Jack McGrath: Hi and welcome to another in our series Ask the Experts. My name is Jack McGrath. Today I’m going to be talking with Sheri Jacobs. Sheri, you’ve written a number of books on membership marketing, most recently the book The Art of Membership How to Attract, Retain, and Cement Member Loyalty. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why you decided to write it?
Sheri Jacobs: Yes, Jack it all starts with willingness. So, what I discovered is that people have a willingness. A willingness to join, a willingness to renew, willingness to engage, willingness to volunteer, and what organizations struggle with is, how do you assign value connected to people’s willingness so you can get them to do what you want: to join, or to register, or to attend, or to volunteer. And what helps organizations connect the two things, to bridge that willingness with the value proposition that they’re trying to build is to understand, at a very deeper level, what people need. That’s personal and relevant to them.
Jacobs: So, I wrote the book because I’ve collected more than forty research studies on membership studies, and interviewed dozens of CEOs of associations that have addressed this issue. And I wanted to put it together in a book so that I could share what I have learned with others on how you connect that value you’re trying to figure out with that willingness to act.
McGrath: Awesome. Let me ask you, what is the most significant force that you see shaping the association community?
Jacobs: Context. So, associations have been very good at collecting data, collecting information from their members, and then packaging it, putting it together, and sending it out to others, and it has to be relevant, it has to be the context for them that makes sense. And how I see this changing is that people used to always support organizations and they would join whether there was a context for them, if it was relevant to them, or not. And that has shifted. So, we still may be satisfied, or interested, or love the mission of an organization but if it no longer has personal relevance and context to me then, we are no longer to invest in it. We may shift to something else. So, that is going to impact organizations that used to have a percentage of their membership that would pay and would join even if that context wasn’t there.
McGrath: Great. So, a lot of association partners report marketing, and specifically marketing their associations’ educational opportunities, as one of their biggest weaknesses. What advice do you have for associations who have recently planned, or plan, to launch new offerings such as an online course or a webinar series?
Jacobs: My answer is, the number ‘ten.’ So, here’s what I mean. In the book what I write about is this idea that a baseball player, if they go up to bat ten times and they strike out seven, they fail seven times. They still get up to bat three times, they’re batting three hundred. They’re a success. They’re a rock star. That’s not allowed in the association or the business world. You get one idea. What is that one idea? And if it fails, that’s it. And I don’t know why anyone would think that they could be more successful than a professional baseball player is at his job. So my number is ten and what I think people need to do is they need to do their due diligence. They need to get about eighty percent of what they need, think about what are the risks and how they can mitigate them, and then move forward but be able to create a culture where you can go up to bat ten times, ten ideas. Because if you do that and three succeed you’re still ahead of the person who has one idea. So, when you’re thinking about new products, or you move into new areas you have to allow yourself to do that, but you also have to make sure that you learn from it. So, that’s why the answer is ‘ten.’
McGrath: Wow, that’s great advice. I hadn’t heard that before but I love it.
Jacobs: It’s from the book.
McGrath: Okay. How can associations develop their value proposition for these types of offerings and help to get that message out to their membership, and beyond?
Jacobs: Well, if we go back to willingness: the willingness to join, the willingness to register, the willingness to volunteer, whatever they’re trying to do. To be able to understand how to get people to be willing to do something you need to conduct the research, you need to understand not just what they’re interested in and satisfied with, but you need to understand what their motivations are, their behaviors, and that willingness to act on something. And when you’re able to connect those, then you can create a value proposition that works. A great example is if you have two people that walk into an Apple store. They both have the same salary, they both have the same education, the same social-economic background. One person may have a stronger willingness to buy the products than the other, even though they look the same on paper. So, understanding people’s willingness to act is part of creating that value proposition that’s going to resonate.
McGrath: Great, thanks so much. Thank you Sheri, thanks everyone. And remember, the number is ‘ten.’ And thanks so much for watching and look for other series in our Ask the Experts.