Category Archives: Membership Recruitment & Retention

The Power of Storytelling to Communicate Your Message

Nothing stirs the imagination like a great story, making them the ideal tool to make your organization’s mission, message, and product benefits truly come to life. Whether you are a nonprofit making your cause resonate with donors and volunteers or a small business capturing the attention of potential customers and clients, stories paint the picture of your message in the most compelling way possible.

Many accountants, lawyers, and other service professionals use stories to show how their insights and advice make a difference in their clients’ lives. Rather than touting a product’s benefits in the usual traditional ways, creative businesses illustrate them with vivacious, humorous tales or powerful, touching stories. Hospitals share heartfelt, moving testimonials from patients of how their doctors saved their loved ones. Stories are spread in as many modes as possible including social media, ads, videos, podcasts, articles, seeking media coverage, and encouraging people to share them. Vivid, active images reinforce the message.

At my previous association we shared stories of how four young professionals in that industry made a difference in their communities and how membership in the organization helped them get it done. This unique next generation membership campaign met our dual goals of membership recruitment and retention while showcasing the incredible contributions these professionals were making in their field and to their communities.

Mark Howarth, founder of Invisible People TV, talks about the creative, high impact story telling strategies he uses to convey the real life challenges of homeless people  in the February Chronicle of Philanthropy Social Good podcast hosted by Michael Margolis, founder of the consultancy Get Storied, and nonprofit expert Allison Fine. Mark says in the podcast “we have to have a personal connection… When you look at a social crisis like homelessness you think, it’s too big, I can’t do anything about it…but if you…get to know that person, you [feel]… I’ve got to do something.”

How have you used stories to convey your message or convince  your customers or members  they should use your products or services?

 

Engaging the Next Generation while Remaining Relevant to Your Other Constituents

Are you making attracting and retaining the next generation a priority to sustain your organization and benefit from their fresh insights and ideas? Quite simply, they are the future. Which is why empowering and cultivating the next generation of leaders in your organization, association, industry is so vital.

Balance bar with steel ball on either side of itWhile appealing to and engaging younger people is the lifeblood of the future of the organization, balancing that with staying relevant and nurturing the rest of your customer/member base is also critical.  It is a delicate dance in a time of limited resources.

For example, many membership associations and nonprofits face the dilemma that the average age of their members and donors are now over 50 years old, making involving younger people more critical than ever. Yet budgets and staff time are also at their tightest and they worry that focusing on engaging young people will mean not paying sufficient attention to their core membership and donors.

Here are some quick tips and ideas that are working for a number of organizations:

Avoid making generalizations about the “next generation.” Take the time to find out the priorities, motivations, interests, and habits of the younger customers, members, or donors  in your audience. Which social media sites and online communities do they use for what purposes?

Conduct market research and have anecdotal conversations with younger and older people in the segments you want to reach. You may find they have common core needs and interests that will help define your messaging and services you might want to develop for them despite being in different ages ranges.

Look at your marketing materials and online presence – do the photos and graphics represent diversity including in range of ages? Are your main messages consistent with the needs and values of your most important younger and older customers/members?

Consider creating a mentoring program and/or online discussion group that give seasoned customers and members the opportunity to share their expertise and life experience with younger people. This can provide a meaningful experience and resource to both parties while involving them in your organization. Invite some key older and younger people to moderate the discussion group on your web site or a social media site like LinkedIn.

Seek other meaningful ways that customers, members, or donors in different age ranges and with different needs and interests can engage with your organization. Invite some articulate, insightful  young people to serve on your Board and key committees to ensure you get their input while making them feel valued.

Younger people expect respect and a seat at the table. They are not going to tolerate waiting 20 years to “earn” their place. Encourage their ideas, give them the opportunity to create a new program or service, or to host an in-person or online discussion panel. Ask them to serve on a task force to take a fresh look at a business line or program area.

Share success stories about accomplished young professionals or customers and how your organization or products/services helped them achieve their goals. Ask a few articulate, successful members or customers to serve as ambassadors for your organization, featuring them in articles, print and online ads, your web site, blog, and social media vehicles. Encourage them to share their stories as well and to ask their friends or colleagues to participate in your organization.

What have you found effective to engage the next generation while nurturing and sustaining your other key members, donors, or customers? What impact have you seen?

Using Social Media for Customer Service, HR, Operations and the Rest of Your Organization

Social media has grown way beyond being a marketing, public relations, and communications tool. At its heart the core of social media is connecting people, an ever evolving opportunity for people to engage, discuss, and share  perspectives, opinions, and information. So by definition social media impacts most aspects of an organization including product development, customer service, HR, and crisis management.

image of the world globe against digital backgroundAre you thinking through the best ways to use social media effectively throughout your organization to meet your goals and build community? Here are just a few examples of the many applications social media has across the organization:

Customer Service. Customers and potential customers are most likely discussing your products and services online, providing a constant virtual focus group. If customers do not get the service they want or something goes wrong with a product, they will be quick to share it online. Be sure to respond quickly and helpfully, remembering your response and the customer’s are in a very public forum.The positive is when you shine, you also may get complimented in that same public space. Obviously you want the positives to go viral, not to be a negative example used by social media experts for years to come (as happened with “United Breaks Guitars“).

This is all one more reason why most organizations want to have a strong presence on primary sites like facebook and twitter to provide outstanding customer service while also supporting their branding and messaging goals. Many organizations also encourage customer reviews on their own web sites getting the opportunity to address issues as they arise and get honest feedback about their products.

