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How to Build a Strategic Marketing Plan to Grow Society Membership

One-half of all associations reported growth over the past year, according to a 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Fifty-one percent of professional societies, specifically, reported growth in their membership over the course of just one year. Is it impressive that the professional society I work with increased its membership from 2015-2016? Not really. What is impressive, however, is how much membership increased.

The benchmarking report notes that professional societies average a 13% increase in membership, with the majority falling somewhere between 5-10%. From October 2015 to September 2016, my client’s membership grew 28%.

What contributed to the significant growth? I firmly believe Purdue’s online Master’s in Communication program played a big role. By working with my client to address the following questions we were able to create a strategic marketing plan that ultimately boosted membership growth by double digits.

1. Are You Delivering the Right Message to the Right Audience?

  • Step One: Identify Your Mission
  • Step Two: Identify Your Audience
  • Step Three: Ensure Communication Address Both Your Mission and Audience

My client’s mission was to develop and promote excellence in their profession by providing education, networking, certifications and advocacy to its members. To achieve this mission, the organization needed to grow. After reviewing data from a member survey, the staff realized the organization needed a new value proposition to better address our audience and our mission.

2. Do You Know the Root Cause of Your Issues?
Something from my research methods course really stuck with me — research provides organizations with the information needed to distinguish between symptoms and problems.

Before my client decided it was time to take a real look at its membership and member benefits, changes were made primarily as a result of staff or board perception. My client continued to fix symptoms because the real problem (or the real benefits) were not realized. To get to the root cause, staff implemented various surveys to existing and previous members to gain better insight into the problems. This was so successful that we now have consistent marketing dialogue with members to ensure we are maintaining a meaningful member experience.

3. Do You Have a Strategic Plan for Membership Growth?
A good idea lacks value if a plan to implement it fails to exist. Once I started applying the concepts from class, I had a better understanding of the impact strategic planning has on the success of an organization.

Strategic planning doesn’t have to be a major endeavor every time. It is a concept that can be applied to every program and every project. I utilized my knowledge of strategic planning — learned in class — to develop goals, objectives, strategy and tactics to implement my client’s new value proposition.

The strategy included everything from establishing new benefits and marketing plans to setting measurable objectives whereby staff could assess progress. By creating a plan prior to implementing anything, staff was able to effectively communicate changes and improvements to the existing membership and public at large and more importantly, for the first time in years, the organization saw double digit growth.

Final Thoughts
I continue to use the skills I’ve gained or improved upon as a result of completing the MS Communication program. Each day, I approach problems and opportunities with a new, more strategic perspective. In addition to what I mention above, I have gained new leadership skills; I constantly consider ethical implications; I am more aware of globalization, and I am – overall – a more conscious communicator.

Learn More
Jane Siggelko is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Jane Siggelko is an Associate Account Executive at Kellen, a global management and communications company serving trade associations, professional societies and charitable organizations worldwide. Jane has more than four years of experience in program management, marketing and communications, and currently serves as Manager of Programs and Services for the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals. She is passionate about growing nonprofit organizations’ programs and operations in an effort to increase their impact on individuals and on communities. Jane graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Arts in English and is pursuing a Master of Science in Communication from Purdue University.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.