advertising as effective for recruiting new members. This could highlight an opportunity for association marketers, given LinkedIn is commonly recognized as the social network for professionals.

Organizations are using these digital platforms to push more than recruitment, though. In fact, online platforms were the most common method for marketing annual conferences and trade shows, with three-quarters of associations doing so. That was greater than the 68% that use the platforms for recruitment. About half of respondents use digital platforms to push professional development programs.

Of course, email – that steady champion of online communication – remains a vital tool for associations. Two-thirds of organizations claim to send up to 3 emails per week to members. Only 15% send more than five emails per week. The sweet spot, if you go by behavior, is two to three emails weekly. A quarter of orgs said they send two, with 20% claiming to send three per week. Personalization has been a trending directive in email marketing in recent years, but still barely more than half of associations (55%) use automation to send out personalized emails.

It’s too late to say our personal and professional lives are moving online. We’re already there. Yet digital marketing still represents a challenge to membership organizations. The aforementioned MultiView study found that 64% of associations said “lack of knowledge” was quite, very or extremely limiting to the success of their digital marketing.

In order to capitalize on the potential of digital marketing, membership organizations need to improve their institutional knowledge of it. Jumping into digital initiatives without relevant understanding will lead not only to lost ROI, but the likelihood that initiatives with promise are terminated before they can fulfill their objectives – labelled as failed tactics when in reality it was a failure of implementation.

Make it one of your New Year’s resolutions that 2020 is the year your organization hones its digital marketing acumen. There’s clearly plenty of room for improvement and the payoff will be well worth the investment.

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