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December 06, 2005

The problem with WOM membership marketing

This is not to say that there aren't some very effective WOM campaigns out there for membership, but there's a fundamental shortcoming of this strategy. You see, people rely heavily on their associations for professional networking. Therefore, most of the people they run across in a professional setting are fellow members of the associations to which they belong. Probably 90% of my association management colleagues are already members of the same associations as me. WOM membership marketing won't do my associations a whole lot of good, except that they might reach 10% of my colleagues.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't do WOM at all, just keep it in its proper perspective.


Chris Bailey said...

But then, is the problem that the association is too insular? That members are too compelled to stick just with who they know?

Perhaps an interesting question is how to help members expand their network of colleagues by encouraging WOM recruiting? The whole essence of WOM is that it's not an internal effort, but something that filters out into our members' world organically.

With that said, I would agree that you shouldn't pin your entire recruitment work on WOM, but I tend to believe that it is a more powerful way to build a long-term relationship between member and association.

Nick said...

That works for a lot of people, but Ben has a point, because he works for the CPAs. I used to work for the Marriage and Family Therapists, and seriously, there's a limit to the amount of outreach you can do because you're not out there evangelizing to the whole public. For example, if you're a family therapist working then you can look at your co-workers, and maybe there's only one other family therapist around, and they, say, hate the association (by way of example :).

So I would say then, that you, Chris, are looking for kind of a hybridized outcome, right? Wherein the outcome you really want to get to is not only the membership numbers but also the quality of the relationship.

Ben said...

No doubt WOM is cool stuff, but not quite as appropriate for membership marketing as opposed to product marketing. A few weeks ago I e-mailed a member some text about joining VSCPA that I asked him to forward to his non-member co-workers under his signature. After giving it some thought, he declined, saying he believed it was inappropriate. I'm not giving up on WOM for membership just yet. I'm actually going to suggest a WOM campaign to our marketing director for next fiscal year.

Chris Bailey said...

Well hey there Nick...I get what you're saying. Similarly, I used to work for an association of HR professionals focusing primarily on corporate work/life programs. In most cases, they were the only individual doing this work within their organization so their connections were few. The reason they joined was to make more connections through the association.

There's always new potential members out there. What WOM can do is build a passionate member base in a way that a cold direct market postcard just can't.

Yet, no matter how you slice it, some members will be great WOM evangelists and others will turn it away like Ben's member. Right now, I'm working on a program that helps the more reticent members find their WOM potential. More soon on this...