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Aimee Pagano

By: Aimee Pagano on April 24th, 2020

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Building a Member Journey that Converts

member engagement | Member experience | Email Automation | member conversion | member retention

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article

Every purchasing decision happens at the end of a journey. When you buy a sandwich, it’s because you felt hungry, you thought about your food options, and you decided that the best available choice was a sandwich.

Association members follow the same process when they’re making decisions about attending events, renewing their membership, or getting certified. Their journey begins with the realization that they need something to help their career or their personal aspirations. Ideally, that journey ends―and another one begins―when they engage with your association.

In an age of email automation, which mirrors the principles of marketing automation, it’s more important than ever to understand how this journey works. These tools can help you gather the data required to plan productive member journeys, as well as automating the steps along the way.

How to create a member journey

Before you can map out a successful journey, you need to understand your members.

1―Identify your persona member matrix

Within your membership, there are several identifiable subgroups. For example, you can group people according to their current point on the career path. Graduates have a particular set of needs and interests, which are distinct from the need and interests of members near retirement age.

Your persona member matrix helps you to identify the most important subgroups within your membership. To identify individual personas, you’ll need to consider data points such as:

  • Career level
  • Areas of interest
  • Size of company
  • Job function
  • Geography
  • Category of membership

The way you categorize your members based on one, more, or all of these data points is your persona member matrix. The finished matrix should be:

  • Hierarchical: Every member should fall under one of the personas in your matrix. Any outliers might indicate that your matrix isn’t complete. With this said, don't fall into the practice of slicing too much. It will inevitably spread your marketing resources and efforts too thin. We recommend staying between 5-7 personas. With this said, if your organization is layered in a way that you justifiably need to go beyond this threshold, make sure you're weighting your personas in your marketing plan.
  • Unique: Each persona should be distinct from every other persona because that's an indicator of how your personas are going to absorb your marketing (free) content and programmatic (paid) content. If two personas are effectively identical, try merging them into a single identity.
  • Useful: Personas should allow you to target a substantial group of people. If a persona only describes a handful of members, you won’t be able to use it for marketing.
  • Detailed: The goal is to create a bespoke journey for each persona in the matrix. If you don’t have enough information to help craft this journey, then you may need to do some additional research.

Now that your matrix is complete, you’re ready to start crafting member journeys.

2―Start with one persona

Creating member journeys requires a lot of analysis, trial and error, and patience.  It’s a journey in itself, one that will reshape the way your marketing team works.

To get started, focus on a single persona. Get things right for one member and you’ll eventually figure out how to create meaningful journeys for every member.

But how do you decide which member persona to focus on first? That depends on your circumstances, but you might want to consider the following:

  • Revenue: Which persona offers the highest potential value? This group provides the highest return on investment for your organization.
  • Engagement: Which persona connects best with your content and programs in terms of overall engagement? This group may not bring in the most revenue but they may engage with no or lower price tag offerings more consistently year-round.
  • Need: Which persona is most in need of help from your association? It’s easiest to build journeys for this group, as you can focus on their pain points. The catch is that you want to ensure you actually have the programming to serve up to this audience. All too often, audiences (particularly newer generations) have higher needs than their more seasoned counterparts but, if your organization hasn't built programming (i.e. a conference track) around them yet, your marketing will be fruitless.

Examine your persona member matrix and identify the group with the highest revenue, engagement, and need. They will be the ideal subjects for your first member journey.

3―Flesh out the persona

The goal of each persona is to describe a real person. A finished persona should feel like someone’s biography (although a mix of both facts and feels), like this:

  • Persona name: Matilda Manager
  • Demographics: Based on the east coast, mid-career, 20 years of experience, staff of 50
  • Skills/attributes: Communication, organization, team player
  • Goals: Improve team efficiency, discover new collaboration tools, deliver coaching and eLearning
  • Obstacles to upsell: Budgetary constraints, no time to explore all options
  • Opportunities: Networking opportunities, high-quality programmatic content, access to best practice research
  • Challenges: Finding time for strategic work, getting her team to adapt to change, securing sign-off from department heads

This persona is based on member data, which can come from anywhere. You might perform analytics on data from systems such as your AMS or CMS to learn about personas. Or, you might conduct surveys and interviews to hear from members directly. You might also work with consultants who understand the association space and who can help you build personas.

