Repeat, Repeat and then Repeat Again

I’m sure that we all believe (or want to believe) that members and prospects pay careful attention to everything we send them. Experience tells us that they don’t.

This should not surprise any of us.  Just consider how many e-mails/flyers/letters we receive every day.  Unless they are from IRS, our spouse (maybe) or the boss, how many do we really pay attention to?

There is a reason why Marketing General’s 2012 Membership survey found that associations with an over 80% retention averaged making seven or more renewal contacts with members. 

There is power to redundancy.

When I started in the non-profit/association world I figured that at least half of the people I was mailing would not read or remember the message.  (Yes, we had advanced past smoke signals and telegrams when I started.)  My guess is that the percentage of people we are not connecting with is now much greater than 50% for a single message (unless it has huge importance to the receiver).  As we have become more connected the competition for attention has become much greater.

We need to take advantage of the all the different channels available to us to communicate the messages that are important.  Subject lines of e-mails need to grab attention; messages need to be specific and to the point and we have to understand that messages need to be delivered multiple times to get through to our targets.

That doesn’t mean we just do the same thing over and over; we can change the form as we repeat the message.  Renewal campaigns (this works for other marketing programs too) can include a mixture of direct mail, e-mail, postcards, phone calls, maybe even text messages.  (Ideally we eliminate individuals who respond from the next round.) 

Making sure that you “stay on message” with your marketing communications and mixing them into everything you deliver to members and prospects helps to ensure that your message is delivered and assimilated by your audience.

Let me put it another way; there is a reason consumer product companies run thousands of ads; repeating the message works.

To find out how True North can help you better communicate with your market and your members visit or give us a call – 404-213-3498.

Shotgun or Rifle

Unless you are using a slug for ammunition a shotgun will fire a broad pattern of pellets.  Useful if you are trying to shoot something but don’t really know what you are aiming at.  Rifles on the other hand fire a single round at a specific and much smaller target. 

Both approaches work but there are times when one works better than the other. 

Now let’s apply this to marketing in the association world. 

Shotgun approaches, when we send out as many marketing messages as possible can work; the message is delivered to targets and possibly the targets may pay attention to your message, maybe.  Unfortunately if your message is of no interest to the receiver or not delivered in a way they want to receive information it can be ignored.  Worse it might even erode your brand identity and harm your marketing efforts.

A rifle approach, where a specifically targeted message is delivered to someone who has an interest in the subject will stand a much better chance at not only making an impact and soliciting your intended response (join the association, sign up for a conference, purchase a webinar, etc). 

This sounds great in theory but how do you apply this concept in an organization with a small budget?

First, as you go forward we collect as much information about members/customers as we can; age, gender, education, specialty, interest, expertise, etc depending on your market segment.  Maybe invite members/customers to tell us about themselves by filling out a member profile “to better design programs and services for you,” (that is marketing for get as much info about you as possible). 

Track everything.  How do prospects/members/customers respond to messages?  What are your open rates to e-mails?  What drives them to the website, to sign up or buy?  Even with a small budget, small staff you try your best to track what are the motivators for your audience.  If you can’t track individually do it at a marco level; simply count the number of responses and any feedback you might have received.

Or a very basic level; does USPS work better than e-mail for your population.  (If USPS works better make sure you also compare ROI.)  How about fax broadcast?  (I know that some of you are now turning your nose up but some medical offices respond well to faxes.)  Do more members respond to the first, second or third renewal invoice?  Are there specific “hot button” motivators that generate a greater response?

Use technology as much as possible to customize your messages.  The degree which you do this may depend on your market segment.   For example if your association is made up of manufacturers, distributors and end users there will be some messages that cross all lines.  Even if within the more general message you can customize a promotion or marketing piece based on a company/individual’s interest you will gain equity and might even trigger the response you are seeking.

Armed with this kind of information (it seems I’m using a lot of firearms analogies today) you can pick out the right targets with the right approach and increase the odds of success.

