September 03, 2008

Members List Going to the Dogs? Simple Email-Postcard Strategy - Not Incentive - Brings Back 15% More

SUMMARY: Retaining members who start to stray is always a challenge. Using an incentive to try to bring them back may actually devalue a membership.

Find out how a trade organization used an email-postcard combination – incentive not included – to boost their retention rate by more than 15%. Includes 5 tactics and 3 creative samples.

Two and a half years ago, Tina Myers, VP, Membership & Chapter Development, Society for Marketing Professional Services, grew weary of members who ignored invoices and let their memberships expire. The SMPS was losing between 100 and 120 members a month.

The organization needed a more sophisticated messaging approach, Myers says. They sorted through and tested new ideas before implementing an email-anchored strategy to entice marketing executives, directors and staff to renew and rejoin after they quit.

Tinkering and tweaking led to a campaign that combined an email and postcard with occasional backup from phone reps. The multi-touch approach has paid off in lifting their retention rate from 71% to 82% – a 15.4% increase.

Recent email data suggests that they’re zeroing in even more on their targets. Their June email saw a 62% conversion rate, a 34% open rate and a 13% rate for clickthroughs.

“These percentages are beginning to become more typical,” Myers explains. “Our results over the last year have been getting better and better.”

Here are the 5 major tactics they utilized:

-> Tactic #1. Save addresses, scrub list

SMPS members often switch companies so their email address changes. Myers and her team had to be extra vigilant about hard bounces to preserve their reputation. “About 30% of our members change jobs during the course of a year.”

If there was a phone number on file for the people whose email bounced, Myers and her team didn’t automatically forfeit the members by scrubbing their names. Instead,
they used the bounce as a marketing opportunity by calling members to inquire about renewing their membership and asking for an updated address.

Hard bounces that couldn’t be fixed with a phone call were scrubbed. Myers says they followed the best practice of “constantly” cleaning their list.

-> Tactic #2. Send formal email with 60 days left

The great majority of members didn’t respond to renewal invoices mailed to them three months before expiration.
So, Myers’ and her team emailed them 60 days before the membership expired. The simple creative for the message resembled a personalized business letter – tactic that proved unusually effective. Here are its key elements:

- Text-only
- Bullet points to highlight value offers
- Prominently placed link for website membership services
- Toll-free number
- Subject line: “Renewal Notice: Your Membership
Will EXPIRE Soon”

Myers says that the text-only style kept their messages out of harm’s way when it came to office email filters.

“‘Marketing’ is one of those red-flag words that is really challenging for us. So we have to be careful on a lot of levels. We consider the email to be a business communication, and it looks like one.”

-> Tactic #3. Postcard follow-up

Thirty days before expiration, they mailed a postcard to members who didn’t convert on the first email. The green, blue, black and white postcard consisted of pictures of an alarm clock and an hourglass with wings.

The copy said, “Don’t let time fly by!” and was accompanied by two sales-oriented paragraphs of text in smaller font. The postcard’s flipside featured prominent mentions of their website’s member services section and the toll-free number.

-> Tactic #4. Email-postcard reinforcements

When a member’s account was days away from expiring, they received another email and postcard. Here’s a breakdown of the reinforcement versions of the two send-outs:

o Text-dominated email creative was tailored to specific customer segments. Example: Notices sent to senior execs (principals and partners) included excerpts from SMPS’ magazine that Myers and her team thought they’d find interesting.

“We would do this as well for other groups of members, such as mid-level managers. And the email body would focus on a benefit that was best suited to them, and benefits we feel they would not want to miss out on.”

The subject line expressed more urgency than the first emails: “Final Renewal Notice: Your membership will expire on [date].”

o The postcard featured a full-color picture of a golden retriever lounging on a floor and included this copy: “Please come back. What Can We Do to Get You Back?” Then, they listed three values to membership. The flipside contained the Web address for the member services section and the toll-free number.

“We wanted this postcard to be an eye-catching reminder. Something that looked different from the typical [notice] they’d receive. They’ll look at it and go, ‘Oh, this is cute, and it’s from SMPS.’”

-> Tactic #5. Incentive ignored

You might think that Myers and her team had to incentivize the renewal offer to get so many members to stay or come back at the last minute. Not so.

They ignored the lure of a discount or other promotional freebie. Indeed, incentivizing would have run the risk of devaluing the prestige of professional membership, Myers says.

“Our goal is to try to get them back and get them excited about the society in ways they hadn’t before been engaged. And if we needed a discount, it would mean our price-point simply needs some work.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples Related to this Article:

Real Magnet, LLC – SMPS’ email services provider:

Informz Inc. – their marketing services vendor:

Society of Marketing Professionals:

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