Digital Strategy for Membership Organisations

How strategic thinking can drive acquisition and retention for membership organisations and trade associations


Digital Strategy for Membership Organisations

How strategic thinking can drive acquisition and retention for membership organisations and trade associations

If you are struggling with low onsite conversion rates, fewer renewals from existing members or having trouble integrating offline with online marketing, we hope this guide will provide some useful insight.

The guide we will explore some of the major challenges and their solutions, the elements to consider when creating a Digital Strategy for a Membership Organisation and the importance of audience research.

In this guide we look at:

  • The key components of a multichannel strategy
  • Understanding your audience
  • Channels to leverage for improved acquisition and retention
  • A recent case study example

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Digital Strategy for Membership Organisations

How strategic thinking can drive acquisition and retention for membership organisations and trade associations


  1. Membership & Professional Organisations face unique challenges
  2. Objectives & Challenges
  3. Strategy Overview
  4. Outputs
  5. 3 Key Strategy Areas
  6. Audience
  7. Acquisition – Challenges & Opportunities
  8. Acquisition – Solutions
  9. Retention – Challenges & Opportunities
  10. Retention – Solutions
  11. Case study
  12. Let’s talk about digital strategy



Membership & Professional Organisations face unique challenges when it comes to marketing

17 year’s experience working organisations like yours has helped us understand these challenges – in this guide we’ll share that knowledge with you.

How to solve the challenges

This guide will explore some of the major challenges you face and how to solve them, as well as what goes in to creating a Digital Strategy for a Membership Organisation, and the importance of audience research.



Objectives & Challenges

The membership model relies on acquisition of new members as well as retaining existing members. Overall growth can only occur when both parts are seeing positive growth.


Even when various digital channels are embraced by organisations, a cohesive digital strategy and a clear understanding of the audience is often lacking.


  • Offline channels losing effectiveness
  • Utilising more of the available channels
  • Awareness and reach
  • Conversion rates
  • Cohesive multichannel approach, using newer channels
  • Disconnect between why user joins and the perceived benefits the organisation thinks drive purchase intent


Often, too much emphasis is placed on acquisition meaning retention is neglected – but you cannot fill a leaky bucket.

It is important to ensure that whilst you are attracting new members, you are also providing value for your existing members, so they feel renewing their membership is worth the investment.

  • High drop out rates after year one
  • Supposition over actual audience research
  • Perceived value – expectation for increase in member benefits
  • An expectation from members for a more engaging and interactive digital experience

Only 4 in 10 organisations say their members are seeing an increase in member benefits – Memberwise survey 2016



Strategy Overview

The key components required to build a comprehensive and successful Digital Strategy are:

strategy overview



When delivering a Digital Strategy for a Membership Organisation, you should aim to produce the following outputs, providing yourself with the full set of tools needed to implement a rounded and effective marketing process:

Digital Strategy Document

Building on workshops and other research activity, such as UX / CRO tools, create a digital strategy document which details:

  • Quick wins
  • Top level strategic direction
  • Selected digital channels
  • Digital objectives
  • Engagement tactics

Digital Strategy Roadmap

In addition to the digital strategy document, you should also produce a digital activity roadmap.

digital strategy roadmap
This will aim to:

  • Highlight appropriate digital channels for marketing activity
  • Plan out proposed activity over 3, 6, 12 months and beyond, split down by channel
  • Include milestones so that activity can be reviewed and measured effectivelyInclude milestones so that activity can be reviewed and measured effectively
  • Engagement tactics



3 Key Strategy Areas

For a Membership Organisation, a digital strategy splits into three key areas, covering the full marketing funnel. We can also see how channel activity breaks down across the strategy.


(Activity to drive traffic)

Focused on targeting new members, capturing details and encouraging them to join.

  • PPC & SEO
  • Full Funnel Display
  • Email Prospecting
  • Content
  • Social Media


(Activity to convert traffic)

Focused on providing the best on site experience and refining messaging.

  • UX & CRO
  • Landing Pages
  • Message Development


(Activity to help retention)

Focused on driving renewals from existing members, demonstrating the value and benefits of their membership, and encouraging use of services on offer.

  • Email & Communication
  • Marketing Automation
  • Content




Understanding the needs and motivations of your audience is vital. Not having this understand can cause a disconnect between why a user joins the organisation and what you think drives purchase intent.

Membership organisations often project themselves outward –statements like ‘we know our members’ and ‘x is the reason people sign up’ are commonplace.

The result of not understanding your target audience is low conversion rates and low renewal numbers. The organisation suffers from a ‘leaky bucket’ and struggles to grow.

