When email first became popular, we were all excited about this new communication medium. It was cheap and you could send millions of emails with the click of a button. It was a big bandwagon that everyone jumped on. And that’s the problem. People are now so inundated with email that response rates for all but the most innovative communicators are dropping - and response rates from well-crafted direct mail increasing.
The cost savings and potential reach are so attractive that we’ve seen many associations leap with both feet into entirely electronic communications to members without first testing to concept. Please note that “testing” doesn’t mean “asking your members if they’d prefer electronic communications”. That kind of approach doesn’t account for the subtleties of membership engagement as evidenced by the following example:
A client was interested in moving to electronic communication. We recommended they first test the impact. They asked members who would prefer electronic communications. 100 of the members who opted for no hard copy communications were sent only electronic communications – including an e-magazine. 100 of the members who opted for no hard copy communications continued to receive all hard copy communications.
At the end of two full renewal cycles the control group who had continued to receive hard copy communications had been retained at the same rate as previous years. The retention rate of the group who had received only electronic communications was zero. Not a single member from that group had been retained. This was a truly shocking result. While I believe there were multiple factors that led to this startling outcome, we concluded that a significant factor was that the process of receiving a magazine (even one likely not to be read) was still powerful enough to reinforce the value of membership enough to encourage renewal for that association.
Electronic communications are just a single tool in your communications toolbox. Consider how you can most effectively, and economically, use all the tools at your disposal. Some associations have become quite clever at integrating their hard copy and electronic communications. One client has a process where the initial communication is sent via email. A hard copy communication is only sent to those recipients who didn’t click through from the initial email. This is a clever way to ensure your message has been received.
The focus of your communications should be on delivering information that is useful, interesting, or compelling for your members (not something you consider interesting about yourselves). As you are competing with a myriad of other formats and content, you need to utilise a variety of communication channels and formats to ensure your communications reach the recipient.
Follow up ... After posting this article I received the following feedback from John Innes at Think in the UK: “Our research has shown that over 85% of members engage with a printed magazine while, after six months, only 10% engage with digital replicas and on-screen page turners. This underlines the need to create a suite of content that is tailored to the pros and cons of each medium."