8 Elements of a Successful Association Marketing Strategy

You would think it’s safe to say everyone in the industry knows your association. After all, you market widely, get mentioned frequently in the industry press, and produce lots of valuable resources. But you know better than to make that claim. Many industry professionals still aren’t familiar with your association. They’re not really sure what you’re all about or what you can do for them.

The first step in an association marketing strategy is creating awareness: ensuring your target audience is aware not only of your existence but of how you can improve their lives. To recruit more members, show prospects how you can help them do their job better, move ahead in their career, and/or grow their business.

Association marketing strategy for recruiting more members

After awareness, the second step of a membership marketing strategy is consideration: nurturing your prospect with content that draws them closer to you and closer to making a decision to join. Your success depends on understanding their needs, interests, challenges, and aspirations. A member persona exercise helps you gain this understanding.

Work Where You Are

Better understand prospects by creating member personas

Member personas are descriptions of the various groups within your target market. Because of their different characteristics, these personas seek different things from membership. For example, a core (professional) member might join for education or advocacy, while a supplier member seeks business development opportunities. Students and early-career professionals have different needs than mid-career and C-suite professionals. Personas can also be based on professional specialties or the size and structure of a member’s business.

Going through the exercise of developing personas deepens your understanding of prospective members. You learn to rely upon the analysis of demographic and behavioral data, instead of assumptions, to drive your digital marketing efforts. Because you only send relevant information to prospects, your emails help nurture a relationship with them and pull them closer to the association and, hopefully, a positive membership decision.

Ask a small group of member volunteers representing different member segments to help you develop a limited number of personas. Keep it simple by sticking to details related to the persona’s professional life and desired membership experience, for example:

  • Job, career, and/or business needs and challenges
  • Interests
  • Goals and aspirations
  • The role of the association—how you will solve problems, satisfy interests, and help them achieve their goals

Don’t get too into the weeds. Stay focused on the purpose of this exercise: helping you understand different prospect types so you market membership effectively to them.


Use AMS data to guide your association marketing strategy

Analyze AMS data. Your data shows you how different member personas already engage with your association. This information provides clues about what’s relevant to different groups of prospective members.

Act on what you learn. Segment your list of prospects into groups based on personas and other information you gather about them. Base your content marketing on what you learn about their interests, needs, and challenges.

Automate your marketing plan. With marketing automation, you can deliver a personal touch at scale. For example, you can design automated drip email campaigns that are triggered by different actions, such as downloading a document, attending an event, and being referred by a member.

How to Increase Your Email Open Rates

Nurture membership leads with an email marketing plan

With automation, you can nurture membership leads without having to craft and send each email individually. The timesaving aspect of this approach is one reason email marketing is the most effective recruitment marketing channel for associations, according to Marketing General Inc.’s (MGI) 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.

Email marketing is the heart of membership marketing. You learn more about prospects by seeing which emails they open and which links they click. You can even ask them to ‘self-select’ into different segments and email campaigns based on the links they choose.

Intersperse emails with the human touch if you have enough staff or volunteers who can call prospects for a quick chat. If not, don’t worry, many associations rely purely on the power of relevant, targeted emails that provide value and draw membership prospects closer.


Create a home base for prospects on your website

When prospects click on email links, send them to landing pages on your website created specifically for them. These pages deliver what the email promised: information or resources relevant to the interests and needs of their persona. Always promote a ‘next step’ you want them to take to connect deeper with your association. Don’t hard sell them on membership too soon. Let them explore and first see how you can make a difference in their life, starting right now.

Website copy—in fact, all marketing copy—must always focus on the benefits and impact of membership, not the features. For example, don’t list “networking in our online community” as a membership benefit. It’s not; it’s a feature of membership. Instead, describe how that feature plays out in their life. How will meeting and developing relationships with peers, mentor types, or prospective leads enhance their life, career, or business?

Sprinkle member testimonials throughout the website pages visited by prospects. Make sure these testimonials represent different demographics, personas, and segments, for example, young professionals, vendors, small business owners/employees, and CEOs.


Take full advantage of relationship-building at conferences

Prospects who attend conferences and meetings are warm leads who have already invested in your community, which is why conferences are the second most effective recruitment marketing channel, per the MGI report.

Some associations offer a new member registration package that includes a discount on the registration fee and membership dues. Increase the chances of their renewal by adding them to a specially designed new member onboarding campaign so they immediately see how to take advantage of their new membership.

Use what you learn from AMS data to enhance the conference experience for attendees. For example, host an exclusive networking event or set up a designated lounge if you have a large group of first-timers, students, or international travelers attending.

Your association membership team—staff and volunteers—should have a noticeable presence in a membership hub or lounge in a prime location. Make it obvious to anyone who wanders by that this area is all about the association community. Attract attention by offering a distinctive activity or service available to all.