Test different themes and offers in some of your marketing.  You may need to do some A/B splits (send two different messages to a split list and then track results) to better determine what will work for you.

In a past life I directed various direct mail (which evolved to a combination of mail and e-mail) membership campaigns for an association.  After several years we developed a very good understanding of what the key motivators were and how to present them to our audience.  That did not mean we stopped trying new methods, vehicles or approaches.  Every year we made a point of trying something new; a different medium, a different approach, etc. (Things change; we have to change to keep up.)

We were careful about making sure we could draw some good comparisons with our “tried and true” methods and tracked responses.  We were never able to find something better than what we were doing already on an overall basis but that didn’t mean we stopped trying (we did discover some niches however that we noted and used for subsequent marketing programs).

When you are setting out to market something to a specific audience aim at your target rather than shooting at everything and just hoping that you hit it.

We can help you target shoot your marketing objectives (last firearm analogy I promise) at True North Consulting.  Visit us at

Bad Habits

We probably all have some bad habits (I know I do but that is not the subject of this posting).  Let’s’ not call them bad habits, let’s refer to them instead as “our way of doing things.”

Whether it responding to new members when they join to how we handle conference registrations or maybe more importantly how we communicate with members/customers we tend to develop systems that worked when they were created.

Many, possibly all of the systems (habits) you have were likely created as they were needed; you had to figure out a way to do something.  You figured it out and then moved to the next challenge.  As the environment changed you adapted.  That is good and much better than the alternative.  But, the world keeps changing and you may end up with a collection of possibly outdated systems and thinking.

A really bad habit is thinking “that we tried that before or that doesn’t work for us.”

What worked well then may not be the best way to do it now.  Plus you might find yourself with dueling systems that actually contradict each other.  So let me ask you the key question; when was the last time you assessed how you did things with an open mind and an eye to better engaging/serving/communicating with your volunteers, your customers/members, and your market?

We need to be totally honest here; efficient, cost effective and “take as little time as possible” need to also be considered when reviewing how we do things.  Maybe if we save something here we can spend a little more over there and make a larger positive impact on our market.

Any honest assessment needs to include some scan information – how are other similar organizations doing things.  Do they have a good idea I can steal or adapt?  You may end up doing some testing to find the best way to operate, or (image this) finding out from your customers/members how they prefer to receive communications, information and education.

Habits are just that; ways we do things or how we react.  Bad habits are ways we do things that don’t really work very well anymore and we need to change.  Make it a habit to periodically take a good hard look at your systems with an eye to better engaging and delivering value to your customers/members.  That is a good habit that will pay dividends in the future.

If you are looking for some help in developing good habits visit
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It is All Attitude!

In my world, the world of associations and how to obtain new members, keep members and grow membership WOWing members and prospects with great customer service seems intuitive.  While price will always be part of a buying decision (and joining or renewing a membership is a buying decision) price isn’t the only parameter.  If it was everyone would shop only at Wal-Mart or Costco. 

How we go about our business and treat our member/customer can make a huge difference.  Let me share with you a for profit example.

I’ve been a customer of Amica insurance for years and I can’t foresee any scenario where I would not be an Amica customer.  While they are not necessarily the least expensive in my book they are by far the best.  Let me tell you why and how this relates to association membership.

The policies they sell me are complete.  If I forget something they don’t.  They go past minimum coverage to ensure that I’m protected.

Every time, and I mean every time I’ve contacted them over the years with a question, making a claim or changing coverage I’ve quickly reached a human who is well trained,  courteous and thorough.

If I call back in ten minutes with another question or request I don’t need to explain everything again, it is all in my record.

They do what they say they will do and they do it quickly and then confirm with you that it was done.

I’m sure that Amica wants to make a profit – it is a mutual company and as a customer I share in that profit by the way - but they also want to make sure that when a claim is made that they take care of it.  They even call to make sure that you received the check.

