Do You Know Your Association’s Ideal Members?

The better you know your ideal members, the easier it will be to help you develop more helpful and relevant content to address member needs and problems.

As an association professional, have you ever spent some time really getting to know who your ideal members/customers are?

I’ll admit. 

In my many years of working for associations and creating content, I got so bogged down with projects and publishing deadlines that I wished I had spent some more time just listening to our members and hearing what they had to say

When I did pick up the phone to chat or visit them in their offices, I grew in my knowledge and understanding of who they are, what makes them tick, what their everyday challenges are and so much more. By the end of our conversations, I had a notebook full of observations and story ideas, not to mention I learned new ways to serve them better.

What exactly is an “ideal member/customer?” 

Amy Porterfield, host of the popular Online Marketing Made Easy podcast, defines ideal customers –  or in our case – “members,” as the people who want and need your content, product or service that your association offers. These are also people who you love to work with. So it’s a win-win for both the association and the member.

Why is it important to know who are your ideal members?

To have content that is engaging, compelling and relevant, you must clarify your ideal member/customer. It’s so easy to dive in and start creating content. But first you need to know who your ideal members are.

I promise the time you spend getting to know your members will be worth the investment. When you take time to get to know your members, you will have a better understanding of who they are, what’s on their minds and most importantly what their problems are. By understanding their problems, it makes your job easier because you know the type of content to serve up.

So often, associations make the mistake of “knowing” their audience and assuming they like certain topics or content. When was the last time you had a conversation with a member? If you haven’t spent some time lately talking to your members and see what’s happening in their worlds – especially with so much change happening – do so now.

Not knowing your members = no value

If you don’t make a point to get to know your members/customers, your content falls flat. It fails to connect with your audience and your chances for converting them into a member go down the drain. Same goes for retention. If your content is not resonating with your current members and not helping them solve their problems and address their needs, it’s difficult to create value. Once you stop creating value, you’re treading on thin ice.

Sarah Sladek, author of the groundbreaking book, The End of Membership as We Know It, and founder of XYZ University, defines value as “Actually making a member’s job easier or their life better.” Do you make your member’s job easier and their life better through your content?

How do you get to know your members?

Getting to know your ideal members doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are so many tools and resources at our fingertips to make the process simple, easy and time efficient.

  • Use your Facebook group – Spend some quality time reading through the topics to see what issues, problems or pain points come up. Consider including regular polls or post a question to your group about problems they’re experiencing. Start the conversation and listen to what they have to share.
  • Use surveys – Short ones work best. Or consider doing several short surveys with just a few questions to not overwhelm your audience.
  • Use your online communities through your association management system (AMS) – Use polls within your AMS to survey your members on topics.
  • Ask them during phone interviews or conversations.
  • Send them an email. 
  • Set up a video conference call.
  • Interview them at events or even through virtual gatherings – Have a list of prepared questions handy to be respectful of their time.
  • Text them if you have that comfort level with your members.

What should you ask members? 

As you talk to ideal members, here are some helpful topics to start the conversation. The point in asking these questions is to get a well-rounded picture of who your ideal members are. Remember: The goal here is to clarify your audience.

  • Ask them what their biggest challenges, struggles or pain points are relating to their business and careers.
  • Ask them about what a typical day looks like for them.
  • Ask about what they like to do in their free time such as hobbies, what shows they watch or who do they follow online? What is their favorite social media platform? 
  • What does their family life look like. Are they married? Single? Do they have kids at home, what are their ages?
  • What’s their highest education level? What are their personal or career goals? 
  • Which magazines do they read? Do they listen to podcasts or read books?

Different member segments

By asking questions of your members and listening to their answers in their language, you go from a fuzzy view of what an ideal member looks like to a more clarified and distinct picture of who they are. 

Keep in mind a single association can have multiple versions of an ideal member. For example, does your association cater to different generations of members such as baby boomers or millennials? Or how about career differences between members who work in different fields such as accounting or education/training? Sometimes it helps to develop several ideal member profiles of the type of audience you want to serve.

Value of knowing your audience

There are so many rich examples of associations that are serving their members well because they have clarified their audience. For example, The International Casual Furnishings Association wanted to increase engagement and participation from its millennial and Gen Z audiences at its annual conference. So it used the conference to highlight young members’ voices and created a conference experience that is for and by the generations that they’re trying to reach. 

As a result, millennial and Gen Z content leaders present on emerging issues to a multigenerational audience. The conference not only boosted young-member engagement, it engaged its entire membership – from retailers, manufacturers, suppliers to service providers and designers. By reaching out to these younger generations, ICFA got them involved and active, which is key to membership retention.

How well do you know your ideal members? If your picture of your ideal members is more fuzzy than clear, it’s never too late to start getting to know them. Follow these simple steps to gain greater clarity and understanding. By knowing and understanding your members, you will help create value and serve them better through your content.

Need help clarifying your audience?

If you are strapped for time, please email me so we can get started on clarifying your organization’s audience. Let’s get you closer to creating better value for your membership through your content. To learn more about our process, please see Planning and Building Your Content Calendar on our Services page. We have a variety of price points to suit your budget.


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