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Nicole Crilley

By: Nicole Crilley on April 19th, 2022

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The member experience starts with a choice and a checkmark

member engagement | Member Communications | Email Automation | consent based marketing | Communication Preferences | Subscription-based marketing

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article
Customization and personalization is no longer a prized possession. It's expected when it comes to communicating with consumers.

For associations, non-profits, and member-based groups—whose cornerstone value comes in the form of communication, content, and community—this 1:1 member communication is a must-have for marketers. 

The ability for members and customers to control the content that they receive, specifically through email, is invaluable to their satisfaction and your bottom line.

Cue the Email Preference Center (EPC)—a centralized location where users manage their communication preferences and topical interests.

So how does it work exactly? 
The system works by displaying a user's preferences on a single page where they can check various categories related to their interests rather than opting out of emails entirely. Associations using this tool perpetuate member (and non-member) centricity by enhancing their content-absorption experience. 

Robust EPCs sync data with both your digital platform and/or your association management system (AMS). This connection keeps your members' information up-to-date and lets them manage the frequency and type of emails received, versus unsubscribing from everything.

On top of that, a solid EPC can also help you optimize and display product/program ads to the right audiences through the emails they receive.  

So how can EPCs keep your members at the center through content customization?

EPCs put the user first
For the most part, EPCs are easy to set up, simple to use, and can be operated even on the tightest budgets—a testament to just how valuable they can be to association staff.
Though there are obvious operational positives, adding value to members and prospects is the true benefit. Here are some of the key ways that EPCs keep members and customers top of mind:
Prevents email overload and SPAM 
Email inbox overload can be a frustrating experience for anyone due to the time it takes to view, sort, and clean out messages. An EPC minimizes these daunting tasks by filtering out emails where the member hasn't indicated interest.

For instance, a CFO member of a manufacturing association will likely only care about a narrow scope of financial content related to managing cash flow, tracking equipment depreciation, or minimizing lost inventory value.

This CFO—let's call him CFO Charlie—is going to be underwhelmed and frankly, confused, if he gets swaths of emails outside of the topic he's focused on. Therefore, too many emails on industry updates, association news, or insights on other company functions like marketing or management will only frustrate him.

Finally, providing the option to select or deselect certain communications keeps your association in compliance with SPAM and other privacy laws. This can save you from paying hefty fines associated with email SPAM reported by your members or other recipients. 

Improves the member experience through customization 
Although emails are only a tiny part of your member's interaction with your association, individualizing that particular component can significantly affect their perception of your brand. Imagine if your members could create their own experience through consent rather than falling into a one-size-fits-all membership engagement strategy. 
Focusing on CFO Charlie again—once Charlie gets the option to filter out the static, suddenly he focuses on the emails that are relevant to him. This sense of connection immediately improves his experience as a member. The improvement not only impacts the likeliness for Charlie to renew, it increases his likeliness to participate in other revenue-driving programs. 

Plus, some EPCs offer frequency managers. This lets Charlie decide how often he hears from your organization which improves his experience even more. 

Increases member retention by aligning interests with content  
Once CFO Charlie gets updated on the programs that are meaningful to him, the probability that Charlie will start participating in more programs and attending more events, grows higher.
The realized value that Charlie attains—whether through knowledge-share, certifications, and community—increases his likelihood of remaining a member.
Whether Charlie is paying for his membership out-of-pocket, or whether his company is absorbing the cost, there's justification of membership either way. Charlie is doing better in his career or doing better in life. He correlates these improvements with your programming and sees enough return on his investment to remain a member.
Create the 'value connection' with prospective members 
But EPCs aren't limited to members. Robust EPCs with the ability to dynamically pivot based on the relationship of that contact with your org, can do so much more. They can create connections with non-members, which when nurtured effectively, can create a healthy funnel for membership recruitment. 
By allowing non-members to self-select topics they are interested in, you can better demonstrate your org's value through free content, and can optimize your nurture journeys. You can even change the content that gets displayed based on their non-member status.
For example, Physician Pamela is not currently a member of a specialty medical society although that society is most likely a good fit for her based on her role and her interests.
After punching in a particular question in Google, Pamela comes across a newsletter placed prudently on the medical society's website. She clicks on the newsletter link which takes her to the org's Email Preference Center. Because Pamela is still interested in the newsletter, she provides her contact information in exchange for the free newsletter subscription. 
Now that society has made a connection with Pamela. Every month, they're going to deliver her a branded newsletter where they can get even more intel on her based on what she reads and what she clicks on. 
Pamela gets what she wants based on the newsletter she receives, and the org starts instilling trust in Pamela. She sees the intellectual capital they're pushing out as a value to the medical community and to her role. 
After 3 months into her subscription, she decides she wants to join the society. And can do so conveniently because a 'Join Now' CTA is built directly into the newsletter template. Pamela is now a member of that society. 

