We understand member acquisition is the lifeblood of a growing membership organisation. According to the recent MemberWise Digital Excellence Report, new member acquisition is one of the highest priorities for the membership sector.
This is why we recommend and implement inbound marketing services for our membership organisation clients, as we have seen first-hand how this strategy, based on providing real value for members is far more effective in increasing member acquisition than the more traditional outbound marketing tactics.
In this article, we will explore inbound marketing and share our tips on how to utilise the many channels and tactics to drive your member acquisition strategy.
What is inbound marketing?
A great definition of inbound marketing from HubSpot defines it as ‘Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers or members by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they do not always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.’
Whether you use the HubSpot flywheel methodology or the more traditional marketing funnel, inbound marketing supports these approaches to help you drive market growth and revenue.
Benefits of inbound marketing
There are many great benefits from implementing an inbound marketing strategy, and here are a few of our top favourites.
- Produces long-lasting relevant content – allowing you to gain SEO impact and growth potential from this great content for years to come.
- Generates target member leads – as your efforts are targeted to your ideal market and member, you will be attracting the right type of leads.
- Builds brand awareness and authority – as you are communicating with your potential customers in a more engaging and relevant way your brand will stand out against your competition.
- Cost-effective and reduces your cost per lead – inbound leads cost 61% less on average than outbound leads making it a more cost-effective strategy.
- Improves your EAT score – as the core of inbound is creating timely, engaging content and experience for your target audience this will help to build your online profile against the Google Expertise, Authority & Trust recommendations giving you better online visibility.
How can you use inbound marketing to drive member acquisition?
Inbound marketing utilises many marketing tactics and channels including content marketing, blogs, events, search engine optimisation (SEO), paid advertising, social media, email, marketing automation and more to create brand salience and attract new business.
In order to use inbound marketing effectively within your membership marketing strategy, you need to ensure you map the inbound tactics to your member acquisition and retention funnel placing appropriate weighting to the areas of the funnel where you need to make the highest impact.
Below is an example of a membership funnel mapped to the mindset of the member at each stage. Of course, your funnel stages may look different to this, as many of the organisations we have worked with have had slightly different funnels depending on the focus of their organisation.
Once you have your funnel mapped out, you will want to decide which inbound marketing channels and tactics to deploy to support your member acquisition targets.
We would also suggest in the planning stages of your inbound marketing strategy, that you map out your current conversion rates at each stage of the funnel. This will help you identify if there are any huge drop-offs in members along the funnel. And if there are, then this allows you to focus your inbound efforts on that part of the funnel.
Member acquisition inbound marketing channels
Below we have explored some of the commonly used inbound methods for member acquisition where we have seen impressive results first-hand with our membership clients. This will help you to identify which ones are the most appropriate for your organisation.
This is a mammoth topic and includes any form of content including blogs, articles, journals, best practice guides, whitepapers, industry standards, educational content, research, video, landing pages, surveys, FAQs, infographics, images and much more.
Content is applicable at every stage of your member journey, and the key is to create engaging and relevant content that will appeal to your potential members.
Examples of content marketing tactics for a membership organisation could include an FAQ section on your website with helpful self-service content for potential and existing members (more on how self-service can improve the member experience), to an industry journal to position your organisation as a thought leader within your industry, and much more!
The other area of content we have seen many organisations utilising is Continuing Professional Development (CPD) content. This of course depends on the type of organisation you are. But this can offer a valuable additional benefit for your potential members and could be a deciding factor between you and a competing organisation.
Remember, whatever content you create, needs to be relevant, timely, and engaging.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
By definition Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or web page from search engines. And with 68% of online experiences beginning with a search engine, this is a vital inbound tool in your marketing toolkit.
SEO will help potential members learn about your organisation when searching online for specific research, stats, qualifications, compliance information, standards and more. By providing and optimising this type of content you will be visible in search engines, and therefore driving more of your target traffic to your website.
There are many technical aspects to a great SEO strategy, and we have covered many of these in our recent guides – website optimisation guide for membership organisations and SEO success guide for membership organisations.
We know the last year or so, events have looked rather different, with 94% of membership organisations transitioning their face-to-face events to virtual/hybrid options (MemberWise). Some organisations may choose to keep to this method of delivery post-Covid, but there is no denying that events can play a useful inbound marketing role for member acquisition.
Many organisations we have worked with use events such as webinars and thought leadership seminars as member acquisition tools. These are a great tactic as they give you the flexibility to highlight your expertise in a topic that is of interest to your prospective members driving your position as an expert in your field, whilst allowing you to generate prospective new member data that you can use within your marketing automation system. Nicely linking to another element of your inbound toolkit.
Online communities also offer a great member acquisition event tactic. Over the last 2 years, we have seen a 12% increase in the number of membership organisations offering online member communities. This can be a great tool in your member acquisition strategy as if your community is of value to a potential member, it could be one of the reasons they choose to join to access it. This is also true for other events you run as member-only events. If these offer real value to your members, it could be another deciding factor for your potential members and therefore well worth allocating resources to.
Email marketing as a channel is one everyone is familiar with. And with 66% of customers making a purchase as a direct result of an email marketing message (HubSpot), we know it can be effective too.
