25 May 2023

What commercial publishers can teach us all about effective member engagement

Want to know how to deliver more value for members through the content you create and channels you populate? Look no further than the commercial publishing world for inspiration, says Executive Director, Jackie Scully, from leading content marketing agency Think.

If the first six months of 2023 have taught us anything, it is that membership communications programmes are changing – and fast. As organisations retire long-established journals in print and debate the future of hybrid events formats, everyone is looking to digital for the cost-effective, super-targeted solution to their member comms challenges.  

Through our Re:member research, which looks at trends in professional membership communications, we know what member bodies are doing with their channel mix. We know what they’re worried about and where they are focusing their attention and budgets. But, what the research doesn’t tell us is what they could be doing if they drew learnings from those commercial media brands prioritising content and communication every single day. 

Take email. Our research tells us that not only is it one of the most popular channels in the comms mix, it is also considered to be one of the most effective. The answer, it seems, is if you have something important to say, you best send an email. That said, it is also the channel member bodies would most like to improve. Around 70% don’t have an adequate onboarding email series, few are personalising and segmenting their email in an intelligent way and more than half are sending emails via multiple different departments, making consistency of messaging and tone of voice a real challenge. Thanks to the metrics available, they can see what is and isn’t working, but can’t identify how best to improve the experience.

If we look to the commercial publishing world, email is a top performer, recognised for its powerful role in subscriber and member engagement and enrichment. What makes it so?

Here are five of their insider secrets:

  • Get consistent with those send times: if you send content-rich emails, get into the habit of sending them at the same time, not when they’re ready. Stick with a simple idea (e.g. the three things you need to know right now) and your email recipients will start to expect it – and might even message you if it doesn’t arrive (a true sign of engagement, even if it delivers a slight customer service headache).
  • Don’t give your emails complicated names: while fun when sat in a room brainstorming, keep those email names as clear as possible. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t easily explain it or it sounds funny when said out loud (yep, say it out loud right now), consider going for something a little more ‘ronseal’. Makes it easier to market too.
  • Positive reinforcement: how often do you receive emails from brands pointing out all the benefits you haven’t unlocked? Commercial publishers are quick to highlight that not all subscribers are made equal. They want different things from a relationship. Many are exploring the Spotify Wrapped approach (a way of neatly summarising user engagements across the year to remind them of the value of engaging with the service). It is far better to celebrate what they are using than try to encourage them to use something they genuinely don’t value. If Amazon Prime invested more time telling us how much postage we’d saved rather than pushing other less-valuable benefits, we might enjoy their correspondence that little bit more.
  • Surprise and delight: if you’re capturing data about user behaviour, email is the perfect channel through which to personalise the experience. Serving up content based on observed interests is the best way for a brand to show how much it cares. And, if you’re asking people to log in online to access content, using that data intelligently to send them more relevant information is a great way to reward them.
  • The little details matter: if you have personality-based emails, don’t be afraid to share personal anecdotes and humanise the experience for readers. People want to build connections, which means they can often be as interested in the sender as they are what the sender has to say. 

So next time you’re faced with a schedule of emails to send, ask yourself, do they deserve to make it to the top of someone’s very busy inbox. Are they…

  • Interesting?
  • Relevant?
  • Personal?
  • Targeted?
  • Surprising?
  • Ronseal?

If they’re not, maybe it’s time to rewrite the programme.

Jackie will be offering up more tips from the commercial publishing world at the Memcom conference on Thursday 29 June - please see here for more information. And if you’d like to find out more about how Think can help transform your member communications, contact Hannah Sarsfield at [email protected].


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