New Product Development. Listening to customers’ conversations on social media can provide invaluable input and pinpoint trends to help hone current products and services and get ideas for new ones. Innovative organizations have set up special web sites to invite customers to share new product ideas and vote on favorite ideas others have submitted, for example “My Starbucks Idea.” The sites often offer incentives such as potential prizes for winning ideas.

Crisis Planning and Management. The power of social media to build community and communicate makes it a critical interactive tool in a crisis. Messages can be communicated on the fly to the public and the media. Conversation on sites like facebook and google plus about ongoing issues can keep people up-to-date and get their questions answered.

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How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

How well do you really know your most important customers, members, clients, or donors? The more you know about your key audience segments, the better you will be able to develop successful products and services that meet their needs and use the language that resonates most with them.

Can you picture your typical customers, clients, donors, or members in your mind? Do you really understand their challenges, the problems that cause them the most stress? What motivates them, worries them, makes them happy? In response, do you offer products or services that solve their problems, make a difference in their lives?

blue puzzle with red piece representing the solutionIn addition to conducting whatever regular market research you can afford, take every opportunity you can to talk with your customers, clients, and members. Ask caring questions and listen carefully – not only do people love most of all to be listened to, but their answers can be the key to your success.

Use an ongoing combination of listening and engaging through one-on-one conversations and social media  as well as market research to form the best picture possible of your most important constituents. People are probably already discussing your organization through social media sites like twitter and facebook, are you monitoring those conversations to learn and interact?

Conversations and listening can help clarify and explore further trends you learn through market research, just be sure to seek out discussions with enough people to get a complete picture and avoid basing decisions on just a couple of customers’ insights.

Reflect regularly on what you are hearing and learning and how you can help solve your constituents’ problems and make a difference in their lives. What if your goal was to see your customer’s face light up whenever someone mentions your organization’s name? Imagine what a strong force of customer evangelists you would have. What would it take to make that happen?

The More Engaged Your Members Are, The More Likely They’ll Stay

Engaging members, donors, and customers in your organization and building a thriving community ensures strong relationships that go the distance. The more engaged and involved your members are, the higher your retention rate is likely to be. While this is the lifeblood of associations and  nonprofits, it is also true of many businesses.

Building a thriving, engaged community can be key to any organization’s success. Engaged, caring customers are more likely to be loyal to your organization – highly satisfied customers have less reason to look elsewhere. Price differentials (unless they are drastic) are less likely to matter if your customers or clients feel connected and valued, get the results and quality they expect, and have a superlative customer experience with your company.

Ladder going up an arrowAssociation experts often use a pyramid or ladder as a useful representation of levels of engagement, from the most common activities at the bottom (e.g. reading your newsletter, liking your Facebook page) to moderate level (buying a publication, attending your conference or a webinar) to  the highest value involvement at the top (Board member, corporate sponsor, or member champion who recruits many new members). It is critical to thoughtfully draw a ladder or pyramid of engagement that is unique to your organization.

Member engagement can take so many different forms. What does engagement look like for your organization, from the most casual to most intense levels?

What are your goals for engagement and what do the different levels really mean to you – from generating revenue to relationships to service to the organization? What does it mean for your customer or member – what value are they getting, what needs are being fulfilled?

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What Would Make Membership in Your Organization Recession-Proof?

Membership organizations have faced unprecedented challenges  in the last few years between the impact of the economy, massive changes to so many industry sectors and professions, and constantly evolving technology and ways of doing business. New  entrepreneurial membership web sites may enter your niche that offer online services that meet many of your members’ needs at a lower cost.

There is a sea change in people’s attitudes toward associations and other membership organizations. It is no longer a given for people to belong to a professional or trade association.

The bottom line – it is not about your organization, it is about your member or customer. What is in it for them?

What are the compelling reasons that people should belong – not because they are in this profession or business but because your organization gives them benefits that they cannot live without. Do you know what is important to your members and prospective members? What they need and want? What problems keep them up at night? How can you help solve them?

If your answers to these questions are based on historical answers, it is important to revisit them  through market research, listening to your constituents through social media and what they say when they contact your organization, and having regular conversations with members and prospective members in key segments. Take every opportunity you can to chat with people and listen carefully to what they care about. Ask questions about  how can we help you, how can we make a difference in your life and to your business?

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Are You Appealing to Your Customers’ Needs Or Your Own?

When you promote your organization, products, and services, do you emphasize how you deliver unique value based on your customers’ wants and needs…or do you list features that showcase your organization’s strengths?

graphic of plastic dart on targetIt’s the benefits vs. features issue. Superlative marketing features laser focus on benefits that appeal to your most important current or potential customer, member, or client segments. What do they need and want? What is most important to them?

The more you know about your audience, the better tuned in your marketing and product development will be.

It’s always tempting to list all the fabulous features you offer, but shopping lists aren’t compelling. How many products, services, or organizations offer the same things you do? What is unique that your customer needs that your brand delivers?

This is true whether you are a professional marketing your services, a small business promoting your products, or a nonprofit serving members, donors, and constituents. Membership organizations need to ensure you are delivering the services, programs, and benefits your members truly value so that even in tough times their membership is so compelling they can’t afford to leave. Nonprofits have the challenge of meeting your current and potential donors’ needs while ensuring your programs and services fulfill your mission and constituents’ needs.

Have you stepped back and looked at your marketing and branding lately to see if it really speaks to your customers’ and constituents’ needs rather than from your organization’s perspective?