Their customer service people are so good I’ve considered calling them just to chat.  Once I talked with a customer service supervisor to ask them how they went about ensuring great service.  She told me that they did training and carefully developed scripts but at the core it was the company’s culture and attitude - to take care of their customers – that made the difference.

Contrast this with another company I deal with.  They are hard to reach, hard to understand, hard to be understood and are incredibly inefficient.  I’m sure that they want to make a profit too; they certainly don’t spend any money on customer service!

The difference is that I will stay an Amica customer for as long as I need insurance.  I am leaving the other company as fast as possible.

Members have a choice these days where they spend their membership dollars; or whether or not to spend them in the first place.  Of course we need to deliver value, be efficient and take care of the bottom line.  We also need to make the membership experience is as positive as possible.

Are we easy to contact?  Do humans answer the phone?  Are calls and e-mails promptly returned?  Do we do what we say we will do and do it as quickly as possible?

We may not have the resources of a big insurance company but we have the power to ensure that we have the same attitude.

Do Something!

I’m a baseball guy and often think there are lessons that can be learned from the great game that can be applied to life.  One of the most important is that hit the ball you have to swing the bat.

As a coach for years and now as an umpire I have often observed a youngster reaching a three balls and two strikes count and then freezing.

With the next pitch the batter might be thrown a ball and therefore gain a walk.  Or the pitch might be in the strike zone.  And everybody in the park is watching.  The pitch comes down the middle of the plate, belt high and the batter lets it pass.  Strike three!

The batter is so afraid of striking out that they will let a perfect pitch go by rather than attempting to get a hit.  Fear of failure paralyzes us into in-action.

How often does this apply to managers in general, especially in associations?  If we swing we might get a hit but we might also miss and be open to criticism from our Board, our boss and others.  This is magnified when we are dealing with major challenges.

I’m not suggesting that we should act rashly without careful thought or preparation.  We want to give ourselves the best chance to achieve our objective – in other words to get a hit.   

We need as much data (not opinions) and information we can reasonably gather along with analysis and careful thinking to develop a plan.  Boards and volunteers need to be involved, informed and part of the decision making process.  At the same time we have to avoid analysis paralysis.  As Colin Powell has stated, “Once the information is in the 40% to 70% range, go with your gut” - Colin Powell.

You don’t need to hit a home run every time.  A series of singles can drive in a run and often are easier than swinging for the fences at every at bat.  But you have to try.  I really like what Colin Powell says with the Powell Principle;

We believe in making decisions and moving on. In many cases, we will have already decided, failed, changed, changed again, and fine tuned in the same time it would have taken us to just decide in the first place. The difference is we saved a lot of money and we are well ahead of where we would have been.

The quickest way to stay where you are is to repeat what you are doing.  When you get the chance swing – Do Something.  It is almost always better than doing nothing.

For more about how to grow your membership, train and develop your volunteers and create a working strategic plan visit

Its' not the card - Pay Attention!

Recently on some listserves that has been an e-discussion about membership cards; do you send them to members, are the worthwhile, can we trim an expense, etc.

It is a fair question to ask but in pursuing the answer we might miss the larger and much more important point.

What is important for a new member or someone who just renewed is to pay attention to them.  They just gave you a bunch of money.  Shouldn’t we acknowledge that; say thank you, welcome them into the organization and assure them that we are on their side and explain all the good things we are going to do for them?

Paying attention is much more important than sending a card. 

Paying attention does not include an auto response message (everyone knows it is an auto response).  In some markets you can pay attention completely electronically; a series new member e-mails, special webinars for new members, etc.  In other markets a physical response (letter, card, etc) will be important.  I think in most cases a combination of the virtual and physical works best but you have to fit it to your group.

As to cards; I think it depends on your market space and membership.  I’m a member of a number of associations that don’t send out membership cards and I’m fine with that.  Generally when I receive a membership card for something I don’t keep it unless it has some inherit value for me (a COSCO card for example).