Once Pamela becomes a member, her behavioral data isn't lost. The Email Preference Center keeps her preferences tied to her record so that you're streamlining the transition from prospect to lead to member.

In fact, your first welcome email can be focused on the content you know Pamela is interested in. You can even take it a step further and provide Pamela easy access to her now member-forward Email Preference Center, which offers up way more content than should could access as a prospect. 

Whether you decide to hold that relationship in your digital platform or your AMS, you maintain the continuity of that relationship. And credibility with potentially a long-lasting member. 

Demonstrating your value in your EPC
Investing in an EPC platform isn't enough to keep unsubscribes low and engagement levels high. There needs to be a systematic way to organize and categorize your value for best results. Here are a few things to consider when structuring the components of your EPC:
Appeal to your audiences 
Make sure there's a sensible differentiation between what members and prospects are accessing through your EPC. For instance, members looking to renew a certification by attending a member-only webinar should have the option to opt-in or out of these email types.
On the other hand, prospects should either not see these preferences or should see them without the ability to check them (good for soft lead gen) when their preferences display.
Organize communication and content selection 
When organizing your selection boxes, consider all types and variables. For instance, you can offer them content options based on topics/areas of focus such as financial management, industry updates, or marketing. You can also organize based on the program type/format, like opting into communications for upcoming events and webinars. 

You might also sort categories by communication type and allow users to subscribe only to newsletters, industry reports, or calendar invites. Lastly, depending on your organizational hierarchy, you could allow your audiences to select content based on relevant sectors, industries, or job functions.

There's no one right way when it comes to how this information gets organized. The best approach however is to take the least self-serving approach. Think less about how your association organizes its programs, budget lines, and initiatives and think more about how your members are going to easily scan for and check the topics they're interested in.

For example, let's take Food Safety Manager, Francesca. She's a member of a large food manufacturing and distribution association. Would a category on Seminars (which could cross over a number of topics that may or may not be applicable to Francesca) make sense or would Food Safety (food safety conferences, food safety webinars, food safety newsletters, etc.) as a topical category be more appealing to Francesca? 
The answer lies with Francesca. Once you've philosophically thought through what makes Francesca tick and how she's going to best create her own experience with you, you'll know which direction to take with your EPC.
Provide Alerts 
Once you've organized your preference page from both a functional and aesthetic perspective, make sure that your users are clear on how to use the EPC when making selections.
Provide a level-setting intro so that they know the EPC is there for them to take the remote on their member experience. And, if they do choose to globally unsubscribe, use precise language to make it clear that the user is opting out of all communications before they hit the 'Submit' button. 
Follow Industry Standards 
Since associations may have a number of different ways to slice and dice their value, it can be daunting compartmentalizing and even condensing options into categories that are meaningful to the member or prospect.
Regardless of how you design and structure your EPC, keep the following guidelines in mind:
  • 5 to 15 main categories and sub-categories is optimal.
  • For Member EPCs, default to pre-checked primary categories. Assume that, as members, they want to hear everything about your org at the onset and put the onus on them to opt-out.
  • For Prospect EPCs, where there's no form of payment and no prior relationship, assume the opposite. Default to unchecked preferences at the onset unless they tell you otherwise just by way of entering your EPC.

Ready to prioritize member experience? We can help. 
Book a consultation today and learn about our high-powered EPC. We have a menu of options (all discussed in the above blog), and more, to get you one step closer to your members and prospects.

About Nicole Crilley

Nicole is a digital strategist and content designer with 10 years of experience in email marketing automation, web design, marketing technology, user experience, and content production. With a versatile background in freelance, consulting, and corporate settings, Nicole specializes in identifying and implementing effective digital strategies.