Knowing your audience and understanding their motivations is key to creating messaging that will resonate. It also enables you to deliver the right content at the right point in the membership journey.

Once understand the audience, profile their decision making journey and behaviour you can then tailor messaging and channel to reach them.


During the user research process we create personas to help capture what motivates members to join, and throughout their membership. These factors feed into the strategy, but also into more detailed messaging, and targeting options on a tactical level.

Well researched personas will ensure that your website and marketing are meeting your audiences’ needs and directing them towards completing your goals.


Message Development – Use digital channels to help prove which messages and propositions provide most appeal to the member base and steer overall content strategy in future.



Acquisition – Challenges & Opportunities

Acquisition of new members is a key challenge for Membership & Professional Organisations.

Acquisition improvements are based on:

  • Improving the awareness of your target audience – of your organisation and the unique benefits of membership through providing the right messaging
  • Visibility and discovery
  • Promotion
  • Outreach
  • Conversions!

Your website and digital marketing activity should:

  • Be accessible and responsive across devices
  • Provide an effective tool to acquire new members
  • Promote the benefits of membership
  • Secure conversions

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Memberwise just over 50% of membership organisations polled had fully responsive websites



Acquisition – Solutions

Channels to leverage in order to meet the challenges of acquiring new members.

acquisition solutions


Retention – Challenges & Opportunities

Retaining members is a key challenge for Membership & Professional Organisations.

Retention improvements are based on:

  • Increasing member engagement
  • Improving first year renewals – this is the biggest area of concern initially. Research shows that members who don’t make use of benefits in the first year have a much higher drop out rate
  • Improving overall renewal rate – a longer term project

Your website and digital marketing activity should:

  • Promote the benefits of membership and encourage members to engage and get great value from their memberships
  • Provide encouragement for members to renew their memberships, and provide an easy to use tool to allow that to happen
  • Encourage lapsed members to renew their membership, providing them with motivation and reminding them of the membership benefits they are missing out on



Retention – Solutions

Channels to leverage in order to meet the challenges of retaining existing members and recovering lapsed members.


A variety of email types to engage, add value and motivate members. Examples are:

  • Emails to new members to make them aware of all the benefits available to them and encourage use, to decrease first year drop out
  • Offers and timely invitations
  • Renewal campaigns and those to re-engage lapsed members


Ensure members are receiving information that is relevant to them and that they have agreed to receive. This will be even more important when the GDPR comes in to effect in 2018.

Marketing Automation

Simplify the email process and provide appropriate messaging at various stages of the membership journey, triggered by member interactions or timing.


Across the website and other channels for deeper member engagement.



Case study

THE CHALLENGE One of our clients, a leading membership organisation for professionals, came to us with a brief, outlining the challenges they were experiencing in meeting their business goals.

Historically direct marketing channels had been a major source of new leads, but one channel had seen a vast drop off in recent years and the organisation wanted to redirect budget from this channel into better performing digital channels.

They were struggling with a high percentage drop off after the first year of membership and needed to find a way to encourage their members to renew at this point. Whilst they were making use of some digital channels, it was without the steer of a clear strategy developed for their audience – this was our starting point.

A strategic approach

As part of our research and subsequent digital strategy, we provided a clear, actionable plan that would deliver improvements for both acquisition and retention – suitable channels were selected and messaging created for all stages of the membership journey.

A set of personas were also developed, reflecting the various member types identified from user research – these were used to inform decisionmaking and can now be used for developing all future marketing activity. We created a best practice email strategy and developed email templates and content style guidelines for each touchpoint in both the new members and renewal email campaigns.


We have been working with the client to implement this strategy for their acquisition and retention activity. Implementation for retention purposes is currently in progress, but it is already showing positive returns. For member acquisition purposes, we currently manage SEO, PPC and Display channel, and have already seen marked performance improvements from this activity.

In terms of acquisition numbers, we have completely restructured the client’s PPC account and have seen a significant weekly increase in conversions. We have also have brought CPA down to around £20, a significant reduction from the £500 CPA they were achieving previously via Paid Search. In addition, our Display campaigns are achieving an average of £50 CPA, which represents an ROI of around 10:1.



Let’s talk about digital strategy

Approaching digital with a scattergun approach will not lead to significant and lasting gains. A joined up multichannel approach that is tailored to your audience and all stages of the membership journey will. A solid Digital Strategy is vital to achieving this, ensuring growth through acquisition and retention.

We love getting hands-on with the unique challenges that marketing for Membership Organisations brings and we’d love to help you meet those challenges.

Download the guide