I did work for an association that used cards.  Our members were used to it plus we incorporated it into our acknowledgment of a new or renewing member.  We also used the back of the card for contact information especially for a legal protection program highly valued by members.  (Confession – we considered this as part of marketing membership to members.)

You have to decide whether cards work for your organization.   But, paying attention, making members feel welcome and good about their membership is vital to your continued success.

Growth or No Growth - what makes the difference 3

Is your membership growing?  Declining?  Or is it static?

What makes the difference?  There are three big differences between associations that grow and those where membership is static or declining;

  • The value of membership and the perception of that value
  • Commitment to growth
  • Engagement and action

We have long known that members who are involved in the organization – leaders, committee members, etc – or who participate are more likely to retain their membership.  How about those members who aren’t “involved” or don’t attend all of your meetings?

Engagement can take many forms and is critical for membership retention. 

Ongoing and good communications with members, keeping them informed of what the association is doing for them and reminding them of the value of membership is an excellent way to maintain engagement between meetings.  Plus remember that even with the best meetings in the world most members of most associations will never attend the annual meeting much less go every year.

Newsletters are nice and we need them but we have to go past the “news” of the association.  Newsletters alone need some help.

Special e-mailed Value Messages; short, informative and to the point can be especially powerful.  Keep them focused on value that comes with membership and don’t try to sale them on registering for the upcoming class or annual meeting.  Subjects could include advocacy activities, the latest information on business or how education has helped a fellow member be successful.  These can be sent monthly, bi weekly, even weekly.

Use social media to set up dialogues with your member/customers.  Having a facebook page doesn’t mean you have a social media strategy.  You have to work at it with up to date posts and getting members to “like” your page.

Listserves can be a high value benefit in addition to ongoing engagement.  Doing mini surveys on association and your industry can be part of your engagement strategy.  Not only do you get information you can use or feed back to the membership you are asking your members opinion. 

Technology gives us many tools which we can use without lots of expense but it isn’t free.  It takes time and attention.  Don’t forget some old fashioned ways to engage.  On phone calls ask your members how things are going after you have dealt with their call, visit them in their place of business when you can to get feedback on the industry and the association, ask questions and listen.

If you can help members deal with the things that keep them up late at night, their big worries, you will create huge value as well as engagement – as long as they know what you are doing.

Find out more how to engage your members/prospects/customers and grow membership at

Growth 2 – What Makes the Difference between associations that grow and ones that don’t?

If you are delivering value to members why aren’t you growing in membership?  Possibly it is as simple as you letting anyone know of the value you deliver?  Marketing membership – to members and prospects – is a critical part of a growth strategy.  But before you begin any marketing or promoting you must make the decision to grow.

Making that commitment, to grow your membership is the first step in actually increasing your membership, revenue and clout in your industry.  Many associations think they want to grow but when you dig down to find out what their real priorities are it isn’t growing membership.  Yes, it does take some resources but the investment isn’t huge and the potential ROI is massive.

Increase membership and your dues income goes up, you have more people attending your events, your publication reaches more potential customers for advertisers; in short there is nothing else that will have as much of a positive impact on your association than membership growth.

Making growth a priority is the first step on the road to membership growth.

Along with making the decision to grow you then have to have some action.  After deciding that you truly want to grow you then need to develop a carefully designed and consistent marketing strategy.  True growth doesn’t happen because of gimmick or a single short lived program.

Sustained membership growth is the product of increasing the Value of Membership and communicating that value in a compelling manner to non-members and members on a regular and consistent basis resulting in long term net membership growth.

Growth or No Growth - what makes the difference

Is your membership growing?


Or is it static?

Over the past several years associations have weathered tremendous storms.  During that time membership in most associations declined.  At the same time almost half of associations reported a growth in membership (based on a Marketing General survey).

What makes the difference?  Why is membership in some associations growing and in others it is declining? 

There are three big differences between associations that grow and those where it isn’t.

  • The value of membership and the perception of that value
  • Commitment to growth
  • Engagement and action

Over the next month we will be taking an in depth look at each one of these factors and how they impact membership growth.

