Membership is a “push” product. This means that prospects need to be pushed or encouraged to join. That is why direct response media like direct mail and email are the channels of choice to acquire new members.

But just like any tool, these channels can be used poorly or effectively. I have distilled some of the experiences that I have found in direct response membership marketing down into eight tips. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Begin each and every campaign by thinking creatively and asking “WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN JOINING?” Then search out lists that contain these potential members. Not taking the time to research and test mail and email lists is the single biggest mistake in membership recruitment. In any given outreach, the results from one list to the next can vary by 1,000%. Even if you primarily promote to an in-house prospect list, try some direct response rental lists and compare results. You may be very surprised at the results from tapping into a new file of prospective members. Some of the best outside lists to test are members of similar associations, subscribers to industry magazines, and buyers of books related to your association. Tip: Ask current members what other professional literature that they read and test these lists first.

2. Once you have found the best lists, carefully develop a strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to drive the positioning and copy of your promotion. The USP answers the prospect’s question of “WHY THIS ASSOCIATION?” The USP is the big benefit that your association can deliver compared to any other group. Tip: Ask someone who is not familiar with your organization to read your copy and define the USP in one sentence. If they can’t, go back to the drawing board.

3. Develop a special offer to answer your prospect’s question: “WHY TO JOIN NOW?” After many tests, one of the best offers continues to be a limited-time, introductory dues discount. Ideally, this discount will bring the dues down to a psychological price point – a dues amount that ends with a dollar amount of a “7” or “9”. For example, an acquisition price of $139 will typically generate more revenue and members than a price of $150. But be sure to offer something. Direct response marketing is offer driven.

4. Build your promotion around a metaphor — something a prospect will recognize and know what to do with. Try using an invitation, survey, certificate, or temporary membership card format. People process information by putting it into mental boxes. They make a split second decision on whether a promotion is important or not, so you need to get their attention. An invitation, for example, typically requests a response and goes in the mental box that says: “I NEED TO RSVP”.

5. After you have found your lists and selected a format, the time has finally come to write. As you write your promotion think of a conversation between a salesperson and a prospective member. (Tip: Sometimes it is helpful to dictate or “talk through” the first rough draft of the letter on a tape recorder.) Ask and answer the questions any prospective member would ask. And be sure to deal directly with typical sales objections (e.g., “IT SEEMS TOO EXPENSIVE”, or “I’M NOT SURE IT WILL BE USEFUL TO ME.”) As you write, also be sure to include specific proof. Support your USP by answering the prospect’s question, “HOW DO I KNOW I CAN BELIEVE YOU?” with real examples, numbers, product data, and testimonials.

6. Now it is time to design the promotion. If you are using direct mail, make the investment in a computer-personalized format (i.e., lasering the name and address on the letter and reply). In membership recruitment, personalization will out pull a “Dear Colleague” letter by as much as 30% while the cost of producing the package will typically increase less than 10%. If you are using email, create a personalized landing page that highlights the prospects particular interests and the special offer that the email features. Maintain the tone, look, and message of the email on your landing page.

7. As you near completion of your promotion, don’t give into the desire to put a “cute” phrase or “teaser” on the envelope or in the email subject line. Pre-test the subject line on a few hundred emails and measure the open rates. Based on this roll out the top performing line. With mail, a teaser will generally not increase response for a membership recruitment piece. Instead, maintain the personal business correspondence look of the mailing.

8. Finally, before you send out your promotion, be sure to set up a system to accurately track responses. Accurate tracking and analysis remain one of the most underdeveloped areas in association marketing. Yet, it is the key to validating all of the work that has gone into creating a promotion. If computer personalization is used for a mailing, then assigning a specific key code to be added to each reply form is simple. A separate code needs to be used for each list and for each test segment (i.e. copy test, offer test). Then as response comes back, the codes need to be recorded. Email responses can be tracked by adding a cookie to the email that populates the code field in your application or by setting up unique urls for each test segment. The ultimate goal of tracking and analysis is to determine what lists, copy, packages and offers to produce the best return on investment for each marketing dollar spent.
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