From data to dynamic content: targeted engagement to increase retention

Emma Thompson, Director at Ashridge Communications, and with over 10 years of senior level roles within membership organisations, guest blogs for memcom about the importance of using targeted engagement to increase retention.  


For membership bodies, the financial benefits of retention are not just the time and budget saved from recruitment but, importantly, the continued spend gained from the retained member – their customer lifetime value. For a recent client of ours with 44,000 members, retaining just 500 more Chartered members each year would bring an additional £150k per year in membership fees, as well as the possibility of further income from event or conference attendance, product purchases, member referral and volunteering value.


Professional membership bodies have historically had high retention rates – PARN’s benchmarking report in 2015 showed a UK sector average of 84% retention, and a recent benchmarking report from US-based membership specialists Marketing General Inc shows a median renewal rate of 80%. In our own member engagement survey earlier this year, the average retention rate from 23 UK professional bodies was 90%, with the lowest reported as 70% and the highest an impressive 99%. 


In Sue Froggatt’s 2017 membership benchmarking study, around 3 in 5 associations indicated that their greatest retention challenge is getting members to contribute and more actively engage, as well as making sure new members get the value they anticipated.  One way of combatting this would be to focus on this important member segment and leverage CRM data and digital channels ahead of renewal time, to identify and target at-risk members before they lapse.


We spoke with some of the professional bodies that took part in our member engagement survey to discover the detail behind the engagement success stories they had shared. A case study from Gavin Berkerey, Marketing Manager at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM), demonstrates how data mining and propensity modelling enabled the RSM to identify a segment of members at risk of lapsing for more targeted engagement, long before the renewals campaign.


The RSM offers a wide range of benefits to all members. Gavin says: “We could see that new members had so much to choose from, they didn’t know where to begin! Data from member surveys and telephone conversations with lapsed members revealed that the key reason for not renewing was that members were just not using their benefits. We decided to introduce a dynamic and personalised sequence of emails from the point a member joins to improve use of various aspects of membership, with the aim of increasing engagement and encouraging renewal.”


The project took three to four months from start to finish, involving colleagues across multiple departments, including an internal design team and RSM’s existing e-mailing software and CRM system.


The most time consuming – and important – aspect of the work was mapping the audience types to ensure we could deliver appropriately tailored content.”


Gavin and colleagues designed a 6-week programme of emails, starting as a new member joins, to inform them of the key products, services, events and other benefits most relevant to them, and linked to RSM content available elsewhere.


The programme of welcome emails was introduced in March 2016, with new members at that time renewing in April 2017.  Since implementation, the RSM has seen that engagement levels have improved significantly: not only did the open rates for the emails increase by +50%, but they had an amazing +200% increase in click rate. 


We’ve tracked event bookings and video use – two key benefits promoted to new members – and seen double the number of attendees and viewers.  We’re also monitoring for changes in end-of-year renewal; we have a 6-month grace period, so it will be a little while before we can say for sure what improvement there is on last year’s renewal rate, but it’s looking good so far.”


The success of the welcome email programme in increasing participation and engagement with new members has been hugely encouraging for the RSM, and they are considering how they might apply the same thinking to other stages of the membership lifecycle, particularly in relation to re-engaging with members who have not attended events or made use of other benefits in a while.


Members who are studying or in training and those in the first five years of their membership hold high priority in the member retention plans of many professional bodies: our 2016 study on engagement with younger and newly-qualified members found that, on average, 36% of student members are not transferring to a higher grade of membership when eligible to do so.  Retention of these members is, however, quite a challenge: student members tend to leave because they’ve left the profession or haven’t yet found a job, the cost of continuing to the next membership grade is prohibitive, or they join another professional body instead.


Based on his experience at the RSM, Gavin shares some advice for other membership colleagues: “It’s really worth thinking about how to nurture your new customers – it’s too easy to assume that they will behave like your other customer groups, but time spent on them now should pay dividends in the longer run.”


Ashridge Communications provides research and consultancy to the membership sector. We can bring fresh thinking to help your membership body thrive – with insight, ideas and strategic solutions delivered by membership specialists, aligned to your goals.


You can read RSM’s guest blog and other articles from Ashridge Communications at:

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