4 Member Engagement Strategies to Avoid Zombie Renewals

Eric Edwards

10/28/2022

On October 31, 2010, the television pilot of the Walking Dead aired. In the episode, Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes awakes in a hospital from a months-long coma only to find the world changed by a global virus causing a zombie apocalypse. The show became a runaway success for the AMC network airing for 11 seasons. It caused many nightmares, for the present blog author included.

Like Officer Grimes, have you been in a months-long communication coma with your association members? Have you awakened from a nightmare to find your members dazedly stumbling around, trying to find meaningful value from the association? Are you hoping for another year of zombie renewals—members who renew for another year just because?

Well, like Officer Grimes, we’re here to help. But, instead of the utter hopeless milieu of the Walking Dead, we’re embracing the finale of iZombie or Shaun of the Dead and showing you how specific tactics can produce a happy ending to a zombie-renewal apocalypse.

1. Use All the Communication Arrows in Your Quiver

For this blog, we are lumping together two monster classifications: the Ghosts (those who canceled their memberships) and the Zombies (those who will likely cancel when they wake up from their catatonic state if they perceive little value in paying for another year of an association membership).

According to the 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the number one cause for association membership lapse is “lack of engagement.” The fault probably does not lie totally with either party: the member or the association. Members likely say they are “too busy,” and associations are likely limited in resources. But what is certain, only one party can make a positive effort to change the dynamic.

We all have our communication preferences. Some will prefer emails, others answer phone calls, while others jump to respond to chats. There may even be a few chaps out there who prefer responding to direct mail. Seriously, it’s possible. But what’s not possible is to know the communication preferences of a 2,000-member association list.

Back to the Walking Dead. If you’ve watched the series, you know Officer Grimes’ ally, Daryl Dixon, arms himself with a compound bow and a quiver full of arrows because shooting an arrow is far quieter compared to a gunshot, which could attract more zombies. So, to employ an effective membership engagement strategy, one should include multiple communication arrows in your marketing quiver: email, social, phone calls, texting, website, and, yes, maybe even some direct mail.

And it’s not a single communication shot where you walk away thinking you’re done. No, we’re talking zombies here. It takes more effort.

Remember, people’s communication preferences are different, and it may take a volley of different arrows at different times to have a member recognize and respond. It’s better to err on the side of overcommunicating rather than under-communicating.

2. Avoid Zombie Renewals with Year-Round Engagement Strategy

Too often, unfortunately, associations connect with members two or three times a year and then send a renewal notice thinking everything is just hunky dory. This can trigger a zombie renewal.

Consider the member’s point of view. They heard from the association sparingly throughout the year and, therefore, are uninvolved, and may see little ongoing value. They receive a renewal email or letter around Halloween and start wondering, “Should I keep this membership? Are we getting our money’s worth from this association?” If you are lucky, the member renews anyway. If not, they may cancel their annual membership (see Ghosts above).

Part of an association’s value is how it helps members solve their problems and challenges. Whether through networking connections, quality content, or gleaning knowledge from events and webinars, your association’s value proposition keeps members from turning to the dark side.

Instead of lamenting the coming onslaught of zombies for this year, get to work now on creating next year’s engagement strategy. Schedule touch points throughout the year using your diverse quiver of communication arrows. Block off the calendar for targeted email and social media campaigns. Collect interest-specific resources for the association website and actively push communication out highlighting its value. Because we all know happy, engagement members puts a grisly end to zombie renewals.

3. Meet Members Where They Are

Meeting members where they are may be the most challenging thing to do. Great associations make members their number one priority and give them benefits they can’t receive anywhere else.

Great associations also know that if you have a great membership and renewal drive for one year, it could change the following year. Member lists aren’t static, and neither are their characteristics. What engagement tactic worked pre-pandemic may now fall flat like a one-legged zombie.

The point is that barriers to membership engagement are constantly changing. It’s constant work to make it as easy as possible for members to use the association’s benefits, but when achieved, the more valuable the membership is perceived to be.

4. If All Else Fails, Pick Up the Phone

It’s not Halloween yet and you are very afraid. You’re peering out of office blinds scared your association will have too many walking dead renewals or just the dead. What are you going to do? Who ya gonna call?

(No, no, no! Not that bunch. So sorry. They handle a different kind of undead menace.)

No, the best course of action is to reach out to members who haven’t responded to any previous communications, joined webinars, or attended events. Ask them what they hoped to achieve when they joined the association and if there is anything you can do to help. Here’s your chance to find out why a member joined in the first place and how the association can help. You may learn more about certain members’ challenges and create a benefit to address that issue for them. Regardless, a personal outreach may flip a switch and re-engage a member to take more notice of what the association offers.

Okay, let’s try that again. “Who ya gonna call?” Core Affinity, of course, to team up and combat zombie renewals, learn about engagement tactics through affinity programs, and find out what a network of strong suppliers can do for your association.