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Establish Your Association’s MVP: Membership Value Proposition

Not every association is concerned with recruiting new members. But for those that are, perhaps nothing is more fundamental to their recruitment efforts than a well-built Membership Value Proposition—or MVP. The MVP isn’t easy to get right because it attempts to squeeze into a small space a wealth of ideas, associations (the other kind), and emotion.

Having helped a number of state and national associations transform their brand messaging, we know a thing or two about bring MVPs to life.

Here’s the essence of our process:

1. Accept the Curse of Knowledge

Around Mighty Citizen, we talk about the Curse of Knowledge all the time because it’s the biggest marketing challenge that most brands face. The Curse of Knowledge says: Once you know something, it’s impossible to imagine what it’s like not to know it.

You know your association through and through. You spend at least 40 hours every week thinking about it, working on it, tweaking it, growing it. There’s probably very little about your association that you don’t know.

Prospective members, however, don’t know what you know. Not only that, but when you get a chance to connect with your prospects, every word you use and every idea you share is loaded with context—i.e., knowledge that you have but they don’t. It’s literally impossible for you to speak in a language that prospects will completely understand. You’re too smart.

To build a message and marketing plan that will convince more people to join your association, you must do robust user research—and you must do it regularly.

This is the main reason to hire a marketing and branding agency: Their relative ignorance of your association, combined with their experience in crafting working messages, makes them an ideal partner to craft a membership value proposition.

2. Interview and Survey

Another thing we say all the time around here: Research kills opinions. In the rather subjective, Curse-of-Knowledge-restricted world of design and branding, research is like a great pair of eyeglasses. User research brings into focus what actually is instead of what might be.

To build a message and marketing plan that will convince more people to join your association, you must do robust user research—and you must do it regularly.

Two methods stand out: stakeholder interviews and membership surveys. Interviews give you insights. Surveys give you scope.

Here is more about conducting user research.

We will point out a couple of things about member research:

  1. Don’t conduct interviews or surveys unless you’re prepared to change your association when the results come in. If you’re unwilling to evolve when the facts are staring you in the face, don’t seek out the facts.
  1. If you’re trying to determine what will drive prospects to become paying members, you cannot simply interview existing members. Most people are terrible at remembering their true motivation for doing something, so asking a member, “Why did you join us two years ago?” will earn you an overconfident, probably inaccurate (or at least incomplete) response. Instead, you should interview prospects who haven’t signed up or, if these are too difficult to hunt down, interview people the moment they join.

3. Focus on Your Members, Not Your Association

Humans are selfish creatures, by default. (It’s a good, primal, healthy selfishness most of the time.) We care about ourselves more than we care about brands, companies, associations, etc.—even the ones we adore. When we consider whether to take an action, we consider how it will benefit us.

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Most associations make the mistake—especially online—of talking about how wonderful they are. They highlight their successes too often. They don’t talk about their members enough—and, when they do, it’s often in macro terms that turn into brags. For example:

“92% of our members report being ‘extremely satisfied’ with our member benefits.”

When you craft your messaging plan—and when you execute it online, on social, in emails—everything should be filtered through the question, “How will the reader see personal value in this content?”

This is a tougher question than it seems and you have to be strident in your application of it. For example: When you advertise an upcoming member webinar, describe how exactly your attendees will benefit from attending. What’s in it for them?

4. Get Compact With It

Of course your association benefits your members in multiple ways, and you should absolutely list every benefit on a Membership Benefits page on your website. But benefits are not the same as a Membership Value Proposition (MVP). And trying to cram multiple things into a message makes the message easy to misunderstand … or ignore.

Humans crave simplicity, especially given our wildly short attention spans and the content glut through which we swim every day.

So, your association’s MVP should be a single sentence that:

  1. Conveys a single idea that
  2. Is inspirational and
  3. Clearly beneficial

Again, make it about them, not about you. For example, your MVP shouldn’t be “The Largest Association of Financial Experts in the World.” Instead, it’s “Delivering the Expertise Financial Planners Need to Thrive.”

Some other good examples of MVPs:

“Empowering Nurse Practitioners Nationwide”

“Great Public Schools for Every Student”

“Advancing Psychology to Benefit Society and Improve People’s Lives”

The short version of all of this is: Put your mission first, last, and always.

A Great MVP Can Last

Marketing and communications professionals have a tendency to get antsy. They alter their messages every few months. They launch a new campaign every fall. They constantly tinker with every little thing.

That’s understandable. And we’re all for tinkering with certain things to make them better. But a Membership Value Proposition shouldn’t change often, if ever. If it’s well crafted and lands with people—i.e., if your membership numbers are healthy—an MVP shouldn’t be rebuilt. Specific benefits may shift, but the core reason you exist doesn’t.

Find your MVP by really listening to new and prospective members, stick with it, and share it relentlessly. Best of luck.

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