There’s a tendency within digital marketing to always focus on the shiny new object, and so you’ll often see associations spending significant time and resources developing content for Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, and any number of social media platforms. While these networks are certainly providing new avenues for engaging with members, it’s a wonder that many associations place so little emphasis on a platform that typically sees more engagement than any other: email.
Sure, every association sends out emails to its members, but whereas they inject personality and flavor into their social media messages, their emails are perfunctory and purely promotional. Rather than trying to develop a voice and provide a real resource for members, associations merely blast out emails promoting their events or services, often paying little attention to producing meaningful engagement.
This is a mistake. Despite being decades old, email is still the dominant tool through which consumers interact with brands and content. While social apps like Twitter and Snapchat can boast of having hundreds of millions of users, email adoption is near universal and totals in the billions. Roughly 74 percent of adults prefer email for commercial communication and the Direct Marketing Association found it has a 4,300 percent ROI.
Jenna Knoblauch has long recognized the power of email and how it can bring real value to both current and prospective members. She’s the marketing communications manager at Dynamics Communities, the organization behind several major software user groups. As part of her job she creates messaging that must engage a large and diverse membership that stretches across dozens of states and local chapters.
Knoblauch sat down with us to explain the three core strategies Dynamics Communities has adopted to get more out of its email marketing:
Feature your members
So many associations concentrate on promoting their own services without realizing they’re sitting on a wealth of thought leadership within their membership. “Our focus has been about highlighting our members and what they’re contributing to the user groups,” said Knoblauch. “Most of these people are volunteers, and it’s amazing that they volunteer outside their full-time jobs to make the user group thrive. That’s been our big focus.”
Featuring your members could be as simple as including a captioned photo from a conference or a QandA member spotlight. Or you could solicit thought leadership content directly from your members by asking them to write articles or conduct webinars that you can then promote in your newsletter.
Segment your audiences
Even though your association might cater to a particular profession or field, your membership is far from homogenous and is likely spread out across regions, specialities, and interests. So it makes sense that you wouldn’t use the exact same messaging for all members. “We did a big study of our membership and gained a ton of feedback from our members to find out how they want to receive information,” said Knoblauch. “One of our big pushes and strategies this year has been making our website and communications more filterable.”
Once you segment your audiences then you can easily keep them informed about local events and information that pertains specifically to their special interests. And that doesn’t mean that you need to write hundreds of separate emails. “Changing the messaging just a little bit for those key personas takes a little extra time,” Knoblauch explained. “But when you take a step back and refine the messaging you realize that you only have to change out a couple things. It doesn’t take that much extra time but it it’s well worth it to the audiences.”
The newsletter should be an actual resource
“You should focus a third of your content on promotion, a third on thought leadership that isn’t promotional, and a third on your events that are coming up that people should be aware of,” said Knoblauch.
When your membership is large you run the risk of the person in charge of email marketing becoming a bottleneck and overlooking a lot of important information that should be included. Knoblauch not only has other staff members who help her in populating the newsletters, but her team has set up an efficient editorial calendar through which members can submit news. “We’re an agile company, and when something comes up a member can just put in a request to me,” she said. “I look at what’s on that calendar and we determine the best time for it to go out. I really think that so far I’ve been able to accommodate most requests within a couple days.”
Sure, email isn’t Snapchat and you won’t see Kim Kardashian using it to blast out selfies any time soon, but that doesn’t mean your email newsletter can’t be lively and personable. Knoblauch recalled a funny quip she’d heard at a recent marketing conference. “Just because you’re B2B doesn’t mean you should ‘B 2 boing.’” Yes, it’s a corny joke, but it’s also an adage associations should live by.