It is all about value and how your market perceives the value of membership in your organization.  Can you put a price tag on your benefits and services?  Is membership worth more than dues?  Are your benefits what your members want and need?  What are their concerns; what worries keep them up at night?

A word of caution; the best people to answer these questions may not be the Membership Committee or even your Board. Younger prospects, those just entering a profession or career may not have the same concerns as longer tenured members.  You need to clear data, not opinions.  One of the best ways to find out what members/prospects are concerned about or need is very simple; ask them.

Surveys are can be done cheaply but need to be done carefully to generate good data.  You can also just talk with members.  Asking them “how things are going,” especially newer ones can help you develop a better understanding of the challenges they face.  Visiting members, at their place of business can even be better.

Have you added benefits recently; or are you doing the same things you did years ago? 

Providing value is just part of the formula.  You also have to make sure that members and non-member know about that value and how important the association is to their profession or business.  Are your communications focused on marketing meetings or do you blow your own horn to let members/prospects know of what you are doing?

Communicating on a regular and consistent basis about the value of what you provide is critical to retention and recruiting.  The more you can affect how your members feel about membership the higher your brand value – and membership growth will follow.

Of course this is just touching on the subject of Value and its perception.  You can learn how to increase your brand value and grow your membership with True North Consulting.  Visit to learn more

Sharpen Your Focus

If the future of your organization is a little blurry maybe it’s time to sharpen your focus.

With most associations there is no lack of things that you want to accomplish.  When there is an annual leadership change we often get an additional task to undertake.

One of the greatest challenges for associations is too many things to do and not enough resources to address them.  If you try and do everything, including the new President’s great idea you end up without the resources to do anything well.

Multiple priorities not only disperse your resources – remember that this includes volunteer and staff time and energy – it is also frustrating for staff members, volunteer leaders and members. 

That is why focus is so important.

By focusing on a few key priorities you can marshal your resources, talent, time and energy in accomplishing them.  Then you can take on the next task with a more energized organization.

Where does the focus come from?  Look to your mission and strategic plan.  The later should, if it is done well identify priorities for you. 

Editorial rant #1:  Too many “strategic plans” appear to be a collection of all the things your Board wants to do but stop short of identifying the critical issues you face.

Many great people especially committed and involved volunteers will have great ideas.  Your challenge is to sort through the great ideas and focus on the critical few to take the organization forward.

Editorial rant #2:  Membership growth is often found on a list of things in a strategic plan but seems to get shorted when it comes to the commitment and resources to accomplish it.  There are few things that have a greater ROI than investing in growing your membership – and dues income.

Having that list of critical priorities that the Board has agreed upon and keeping it in front of everyone provides you with a way to say NO to the next great idea.  Not that it isn’t a great idea but with the priorities you dealing with it may have to wait its' turn.

Editorial rant #3:  Once you have agreed on your strategic priorities and objectives it should be reflected in your budget and work plans.  If it is in your strategic plan it should be in your budget.  If it isn’t in your plan it shouldn’t be in your budget.

By sharpening your focus and acting on the critical few priorities you will discover that in reality you accomplish more with happier volunteers and staff.


April 2014

Monthly Archives

Recent Posts

  1. Repeat, Repeat and then Repeat Again
    Tuesday, July 17, 2012
  2. Shotgun or Rifle
    Thursday, June 21, 2012
  3. Bad Habits
    Monday, June 18, 2012
  4. It is All Attitude!
    Monday, May 14, 2012
  5. Do Something!
    Thursday, April 12, 2012
  6. Its' not the card - Pay Attention!
    Monday, April 09, 2012
  7. Growth or No Growth - what makes the difference 3
    Monday, March 19, 2012
  8. Growth 2 – What Makes the Difference between associations that grow and ones that don’t?
    Tuesday, March 13, 2012
  9. Growth or No Growth - what makes the difference
    Monday, February 27, 2012
  10. Sharpen Your Focus
    Monday, February 20, 2012

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