Each persona should cover the following areas:

  • Demographics: Key details about the persona, including location, job title, educational attainment, salary, gender and age
  • Firmographics: If you're a trade organization and/or offer a corporate membership model, key details about size of company, number of employees, industry, etc.
  • Skills/attributes: The personal qualities they bring to their work, including soft skills
  • Goals: What this persona wants to achieve
  • Obstacles to upsell: The objections you might encounter when presenting them with an offer
  • Opportunity areas: Unmet needs of each persona that represent a marketing opportunity
  • Challenges: The problems that they need to overcome in their professional life

These details will help you figure out where each persona is coming from, where they want to go, and how you can help them get there. And that is the member journey.

4―Map the content

Associations have an advantage over commercial enterprises when it comes to marketing. You already have a wealth of programmatic content that you can use to add value to each step of the member journey.

Go through the characteristics of each persona and find content that meets their needs. In the example person above, you might create a map such as this:


Content idea


Guide to the latest team productivity tools

Coaching and eLearning

Training templates to support your team


A list of upcoming industry events on the east coast

Occasionally, you may need to repurpose some content to meet your requirements. For example, a members-only white paper with original research could form the basis for some publicly available blog posts.

If you identify a substantial content gap, get your team to work on creating new content on that topic. Avoid creating content for the sake of content, however. Everything you produce should be in response to a specific member need.

5―Plot the journey

We use the word journey because that’s exactly what’s happening here: a journey. Each member starts in one place and then follows a path that leads them to their desired destination.

Like any other journey, it happens in stages with a few steps along the way. Member journeys, like buyer journeys, have four major stages:


At the beginning of the journey, your content should be closely aligned with the member persona. Don’t talk in general terms about what your association has to offer. Instead, focus on the individual member’s needs and how you can help those needs.

This is the stage where you demonstrate that you know your member based on the data you already have on them in your AMS, LMS, EMS, etc. It's also where you provide them free content so that you can get to know them beyond the membership application. Share content that shows what you can do for the person and how you can assist in helping them reach their goals.

Once you've started building this rapport with your member, the journey continues to the consideration stage.


The consideration stage is where you take your learnings from the awareness stage and demonstrate that you can directly solve their problems with your offerings. You're instilling confidence in them that you're not just pushing your own programs and meeting budget goals. You're giving them exactly what they need based on the relationship you've built with them to date.

Content at the consideration stage needs to demonstrate the value of your offering. This means sharing substantial programmatic material such as ebooks, webinars, functional newsletters, and case studies. 

Everything offered at this stage should provide tangible value. If you can prove your worth, they will move along to the next step of the journey: the decision.


By now, you’ve nurtured the lead enough to present them with a proposition. For an association, this can be things like:

  • Membership renewal
  • Certification
  • Conference attendance
  • Publications
  • eLearning
  • Advocacy
  • Volunteership

Your proposition should be supported with evidence of the value. List all of the key features and explain how these features will benefit the member. Where possible, include testimonials, case studies, and social proof to back up your claims.

If your member journey has been successful, you should now be ready to move to a conversion.


The final stage of the journey is when the member accepts the offer, for example by renewing their membership or purchasing virtual conference registration.

But the journey isn’t over when they click the Confirm Purchase button on the website. First, you have to deliver what was promised to them. You then must ensure that it meets their needs. Was all content relevant? Did it deliver on its promise? Is there anything that could be improved?

It's also the point where you gather and assess the data from your journey. You can assess whether your messaging is mapping to your persona, whether your content is mapping to your programs, or what content assets resonated best with your persona. All of the analytics you collect can help improve accuracy on your journeys moving forward.


Member journeys are about creating an experience that’s centered on the needs of members, not the association.

Each step of this journey offers them something useful. They receive relevant content, timely offers, and engaging messaging. Even if they don’t reach conversion this time, they’ll know that your association exists to support them.

But there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all journey. Once you’ve succeeded with one persona, you can create unique journeys for every persona. That way, your members will know that there’s a place for everyone in your association.

Access our webinar to learn more about this topic 

Want to hear more about building goal-tied, relevant, and altruist member journeys?  Check out our on-demand webinar, Building an Individualized Member Journey that Yields Revenue.

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About Aimee Pagano

Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.