Association Marketing: The Power of Personalization

By: Teri Carden

association marketing the power of personalization royle printing association media and publishing

In the association world, we hear a lot of conversations about managing data and integrating systems. But marketing innovators Debi Sutton and Katherine Matthews of the Entomological Society of America have really knocked people’s socks off and shown how powerful it can be to put the reams of data in our association management system to work to engage with members. And the results are real. Here are a few highlights of their successes (in their own words).

Personalize. Seriously – get personal. We have tons of data at our fingertips – not just name, address, and phone number, but member interests and meeting attendance history, too. We use the information to send truly personalized communications. We don’t just spit that data back out to the member. We don’t say, “You’ve been a member since X.” or “You have an interest in Y insect.” Instead, we try to show the involvement or engagement that the member has with the Society so it makes it more interesting and makes a deeper connection. It lets the member know that we know a little bit about them. For example, we can say something like, “You haven’t presented in or attended a past meeting, however, this upcoming meeting is in your backyard.” The message isn’t just, “You live in Maryland, so come to our Maryland meeting.” Or we may pull data on what order of insect they presented on the previous year and say, “Are you still working on Coleoptera? We’d love to hear about your latest research this year.” We are incorporating background specific to the member to help him (or her) come to the realization that they should take the call to action.

Collaborate. The piles of data that make it possible to get personal with our members could make things complicated. But we build hierarchies of our lists so we know which individual will receive which message (and they are removed from other messages as a result). We work as a team on all our communications. For example, when we’re planning a campaign, we discuss, the different messages we have planned and work together as a team on creative ways to use the data to both communicate our theme and hit home the desired response. We also recognize the value of the data we collect and share our analysis with other program areas of our organization. We’re all about sharing the power of our data.

Results. That’s what matters. Our results are way more than just pretty rows and columns. We have had the two largest annual meetings in the history of the Society since we started taking this approach two years ago. And our membership numbers are up. Thanks to our analytics, we know there’s a correlation to what we are doing here with personalization. We’re also staying engaged with members we previously might have lost – our student members. Now we push current student members into a transitional category to keep them engaged as they leave school and move on to careers in the science.

One interesting side benefit has been an increase in social media traffic. Since we started sending highly personalized postcards and emails, we are seeing more posts on and engagement through social media about them. For example, last year, using variable data, we sent out a postcard with a sticky note on a keyboard as the main image saying “XX, See You in Austin!” The sticky note was personalized to the member and included the Society’s president’s signature on it. Everyone thought they received a note just for them! Many members tweeted to us about this postcard. Another communication that was popular on Twitter involved a personalization about which insect the recipient had presented on the previous year. Again, people thought they were the only ones getting this highly personalized message. We have a fairly strong social media presence, but now it is more two-sided, rather than us just tweeting about upcoming events.

Pace yourself. We first started our personalization effort using simple identifiers like first name. Then we started including the member’s branch or section. In the past year, we’ve gotten much more creative, using a program that allows us to customize blocks of text and other variables. We use automation and set campaigns in motion that continue until we get the desired outcome (or the individual opts out). What’s most important is to get started and embrace the concept of personalization.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew” is our mantra around the office. Along the same vein, it’s important to “eat what you have.” You likely have far more data than you realize. It’s important to use what you have. You very possibly already have the nuts and bolts in your AMS to get out really solid personalized messages. And be sure to look at all the different databases that your organization has in place. For example, the Entomological Society of America has a member database and a scientific database (for capturing submissions for our meetings). We also have an author submission database. All of these databases provide a wealth of information. This gives us lots of fodder for customized messages. There are all kinds of little pieces of data that are often overlooked but can drive really personalized messages.

At the end of the day, don’t forget to evaluate. One of the most important questions to ask is, “Is it working for us?” The sky’s the limit with regard to personalization. You can put as much time and as much data into your communications as you have resources to allocate. But keep an eye on your messages’ individual ROI. Gauge how many opens, click-throughs, and responses to calls to action you are generating considering your investments of time, resources, and staff. Certainly you want to put in enough energy to get your members to take action and engage, but not more than is necessary to achieve your goals.