Market Research: A Closer Look Into Who Your Association Members Are and What They Want


Each year associations are met with new challenges on how to best onboard new members, and with that brings a renewed focus on membership growth. In fact, according to MultiView’s latest partnership survey, 63 percent of respondents listed “growing membership” as their top goal for 2017. The second most popular response? Increasing member satisfaction with association benefits and services. Offering new and improved membership benefits is common practice among associations, but how can you truly know if the new product or service you’re offering actually benefits your members? Well, for starters, you need to know your audience.

Sure, you’ve analyzed your membership and subscriber lists until you’re blue in the face, but those really only give you a general sense of who your members are. Those email addresses won’t tell you much more than who is in school or who is a working professional. Set aside the fact that your members include professionals and students. Your members are also parents who struggle with making time to participate in association events and professionals who switch jobs every few years, but want continued access to professional development opportunities while in between jobs. Your members are so much more than the .edu or .gov attached to their email addresses. So, let’s take a closer look into the demographics of your membership, break down what they look for when joining an association, and discuss how you can adjust your recruiting and retention efforts based on those discoveries.

One things parents want at annual conferences

Of the nation’s 82.1 million families, 80.4 percent had at least one employed member in 2016, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report. Of those families, 34.2 million families included children under age 18, about two-fifths of all families. Numerous studies show that working parents are finding it hard to balance their careers and family lives. A writer for The Guardian’s blog “Academics Anonymous” recounted her first international conference trip in a decade and the limitations that arise for single parents who seek professional development opportunities. If your conferences are family-friendly, make sure your members are aware of this. Offering children’s registration for conferences is an easy way to bring that to parents’ attention. Here’s an account of a psychology conference that experimented by adding family-friendly elements to their event.

Professional development security for the job hopper

A good portion of your members will comprise of students, which will likely include millennials and Generation Zers (born in the mid-90s to early ‘00s). Regardless of their generation, most students have this desire in common: an opportunity for career growth. Moreover, according to a 2016 Gallup survey, 87 percent of millennials say professional development is important to them in a job. Here is where associations have the upper hand: an Adecco Staffing USA survey stated that 83 percent of today’s students believe that 3 years at the most is an appropriate amount of time to spend at a first job. Leaving a job may mean disruptions in professional development, but not if these students are getting that from associations.

The ROI of going mobile

Millennials, baby boomers, and both Generation X and Zers are all going online and are increasingly relying on technology to make their lives easier. Come registration time for conferences, there are still a number of associations that require registration forms to be printed and mailed in along with a check. From making purchases to keeping up with the news, people expect to accomplish this and more on their mobile devices. Associations need to be online and that means having a mobile-friendly website that allows members to sign up and pay for events.

A personalized membership package

The internet and social media have made it insanely easy for people to connect across the globe and to access information and expert insights that used to be accessible only through association memberships. Rather than treating the membership model as a one-size-fits-all approach to membership where all members receive the same benefits, associations should consider customizing it to fit the needs of various types of members.

Let’s use this example. Maggie, six months out of college, just snagged her first job. She’s looking for online professional development resources, but she doesn’t have a lot of discretionary income. If she had to choose between two associations, one that cost $190 annually that included all membership resources versus another association that provided an option where she could just view its webinars at $50 for a year, she would likely choose the latter. By providing similar options, associations could attract a wider audience who, whether limited by income or only need one or two member resources at that time, may go on to purchase the full cost of membership in the future.

These are but a few types of association members seen across all industries. Understanding who your members are will help shape what new products and services your association can provide that will help better meet the needs of today’s members.

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