When it comes to using email for inbound marketing, it is all about utilising email to be personal, timely, and relevant. Gone are the mass email marketing campaigns to a non-segmented and poor-quality data list. Your other interlinked inbound tactics such as content and advertising can be used here to drive superior quality data that you can then nurture using targeted and relevant automated email workflows to engage them to the point of joining and beyond.
Best practice email marketing should be adhered to including nor large header images, using appropriate personalisation, include CTAs near the top of your email and sharing relevant content. A/B testing is also a terrific way of testing various aspects of your emails to see what engages your readers the most.
Love it or hate it, social media is a marketing channel that cannot be ignored. With 4.2 billion global users, and 91% of those users will visit an organisations website after engaging with them on social media (Sprout Social), it can play a significant role in your member acquisition strategy.
As with any good marketing channel, choosing the one or ones that are most relevant to your audience is crucial. If you are a B2B legal membership organisation, then TikTok would not be the right channel for you.
Social media can be used to boost your member acquisition through reaching prospective new members with relevant and engaging content, and help position your organisation and its working groups, committees, members, advisors, and trustees as thought leaders within your industry by commenting on the most topical subjects, helping to make policy, define standards, and push the organisations charter.
Social can also be used to engage and retain existing members through polls, groups and conversations. In our recent guide – Social media guide for membership organisations, we go into detail about social media and provide tips on how to get the most out of this for your organisation.
The traditional way of outbound advertising to push messages in a scattergun approach and hope is very much over, thankfully! With modern systems and approaches, advertising can play an integral effective role in your inbound strategy with both online and offline advertising mediums delivering immediate results.
Inbound advertising works most effectively when integrated with earned and owned media channels such as SEO and social in an integrated campaign. For example, you could utilise Google pay per click (PPC) and Microsoft ads to target specific keywords while targeting them with organic content on your website, social media and followed up with an automated email campaign.
One of the biggest benefits of working in this way is it allows you to reach people who are at different points of your member acquisition funnel and to accommodate your members’ multi-channel user journey.
Marketing automation is the process of using software to automate marketing activities saving the organisation time, money and generating additional revenue. But amazingly, MemberWise found in their recent study that only 22% of organisations are using automation for their online activity/member journey, and only 28% to automate non-payment of annual subscription fee renewals. This shows that most organisations have not adopted automation beyond transactional and subscription-related rules, which is a missed opportunity.
There are limitless opportunities to utilise marketing automation within a membership organisation from automating the joining process to re-engaging existing members. Marketing automation also allows your organisation to provide a more personalised experience through personalising emails, content and channels used to provide a better member experience. This is certainly needed as we know 81% of members expect a personalised experience when utilising online member content. So, personalisation is now expected from your members, and not just a nice to have.
Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)
Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the method of increasing the percentage of users who ‘convert’ on your website. This conversion depends on your website and business goals, but for membership organisations, it is typically new member sign-ups.
By employing CRO as part of your inbound strategy you are maximising a channel you already have in your website and making it work harder for you to increase your ROI (return on investment). CRO also provides you with data-driven insights about your potential members, so you can adapt your site to better serve them and make their customer journey frictionless, leading to increased member acquisition.
CRO tactics could include activities such as changing content on your membership pages to better serve and appeal to your target members, to changing your navigation. But the key to any great CRO strategy is to be data-driven and test and learn. Base your decisions and actions on real user data, implement and learn.
Although this is not seen as a traditional inbound marketing tool, analytics provide you with valuable insight into your market, new member habits and drivers, member acquisition path, marketing activity performance, allowing you to optimise your marketing to be more effective to driver greater results.
Alongside traditional analytics tools such as Google Analytics, which 96% of membership organisations use to record their digital analytics, tools such as HubSpot, enable you to track performance data from all inbound channels and tactics allowing you to attribute any resulting prospective members, new members, and membership revenue to the correct source in one tool. This provides you with greater visibility over which tactics your budget is best spent on and giving you proof of expected ROI to challenge for more budget. Every marketer’s dream!
The proof is in the numbers
Hopefully, by now you are an inbound marketing convert and can see the value it could bring to your organisation. But do not just take our word for it. Here are some stats from real-life membership organisation clients who have used inbound marketing.
- National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) – Increase of 112% in direct traffic and 45% increase in organic search in the 2 years since launching their new site.
- Association for Nutrition – 62% increase in member interaction after the introduction of the new website and members portal.
- Caring Together – 61% increase in traffic from organic search in just the last 12 months.
- Moor Park Golf & Country Club – 44% increase in membership enquiries in the last 12 months.
- The British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) – An increase of 55 new member subscriptions per month since launching their new website.
- Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce – 59% increase in conversion rate from the last 3 months.
Although this article is focused on member acquisition, we could not end without making a nod to member retention. I am sure we are all familiar with the leaky bucket analogy, so I will not bore you with it again! But purely focussing on member acquisition without a member retention strategy is a recipe for disaster. There is no time to go into our advice on it here, but we invite you to look at our recent article – 11 proven tactics to increase member retention for some practical thoughts on this topic.
We know creating and implementing an effective inbound marketing growth strategy can be a challenge, which is why we are here to help. We have supported many membership organisations with our inbound marketing continuous improvement services helping to increase member acquisition, retention, and drive growth. Get in touch today to see how we can support your organisation.