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Association Email Marketing: Millennials And Member Engagement

In the world of online marketing, two statistics tell you a lot about the effectiveness of an email: the percentage of recipients who open it, and the percentage of those who click through to explore at least one of the links.

In the world of online marketing, two statistics tell you a lot about the effectiveness of an email: the percentage of recipients who open it, and the percentage of those who click through to explore at least one of the links.

Last year, I got a great response for a blog post on the types of emails associations send and the average number of members who open them. So when Informz published its 2012 Benchmarking Report on Association Email Marketing, I eagerly downloaded the update. The year-over-year comparison tells an interesting story:

The differences are relatively small, and it would take a third year of data to point to a lasting trend. But these metrics show important differences in the way members and stakeholders are reacting to your association’s messages.

  • In both 2011 and 2012, the research showed more members opening survey emails, but fewer of them actually completing the surveys.
  • The statistics for event and delegate attendance showed fewer members opening them.  There is a significant increase in those who are clicking-through on links however.  For both years, the percentages demonstrate the need to reach out widely and often.
  • With email appeals, 2012 saw 5% more members opening their mail, but a decline in click-through rates offset most of the increase in active readers. These results underscore the need to cleanse your data and segment your email lists, to make sure your message goes to the right people, and to help members understand how they benefit from responding to an appeal and helping to build their community.
  • Small declines in both the open and click-through rates for e-newsletters reinforce the idea that short, snappy content is becoming more popular with members with too much to read and too little time.

The above information is all well and good (and helpful, especially if you have an older membership base). However, what is not indicated in the above information and stats are the age ranges and difference in generations when it come to email marketing. This is just as important when it comes to marketing strategy and sustaining your association’s growth.

Email may or may not be the best way to communicate with your younger members. This is up to you to dig into further and find out before sending out your next mass-email campaign.


Forty-one percent of teens and college students AWeber Email Marketing Scholarship stated agreed that “email, like many forms of communication, is dying out.” Why is this important to you? Because if your association relies solely on email marketing (or print communication) you will sadly be missing all of the younger generation that you’ll very soon be dependent on to sustain and grow your organization.

Find out how your younger members prefer to be communicated with. It’s not about “marketing” with this generation; understand their wants and needs and how they prefer to receive your message.


You may not have an overwhelming amount of Millennials joining your association (and if not, that’s another topic for consideration). But, you must prepare for your association’s future and that means putting practices in place to foster great communication and engagement wherever, whenever your members need.

Whatever mix of communication formats you choose, the big-picture strategy is the same: with so much competing content, you have to make every message count by understanding what your members want you to send them, how they want to receive it, and what every part of your campaign will do to increase member engagement. This includes mixing up the channels and broadening your messages across multiple platforms.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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