Monday, March 12, 2012

Association Management: Build your audience before you need it!

Brian Clark, founder of CopyBlogger and editor of Entreproducer eletter, advised authors  to “build an audience before you try to sell memberships or other services.” Successfully market something ... which is specifically not limited to ebook publishing. Once you have an audience, the door opens to consulting, paid speaking, software, innovative new platform launches, and more.

I’ve been thinking about that statement for a week or so. Especially as I contemplate what it means for associations and nonprofit organizations.

The traditional association growth strategy has revolved around (a) “finding a good list” and (b) direct mailing (now blast emailing) that list until they join. (For nonprofits it was “direct mail them” until they make a donation.

Clark’s “build the audience before you need it” strategy offers a different concept for associations and nonprofits.

Digital (social) media has changed the environment for member and donor recruitment. You can now engage prospects before you “sell” (recruit) them. This permits the ultimate “build an audience” strategy. Now, you can create the audience by providing them valued content linked to your website (which serves as your content hub).

Back in the early 1980s, I helped the American Soybean Association implement a magazine strategy that moved Soybean Digest from a “house organ” for members only to a “commercial” magazine reaching (eventually) 250,000 readers. In the initial 3-4 years, the magazine carried no association news or information. Rather, it provided valuable production and marketing information for soybean farmers. Once established as a credible magazine, we started allowing association news into the magazine. In those early years, the membership department griped about the lack of association news and the fact that the magazine went to nonmembers. They felt like ASA was giving away a member benefit. The unintended consequence: membership doubled. I didn’t realize it at the time, but ASA was building an audience before we needed it!

Now, associations have a complete range of tools/platforms to build audiences: print, digital and more. I continue to hear association membership professionals “oppose” giving “member benefits” to non-members. I understand the concerns. But, I don’t agree.

In Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson (@chr1sa)outlined the “freemium model” of pricing. Basically, this involves giving free services to about 90% of your audience and charging a “premium” price for the remaining 10%. This strategy builds the size of your audience and provides the revenue needed to pay for all the benefits and services.

The key to the strategy is “build your audience.”

The St. Louis Society of Association Executives (SLSAE) and the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) use a free Tip of the Week to members and prospects as a strategy to grow the audience, provide value to the industry and move prospects to membership.

As I mentioned above ASA provided nonmembers copies of its Soybean Digest magazine. In addition to helping grow ASA’s membership, the magazine became a major profit center. (In the magazine world, this was originally called a “controlled circulation” magazine. Once you proved the size and demographics of your readers, advertising income covered the cost of production and the profits of the free circulation publication.)

Some associations use free guest invitations to meeting(s) as a tool to grow their audience and cover prospects to members.

Other associations have used white papers about topics of value to people in their industry/profession as a tool to grow audiences. They offer the white papers free to nonmembers ... most after you “register” to download it. The association “captures” the key information on those downloading which allows them to start to grow their audience.

Are you growing your audience before you need it? What strategies or tools are you using? Please share in the comments section!

And, speaking of growing audiences, please hit the subscribe button so you can receive your FREE SCDdaily blog Monday through Friday each week!

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