In conversations with association execs, many of them tell me:

“Our members say we’re sending too many emails.”

Problem: Too many emails.
Solution: Fewer emails.

Problem solved? Not necessarily.

If every email you sent contained something members valued, they wouldn’t complain. Instead, they’d thank you. The real problem is the disconnect between what you see as valuable and what your members see as valuable.


Why associations send so many emails to members

To get a handle on your email situation, first you have to understand how you got to this place. Who decides what you’re sending members? How did you decide how many emails they should receive weekly? Is anyone monitoring the situation?

In many associations, nobody knows how many emails members receive or what they’re receiving because nobody tracks what you’re sending out. An email audit will reveal some basic information you need to know:

  • Number of emails sent per week/month
  • Number of departments/staff sending emails
  • Email frequency by type—promotions, industry news, educational content, association news, advocacy, etc.
  • Percentage of emails delivered
  • Percentage/type opened
  • Percentage/type of links clicked

What’s the appropriate frequency? According to the 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc. (MGI), associations send their members, on average, four emails a week. Is that the appropriate amount? Only your members know but they won’t all give you the same answer because they have different communication preferences.

Why do associations send so many emails? Because every department thinks their emails are important, need-to-know information. The bigger the staff, the bigger the problem, according to the MGI report: Associations with operating budgets of $20 million or more are most likely to send five emails per week. In contrast, associations with budgets under $5 million are more likely to send only one or two emails per week.

If your members think you’re sending too many emails, you are. But that’s not the real problem.


The real culprit: relevance, not frequency

I’ll say it again: Members wouldn’t complain if all the emails you sent them were relevant. They don’t open your emails for a simple reason: based on past experience, they’re not worth opening.

Their complaints are symptoms of two problems:

  • No cross-departmental communications strategy and collaboration
  • Not enough list segmentation

Departments and teams must have the tools they need to achieve their goals, but their interests must be aligned with the greater interests of the association—keeping your member’s attention, loyalty, and trust.

One department can’t solve the email problem. Everyone must agree to a new email strategy—one that puts the member’s needs first, not the association’s, and definitely not each department’s need to cram their “important, need-to-know” stuff into members’ inboxes.

What’s relevant to all your members? Not much. That’s why the best approach to emails starts with list segmentation.

You must segment your email list so you only send relevant content to each member. By understanding their needs, interests, pain points, and aspirations, you’ll figure out the type of segmentation needed, for example, by position type, career level, specialty, etc.

Hyper-personalization: engage with a segment of one

What do members want in your emails? The same things they want as consumers: relevant information. According to the 2017 Adobe Consumer Email Survey Report, when asked for the one thing they would change about emails they get from brands, 40 percent of respondents said they’d want them to be less promotional and more informational. And, 27 percent said they’d want content that’s better personalized to their interests.

With the technology available to associations today, you no longer have any excuse not to personalize content by a member’s interests. ASAE’s Chief Information and Engagement Officer, Reggie Henry, talked at the Aptify Users Conference this month about the need for hyper-personalization. He believes associations should communicate with and market to a segment of one.

Reggie said people are willing to share data in exchange for personalized experiences, and that’s the direction associations must go. He had the numbers to back his argument up:

  • Forrester reported that 77 percent of consumers have chosen, recommended, or even paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.
  • Accenture found that 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy when you recognize them as an individual and provide recommendations based on their unique wants and needs.

Members can find information anywhere. Your promotional and informational emails are no better than anyone else’s unless you give each member what they want. And, unlike other organizations in your member’s world, your association has (and can get) the data to deliver personalized, if not hyper-personalized, content based on their unique wants and needs.

Your association has an advantage: your members have chosen to have a relationship with you. They’ve paid to have a relationship with you. But, in an information marketplace where personalization is becoming more prevalent, your members expect you to understand and deliver what they need.

If you know what content each member wants and you deliver it when they want, they’ll give you their attention, loyalty, and trust because you always get it right, or almost always. Take advantage of the technology in the association marketplace that will allow you to send emails your members will always open and never complain about.