Let’s talk about segmentation. While this is definitely not a new word for association managers, perhaps the concept requires greater thought if we are to use it effectively. Yes, technology advancement has made it easier to create smaller groups within your membership and to tailor your offerings to those sub-sections. In theory this is a big win. It should help you achieve your association’s engagement goals.
However, membership segmentation only works if you understand why you’re doing it. Following the industry trend is not a strategy. Let’s say, for example, that you’re extracting figures from your database to provide a report for your Board of Directors highlighting the number of young members in your association. It’s information worth knowing, but you’ve really only scratched the surface.
The real objectives of segmentation
Ideally you should be asking questions like: What benefits will segmentation provide our members? How will it improve our business process? How can we use it to optimise our value proposition to every segment?
The most important objective of segmentation is to better serve members’ needs and wants, not overload them with irrelevant information. Indeed there is no real point to segmentation if you simply communicate all 15 benefits of your membership to every segment. Real segmentation starts when you offer different activities and communication messages to different segments.
In general marketing literature, the most popular ways to segment customers have always been age, location, and other basic demographics. But are these criteria relevant to the association environment?
Identifying your segments
Geographical segmentation is an obvious technique and most associations do it quite well, organising local events and building local networks to engage members of the immediate community. This approach recognises that large memberships are actually made up of many smaller, localised memberships spread across the country. If people take an interest at this level, they may take an interest in your other activities too.
What about age segmentation? In recent times most associations have been aiming to attract as many young members as possible. ‘Millennials’ has become an industry buzzword. But can we identify millennials as a homogenous segment? The needs of a young student will differ significantly from the needs of an early-career graduate or young professional progressing towards a first managerial role.
Identifying your segments by factors such as career stage, involvement (e.g. employer vs interpreter vs volunteer), interest groups, and level of engagement with your association (event attendee vs paying member vs engaged member serving on a committee) may be a better approach.
Steps for effective segmentation
So how can you identify a segmentation method that is relevant to your association?
1. Define your goals. While the main goal of segmentation is to adapt value proposition and communications with your potential and current members, the needs of every association differ. You may want to concentrate your efforts on attracting new members and growing your membership (in this case you will need to segment your potential markets, not your members), offering tailored services and events within smaller groups to better serve your members’ needs (in this case you may need to use geographical segmentation or interest groups), increasing renewal rate (by tailoring your offering to segments with different membership cycle or level of engagement) etc.
2. Identify your target market. While all goals seem important, it is impossible to target all segments, especially considering limited association resources. Based on your goals, define segments you want to target in the next 6-12 months and create their detailed personas. What are their needs? What career stage are they at? What services / content are they interested in?
3. Test your data and assumptions. Check to see if you can easily extract this segment from your database to analyse and test your assumptions, and later tailor your communications and activities. Usually associations have a lot of content in the existing database, and additional surveys are not always necessary.
- Information from member application forms: Why did they join? Where did they hear about your association?
- Information from your events: What events did they attend? How engaged are they with our association?
- What content are they interested in (click rates in your EDM analytics)?
4. Estimate your resources. After you have identified the needs of your target segment, it’s time to evaluate whether you can provide quality services to meet these needs. It’s one thing knowing what should be done, it’s another thing actually doing it. Review your resources (personnel, technology, budget etc) and consider how you can best address the services your segment is looking for.
5. Create an action plan. Now, when you have your segments identified, create a clear action plan for how you’re going to target them. Will it be targeted EDM campaigns? Will you use different media channels (e.g. social media vs print publication)? What member benefits are you going to offer?
We’ve now taken a deeper look at the reasons for membership segmentation and the genuine benefits that can be achieved for both you and your membership communities. Remember, truly effective segmentation is about the why, not just the who and how many.