Your Data Tells You What Members Want & Now Use It (Part 1)

By • November 5, 2012

You may have read the story about how Target figured out that a teenager was pregnant before her father did. No one at Target observed her growing belly as she shopped; rather, Target’s super-savvy statistics department used the piles of data the retailer had collected about purchases by other pregnant women to infer, based on her changing purchase habits, that she too was most likely expecting a bundle of joy and could probably use a coupon for baby formula.

You also may have noticed that when surfing the Web or checking your Facebook news feed, the ads that appear in the margins of your browser are eerily on-target. How does Google know that you’re in the market for a new SLR camera? Did Mark Zuckerberg overhear your conversation with your spouse last weekend about your upcoming trip to the mountains? Why else would Facebook show you an ad for a Colorado ski rental package?

Companies are tracking our every online impression and click for the purpose of knowing more about our purchase habits to goad us to buy more. Your association may or may not offer products for purchase, but you probably have events you’d like your members to attend, publications you hope they read and programs in which you want their participation.

  • Your association can discover more about member expectations by collecting data from events, publications and programs.
  • Quantitative data can be counted or verified numerically. Qualitative data is everything else, such as stories, comments, and opinions.
  • Start actively monitoring membership data you probably already have: demographics, event attendance, renewals and other existing member information.
  • Some benefits you can expect from analyzing your data and putting it to work: better membership value, less waste, increased use of publications and easier introduction/adoption of new ideas.

Why data matters

A discussion about data and Web analytics could take hours. In short, data analysis can help your association see trends in:

  • Membership renewals
  • Resource usage
  • Event attendance
  • Publication readership
  • Membership satisfaction

There are two main types: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data can be counted or verified numerically. Think prices, contest entries, circulation numbers, even phone numbers. Qualitative data is everything elsethe companies your members work for, opinions about your conference or comments left on a blog. Here, we’ll focus on quantitative data collection.

How can you collect more meaningful data?

Start with the data you already have and actively monitor. For most associations, this will include membership demographics and membership activity, such as renewals or event attendance. Take a closer look at your members: Who are they? What types of organizations do they work for? How long have they been members? Where do they live?

Look at your events, publications and programs, and then determine how you can glean more data from these items. Are you asking for feedback after events? Do you have a way to monitor online readership? Do you survey your members about their association-related experiences?

Next, think about some “why?” questions you want to answer, and how the data you already have might help you answer those questions. For example:

  • Why do we not have more members attend our monthly meetings? (Do they live too far to make the drive every month?)
  • Why are most of our members from nonprofits? (Are the corporate dues a little high?)
  • Why did our last newsletter perform so well? (Did that controversial article about industry legislation stir up new readers?)

Once you figure out what you want to know, it becomes easier to find a way to collect the information needed.

We often use common Web metrics such as number of opens, clicks, forwards/shares and unsubscribes from newsletters and e-zines to glean information about reader satisfaction with our client publications. One national association wanted to increase the percentage of its membership who read its biweekly e-newsletter. We examined the number of opens compared to content type over the past few months but didn’t find a consistent trend. Then we realized that constantly changing the length of the e-newsletter resulted in slightly more opens than during periods when the number of articles remained constant. Now, this association keeps members tuned in to its e-newsletter by continually changing how heavy/light it is.

Another association wanted to know how to quickly attract readers to its new e-newsletter. After trying out a few types of columns over several months, a glance back at the number of clicks revealed that the section about case studies garnered five times as many clicks as other sections. That column is here to stay, and is placed in the middle of the newsletter in an effort to encourage readers to peruse the other content as well.

A third association wanted to increase visits and time spent on its buyers’ guide. After a short survey about how members use the guide, we discovered they didn’t use it much because they didn’t know how it worked. We sent a series of emails to members explaining one site feature at a time, and we made sure the guide was accessible via the association website and through links in other association publications. Visits to the guide more than doubled, and time spent on the site increased 30 percent.

What results can you expect?

Collecting and combing through data can be daunting. But there are many benefits to the quality of your programs and your membership value from conducting a continual data analysis:

  • Better membership value. The more you know about which programs, events and association benefits your members enjoy and use the most, the better you can focus on improving those items further.
  • Less waste. On the flip side, once you know which programs your members aren’t interested in supporting, which events they don’t attend (or don’t enjoy attending) and which benefits they don’t care about, you can scale back or cut those items out completely, which will probably save your association time and money.
  • Accurate attribution. When you can trace a change in revenue or membership activity back to specific advertising or changes in how a program was run, you will know exactly which efforts benefit your association and which ones don’t.
  • Increased use of publications. Data about circulation, email opens, website visits, clicks and time spent on a digital publication can show you which publications your members truly value and which ones they don’t waste their time on. Use quantitative digital data to tweak the frequency, format and accessibility of your publications. Use qualitative data from surveys, focus groups and word-of-mouth to adjust the content and purpose of your periodicals. Let your members know you are continually responding to their information needs, and watch their interaction with your publications swell.
  • Easier introduction/adoption of new ideas. If you know which topics interest your members and which method of delivery is going to encourage them to take action, you can use this knowledge to introduce parallel products and ideas. People are much more receptive to new things when those messages come wrapped in something familiar. This is why Facebook shows us ads for products or organizations our friends like: We’re more likely going to look favorably upon a brand if we know our best friend ‘likes’ it. This is also why Pinterest is more successful at referrals than other social media platforms: That pad Thai recipe may indeed look delicious on its own, but the fact that your culinary-inclined sister-in-law pinned it is what’s really convincing you to make it for dinner tonight.

The more you know your members, the better you can tailor your offerings to their specific needs, wants and delivery preferences. Next month, we’ll look at some excellent tools that associations are using to collect meaningful data about their members.

Kelly Donovan is an online marketing specialist with Naylor, LLC.