Marketing Automation for Associations

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Taylor Brennan



Sometimes we ask our marketing teams to be superhuman. As hard as they work, there are practical limits to human capacity. They can only follow up with so many leads. It's easier for them to achieve superhuman status when they get a little help – like marketing automation.

Using a marketing automation tool to set up workflows can give your membership conversion efforts an exponential lift. Automation lets your team set up winning workflows that work around the clock nurturing leads and retaining members, while your team gets to enjoy their weekends.

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What Marketing Automation Really Is

The biggest myth about marketing automation is that you can set up a couple workflows and conversions come rolling in. It's more complicated than that. There are some pre-conditions for success, including a healthy-sized database with a steady stream of leads coming in, and good processes in place that already convert leads into new members.

The challenge that marketing automation meets is optimizing your traffic and lead flow – following up and nurturing all those leads human hands can't get to in an effective way so you achieve higher membership conversion rates from the same pool of leads.

Automated workflows let you customize nurturing on a more granular basis. Without it, your team members having to find relevant content for a specific lead, remember to send it out and follow up. Or, they have to send email blasts that don't address the interests and concerns of individual leads. The workflows can send customized, relevant email for every lead or member that meets predefined criteria.

Some Sample Workflows

Let's look at some sample workflows for three common scenarios.

New prospects: A visitor has just provided you their email address and is now in your database. They shared their email address to access your interactive annual report. You've set up workflows to trigger different email series based on which section of the report they spend most of their time reading. The general series in these workflows are the same, but the content and links are customized based on which section of the report was most interesting to each one. You want to further entrench their interest in your association. A potential workflow could be:

  • Immediate thank-you email with link to a report or video that goes in-depth on one of the section's issues.
  • A week later – send an email with another link to a different piece of relevant content.
  • If they've clicked through either of these links, send an email inviting them to sign up for your newsletter the following week.
  • If they haven't clicked through either of these links, you might send them an email 10 days after the second one with a short embedded video they can view right there, with a with a call-to-action (CTA) to follow you on social media or subscribe to your YouTube channel. 

Longtime prospect who hasn't yet joined: Here may be your goldmine of new members. The first thing you can do with marketing automation is "score" these prospects based on all the digital information you've been able to collect about them and how they've interacted with your association online. This way, you can separate out the prospects who are the hot leads you don't want to ignore any longer.

Assess what issues and content formats they've engaged with and which they tend to ignore. These are criteria you can use to segment your hot leads into workflow lists. Let's say you identify a subset of hot leads who've attend live events (either a webinar or an in-person gathering) in the past three months. An automated workflow for them might be:

  • An email with a brief survey asking for feedback on the event.
  • People who respond will get an immediate thank-you email with a link to an upcoming event or calendar.
  • People who don't respond may get a second email asking for feedback a week later.
  • A few days later (either after the thank you-email or the second survey request email), they'll get an email sharing some news or content directly related to the topic of the event they attended.
  • Those who responded to the survey and clicked on the content link will then get an email inviting them to join the association a week later.
  • Those who don't yet meet these criteria get redirected to a new lead nurturing workflow based on other indicators from their digital behavior.

Lapsed members: You want them back! Let them know. Let's look at a potential workflow for those whose memberships in the past three months lapsed. You start with the assumption that it's just slipped their mind.

  • First email is a direct CTA to renew with some "hey, don't miss out, you may have forgotten to renew" copy.
  • For those who don't renew off that email, a second email goes out a week later sharing some information about a program in which they participated or service they benefited from while a member with another renew CTA.
  • A reminder email with new, relevant content, and another renew CTA can go out 10 days later.
  • For people who still haven't renewed, send a short survey email asking their reasons why. Include a renewal link and CTA in case "they just haven't gotten to it yet."
  • For those who don't renew, you may decide to follow up with a few directly based on what they said in the survey, as well as a couple who didn't respond to the survey at all. The others can get redirected to other nurture workflows.

More Automation – More Metrics

One of the other great benefits of marketing automation (you know, besides the 24/7 marketing operation you're now running) is your pool of data about what works and what doesn't will pop out at you after awhile!

Before you start with automated workflow, identify benchmarks for how your emails perform, membership conversion numbers, and other metrics. With the volume of emails you'll be sending out, you'll have enough results that you should see a higher level of engagement and conversion metrics than the starting baseline.

There are also some new, automation-related metrics you should start tracking, such as which trigger criteria are more effective than others at eliciting conversions.

Did you include mobile content access in the criteria, but didn't hit engagement goals? Perhaps mobile access was just the starting point. Review past behavior. See if mobile-only access versus a mix of device access have different conversion rates? Maybe conversion rates on this workflow are awesome only for people who access content on mobile. It's the lack of engagement by the mixed device folks that lowered the overall conversion rate. Now you can tweak mobile access trigger criteria for mobile content.

OK, you can see how this can go on. As with all your inbound digital metric opportunities, clarify which metrics are most valuable to your association's needs. They should keep you driving towards optimizing the database and improving the lead-to-membership conversion rate. 

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