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Create Must-Have Value With Membership Marketing

Membership marketing–the process of acquiring, engaging and retaining members–is the cornerstone for associations. It’s also a very challenging task. Now is the time to think about your goals and what you want–what you need–your association to look like in the coming years. Will you be able to sustain your current membership goals? Do you need support in attracting a younger demographic or engaging Gen X and Gen Y as your Boomers move on and enter retirement?

Membership marketing–the process of acquiring, engaging and retaining members–is the cornerstone for associations. It’s also a very challenging task.

Now is the time to think about your goals and what you want–what you need–your association to look like in the coming years. Will you be able to sustain your current membership goals? Do you need support in attracting a younger demographic or engaging Gen X and Gen Y as your Boomers move on and enter retirement?

There are many pieces that fall into membership marketing. Your members want a return on their investment. They want to see the value in their membership.

So how do you create value with membership marketing? Utilize and develop plans in multiple areas and disciplines.

To start, consider the following three areas:

Social media, websites and mobile marketing

Social marketing is here to stay. Your members and potential members are hanging out online. Create value by providing them with engaging content and reasons to interact with you. As you think about your organization’s goals, also consider your current Web presence. Are you engaging with your audience? Are they talking with you? Are you giving them opportunities to do so by maintaining a Facebook page, blog or other means of engagement?

Brush up on your social media statistics and understand what they mean for the audience you’re trying to connect with. Social media is not just for the young and hip. There are great ways to connect with everyone in your membership base through your website, social media channels and use of mobile marketing. The key is to have a great plan in place and people to execute those plans for you.

Membership campaigns and promotions

Word of mouth marketing has come a long way since your organization began. Promoting your association and tapping into new members requires out-of-the-box thinking and new directions for your marketing and communication strategies. Ideas include outreach or advocacy campaigns, new product/service offerings and networking events (think live Twitter feeds, social meet-ups and speed networking). It all goes back to your target audience–who are you trying to reach and how will you get there?

Strong brands and identities

Does what you stand for resonate with your current membership? How about your ideal members? Are you touting values that are still relevant today or that have followed from year to year because that’s what has been done in the past? Do you assess your current logo, website and brand identity on a regular basis?

Associations rely on relationship-building to grow membership and your brand is an integral piece of that process. Keeping your brand at the forefront of everything you do can help evoke and maintain emotional attachments and a sense of purpose for your members. Make sure that your identity grows with your membership. Make it appealing for new members to join, current members to stay and outside audiences to understand what you’re all about. Strategies include:

  • Defining your core values
  • Assessing current visual identity systems
  • Researching and developing key message statements
  • Updating online presence–website, e-marketing, social media

Outline membership value in your marketing plan

It can be a daunting task to communicate with your membership. And it’s likely that they are grouped in to various demographics. Recruiting new members and staying engaged with current members takes many moving parts. Allocation of resources is critical as is establishing an effective, workable plan to drive results. In addition to the three areas above, you need a stellar marketing and communications plan. Elements of your planning process should include:

  • Targeting your audiences
  • Analyzing your competition’s strategies
  • Researching your audiences’ preferences and perceptions
  • Shaping your brand and core messages
  • Understanding and stating the unique value you provide
  • Developing work plans and budgets to support goals
  • Evaluating results

Don’t be overwhelmed. These are elements you can take on yourself or hire out. XYZ University also offers membership marketing services for associations and member-based organizations.

Now, what will you do to prove value to your membership?

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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