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Aimee Pagano

By: Aimee Pagano on May 20th, 2019

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Personalization: The Key to Increased Member Engagement

member engagement

Low member engagement is a major concern for every organization.

It starts out as some worrying statistics on the marketing dashboard: low open rates and click-throughs, a fall in website activity, diminishing interest in live events. Before you know it, low engagement starts to impact the most important statistic of all – membership.

Unengaged members are more likely to drop out of the association than people who rely heavily on your group to help fulfill their professional needs. So, what do you do when you are seeing an issue with member engagement?

The answer: personalization.

What is Personalization?

First of all, let’s look at what personalization is not.

It’s a trivial task to include personal details in an email. You can use personalization tokens along the lines of, “Good morning $NAME, here is an offer for you,” and pull details from the database for each outgoing email.

But when we talk about personalization in terms of engagement, we’re really looking at personalizing the member experience as much as possible. When members interact with us digitally, either by visiting a website or receiving an email, we want that interaction to be customized for them. That means sending emails about subjects that interest them, suggesting courses that are relevant to their needs, and notifying them about live events that they don’t want to miss.

Three Levels of Personalization

Your current level of personalization falls somewhere into one of three categories:

No personalization - Blanket Communications

This is where you have little to no personalization in your communications. Your messages may contain personalization tokens so that each email contains the recipient’s name and title, but it’s not truly personalized because every member gets the same email.

Some personalization - Segmented messages

At this level, you are breaking up your membership into smaller groups, and producing bespoke messages for each group. You can create member personas using AMS data to help you define these segments – the smaller the segments, the more personalized your communications will be.

Full personalization - Individualized Customer Experience

Full individualization means that no two members get the same message at the same time. Each communication is tailor-made for the individual and sent when it’s relevant to them, creating a fully personalized experience. This can be very resource intensive, but the right automation tools allow you to deliver an individualized experience at scale.

7 Steps to Better Personalization

If engagement is an issue, then personalization is most likely the root cause. Here’s how to address the problem.

Make sure your tech stack is fit for purpose

A lot of personalization boils down to two things: triggers and sequencing. Triggers are when a member receives an email because they performed an action. For example, they complete a training module, so they receive an email about related educational material. Sequencing means sending communications over a period of time – for example, one email per week after a member joins in order to help them with onboarding.

You can only do all of this if you have the right tech stack supporting you. At a minimum, this will mean having a fully-featured AMS connected to an email automation platform. You may also consider looking at marketing automation and a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

For fully personalized communications at scale, talk to HighRoad about how ICE can help your association.

Get full buy-in from the association management team

If you need to make major process adjustments, you’ll need to handle these as a change management project.

Before you begin, make sure that everyone is onboard. Let them know that you’re no longer going to be sending huge email blasts to all members and instead will be focusing on a personalization strategy.

If there is any pushback, talk them through the benefits of personalization and explain how low engagement can impact membership. Personalization can sometimes mean a major culture shift within an organization, because you’re no longer broadcasting information en masse, but instead focusing on having conversations.

Begin personalizing from the first interaction

Ideally, you’ll begin personalizing from the moment someone first visits your website. Even if they’re not logged in, you can use cookies to track their activity and serve them relevant content.

Imagine, for example, that someone visits the page about membership pricing. They end their session and then come back a week later (which you can tell, thanks to the cookie). You can now guide them to a conversion-focused landing page with offers to capture their email address.

With the right tech stack in place, you can track this journey from casual visitor to signed-up member, and you can personalize everything along the way. You’ll need a marketing automation platform or CRM here to help guide each person through your sales funnels. After sign-up, all information can be exported to the AMS, so that you can continue to offer personalized messages to your new members.

Keep data clean and accurate

No personalization is better than bad personalization. You don’t want to get an email that starts “Dear Bob,” if your name is Susan. You also don’t want to get emails about Introduction to Management courses if you were promoted to CEO last year.

That’s why data needs to be constantly maintained. Some of this can be done manually, by performing regularly checks where you look for obvious flaws such as empty fields or invalid entries.

You can also cross-check between systems, if your stack is fully integrated. This is especially important for new members, who may still exist as prospects in the CRM. Make sure that the AMS and CRM are regularly synced in order to maintain data accuracy.

Keeping data fresh can also require some manual work. Take every chance to keep information up to date. For example, let your customer service reps know that each time they receive a call, they should take the opportunity to run through the member details on file and make sure they’re up to date.

Finally, customers should have the option to update their information via a self-service portal. Make sure that there is a very clear and obvious way for members to add fresh contact details or amend anything that’s wrong.

Make sure the content matches the communications

A lot of your communications will be in relation to your content. For example, you may send messages to let people know about new white papers, education modules that have been added or updated, or encouraging them to sign up online for a live event.

It goes without saying that you need to ensure that your communications accurately reflect your content. Write informative descriptions of the content that explains why it’s relevant to the recipient, and make sure that the content delivers exactly what was promised. Also, don’t forget to double-check all links to ensure that they work!

The other issue is to ensure that new content is picked up in your personalization strategy. After all, there’s no point in publishing something terrific if you don’t tell anyone about it. Implement a content review process where each new item is matched up to relevant member personas.

Measure and adjust

Personalization is not an exact science. And even when you do get it right, your membership will keep changing and evolving.

This is why you need a constant review process to ensure that you’re hitting the mark with your communications. Look at the stats that need to improve, whether that’s email open rates, website traffic, member retention, or something else. Have clear goals and see whether you’re hitting your targets with each message.

Initially, you might do this as part of a change project. Over time, you’ll need a marketing team who are empowered to make decisions about personalization and who have the tools to tweak your communication strategy. This will mean offering training in the use of tools like marketing automation, email automation and ICE.

Move towards full personalization

The ultimate goal is to reach a point where each member receives messages that are unique to them. Achieving this will lead to excellent engagement, and maximum levels of retention.

Full personalization is possible if you have the right technology. Most of us have already experienced this – think of the major brands who regularly send you emails, and you’ll realize that few of them ever send bulk, non-personalized communications.

For associations, a tool like ICE can help to deliver personalization at scale. Using this kind of solution means that every email received is relevant, which usually leads to every email being opened and read.

People increasingly expect this kind of personalization from the organizations with which they interact. We’re all busy and none of us have time to open every email we receive. But we’ll make an exception for those emails that we know contain something of value – information that is timely, relevant, and personalized.

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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.