  • Invite attendees to sign up for a 10- to 15-minute session with coaches who explain how membership or association resources can help them in their job, career, or business.
  • Host a series of talks on hot industry or career topics.
  • Encourage hanging out with tempting amenities, like a variety of furnishings for comfortable conversations while sitting or standing, refreshments, snacks, and photo booths.

After the conference, add non-member attendees to a follow-up email recruitment sequence with a special campaign for first-time attendees.


Give a face to membership

Testimonials make a difference. Collect quotes and short videos for your website and email campaigns from association members representing all segments and personas. Ask them to talk about the impact of membership on their job, career, business, and life.

Recruit volunteer membership ambassadors to reach out to prospects and solicit valuable intel by:

  • Learning more about their needs and goals
  • Answering questions
  • Sharing their own experience
  • Finding out why they haven’t joined or won’t join

Member referrals are the third most effective recruitment marketing channel, per MGI. Award points to any member for qualified and converted leads. Add these leads to special email recruiting campaigns. The referring member can redeem their points for discounts on products, programs, and events. Maintain a leaderboard and provide additional recognition at a VIP reception.

An added bonus of testimonials is the versatility of their usage in any marketing campaign. Use them for email marketing, social media marketing, or even in traditional marketing.

Upcoming events

Never stop marketing

Despite your stellar nurture campaign, many people still won’t join, but often for good reason. Their employer might only support professional development, not membership dues. Or the person can’t afford dues but will remain a prospect for your events and education programs.

Don’t stop content marketing. Put them on a non-member list that corresponds with their interests and persona. Conditions can change. They might find a job with an employer who does support membership or get a promotion that allows them to pay dues out of their pocket. By keeping them close with valuable content, you stay in their life and make it more likely they might join one day.

Leverage your AMS for membership marketing

A membership marketing strategy is much more effective with a modern AMS supporting your efforts. With demographic and engagement data at your fingertips, you can better understand prospects and make smarter decisions about marketing direction and content.

Automated email campaigns allow you to provide relevant, tailored information at scale. Because you can track success, you can learn and adjust tactics. With the right AMS, what once seemed impossible can now be business as usual, even for a one-person membership team.

Learn how Impexium can help you analyze and visualize your membership data to improve membership marketing campaigns.

Related Blogs

The Secret to Successful Member Retention: Year-Round Engagement

On-Demand Webinar: The Secret to Successful Member Retention – Year-Round Engagement

Are you struggling to implement a member engagement strategy that works? Do you find it challenging to engage members—especially when...
The Elements of an Exceptional Member Onboarding Experience

The Elements of an Exceptional Member Onboarding Experience

A seamless member onboarding process is the catalyst to an awesome member experience. Do it the right way with Impexium.
4 Simple Steps to Give Your Membership the Best Member Experience

4 Simple Steps to Give Your Membership the Best Member Experience

How your members experience your association determines whether they find value in being a member.
3 Reasons Why Your Association Needs a Membership Directory

3 Reasons Why Your Association Needs a Membership Directory

What is a membership directory? And why do associations need one? We'll show you 3 benefits of implementing a directory...


  • “…very excited because of the possibilities that I see for NADA moving forward, the ability to give our executives the information, any intelligence that they need in order to help our members better…the ability to simplify the whole application ecosystem, removing unbelievable complexity and bringing simplicity to the application.”

    Rafael Maldonado NADA
    Rafael Maldonado
    Former CIO at NADA
  • “I like the fact that by using Impexium versus our previous system, we will be able to reduce staff’s workload. As a result, NAADAC’s staff will be happy, feel more capable and competent…in serving our members.”

    Cynthia Moreno Tuohy NAADAC
    Cynthia Moreno Tuohy
    Executive Director at NAADAC
  • “…Impexium has allowed us to significantly improve our processes and procedures. We’ve automated quite a lot with Impexium and removed a number of manual processes that we had before. And staff are very happy about that.”

    Impexium RAPS Case Study
    Wendy Sahli
    Technology at RAPS
  • “You have to have a support team that communicates clearly, is a good listener, is patient and can really handle the problem solving…I have been really pleased with Impexium’s support. They are on-top-of things responsive…I know they will stick with me until we figure it out.”

    Kelly Webb FCLB
    Kelly Webb
    PR & Pace Coordinator at FCLB
  • “I found Impexium to be more modern, more sophisticated, more user friendly, more intuitive.”

    Jeff Sventek AsMA
    Jeff Sventek
    Executive Director at AsMA
  • “We wanted a partner that would grow with us and one that could innovate with us. Impexium checked all those boxes. They took us from outdated to automated.”

    Laurie Bollig CoSIDA
    Laurie Bollig
    Director of Membership Engagement at CoSIDA
  • “What impresses me the most about Impexium is the ease of use…Everything I need in Impexium is one-click away.”

    James Brannigan, NYSAE
    James Brannigan
    Associate Director at NYSAE

Let Us Show You What's Possible With Impexium

Trade associations, professional societies, and non-profits of all sizes have transformed their businesses and exceeded member expectations with Impexium’s membership management software. Request a personalized demo today.