When we’ve exhausted our own data and member surveys and still have more questions about our members, no worries, there are even more ways to get to know our members better.
The association’s data can present us with a member profile and show us member behaviors. Explore and we may find, as an example, that most of our members are from small to mid-sized companies, they are mid-level managers and most of our members are located on the east coast. Dig deeper and we find that these members only go to the annual conference every 3 years, they log into the website infrequently, and only 20% of them actively read the e-newsletter. Slice and dice the data and you can find out more about super engaged members, who they are and what they do and you can find out the same for new members and unengaged members. Data is fascinating and helpful and tells us about everything that is going on within the association. This data won’t tell us about members’ opinions so if we want to understand that we need to dig deeper.
Member surveys are often the next step. We employ them when we want to know about our member’s lives and opinions inside and outside the organization. Where else do members have membership? Where are they getting their industry news? What social media channels do they participate with? What topics are they finding most interesting right now?
Data from member surveys is especially interesting when viewed overtime. How are their opinions changing year to year? However, data from surveys is, by design, limited. To get the contextual data we need as input for strategy, marketing and innovation we need to qualitative member insights.
Analytically minded membership directors and marketing directors tell me that at some point they become frustrated with member surveys and their own data. The results prompt more questions than deliver answers. Some then turn to focus groups. At a recent conference one VP of membership told me that she hosted two member focus groups looking forward to the dialogue between members only to find that the responses from each group where so radically different that she couldn’t believe they were all members of the same association. I hear this a lot. The member who speaks first sets the tone for the focus group, one loud member can overrun the conversation and not all valid input is heard in focus groups. Corporations get around this bias by hosting 15 or 20 or 30 focus groups. All that time and complexity and expense is not realistic for most associations. There is another more accurate solution, a method not often talked about in marketing media.
After analyzing the data and sending surveys and perhaps conducting focus groups the big questions still persist:
- Is our organizational strategy right for the future?
- How do we attract new members possibly more younger members?
- How do we continue to engage long-time members?
- How do we retain new members?
- What should our brand story be?
- How do we innovate to meet their needs better?
- What new trends are on the horizon?
- How do we need to prepare the association and our members for the future?
Most of us think we just have to fly blind. That we need to answer these questions with the information at hand and hope that we have answered them correctly. The decisions we need to make to move the association into the future are risky. A lot is at stake when we have to use a large bucket of our small resources. But there is no need to fly blind. No need to hold up change by stalling with indecision. No need to make risky decisions even risker.
Members will actually tell us how to serve them better. Members can alert us to the trends on the horizon. Members tell us how to engage new members more quickly and with more value. Members tell us how to partner with them, treat them and help them. The keys to the kingdom are with our members and thankfully, delightfully they will share them with us.
Do you have big questions to answer? Member interviews are the next step.