Strategies to grow membership with online courses.

Getting non-member learners to buy and absorb learning programs can be problematic if association professionals are tunnel-visioned on serving only their core membership.

While many would see getting non-members to pay a higher price as simply a way to boost the profitability of an education program, this is one of the best opportunities to acquire new members. While it is more cost-effective in the short-term to focus on member retention, attracting new members is the lifeblood of any association that hopes to be active in a decade.

According to a recent member study conducted by Community Brands, association members rank industry information and training as their top two member benefits. Therefore, presenting the best quality and most relevant content to non-members can be the most effective marketing vehicle you choose. Motivating non-members to buy your content can be broken down into 5 sections:

  1. Topic and Speaker Selection
  2. Creating Non-Member Personas
  3. Content Delivery
  4. Pricing and Marketing
  5. Incentivizing Member Referrals

Choosing a Topic and Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Without a doubt, ensuring that the content is exceptional will decide if this new educational program flies or dies. Landing on a topic and choosing a speaker can sometime be like the ‘chicken or the egg paradox’. Sometimes deciding that a speaker will draw a large audience and deliver exceptional content no matter the subject can be the right strategy. Other times, you may see that an emerging trend or topic is garnishing a spike of interest, and then you need to find SME’s that cover that topic. Both the topic and SME should be the starting places to attract new members to absorb your content.

Deciding what content to promote should be carefully considered and vetted by other industry experts. Many association education directors have systematic methods to select hot topics and speakers that will attract non-members to their programs.

  • Evaluate the audience size at other virtual and in-person events
  • Create a content committee with thought leaders from both inside and outside the association
  • Survey new members on which topics and speakers they would like to see

Creating Non-Member Personas

It’s been said that you customer/buyer personas are a ‘semi-fictional representations of your customers’. By dividing you audience into sections, and assign actual traits, interests and behaviors to each, you can cater the right content, in the right format to the right people. For associations that have a large population of baby-boomers, who are starting to retire, it is important for you to separate their interests from potential millennial members. In addition to demographics like age, you also need to be segmenting your personas by the type of buyer. There is no magic number of personas that you need, but they should be representative of all the members and non-members that may purchase content from you.

While we have been discussing using these programs to attract new members through your content, there are some people that are simply not a fit for the other 99% of content you offer. This is important because there are several member recruitment activities and resources from associations that can be wasted if this is not accounted for.

For example). If a marketing agency association features a presentation on ‘How to Market a Dental Practice’, this would appeal to marketing agencies that want to earn a dental practice’s business. They are all potential members. However, it may also attract dentists looking for marketing tips for their practice. They are most likely not potential members.

Check out Part 2 of this article here!

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