When it comes to membership marketing, e-mail remains the number one channel for recruitment and engagement, according to the “2023 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report” from Marketing General. The annual survey of association professionals found that 85 percent of member-based organizations relied on e-mail as their top membership recruitment channel in 2022, followed distantly by organic social media (67 percent) and association-sponsored events (66 percent). Associations that reported increases in both renewals and new members over the last year reported that they were “significantly more likely to use e-mail” in their recruitment efforts.  


Why the reliance on this seemingly old school tactic? Because it works. Across all industries, e-mail marketing revenue is projected to top $11 billion by the end of 2023, according to data from Statista. 


When executed effectively, e-mail marketing can be a powerful tool for member-based organizations. It offers a direct, measurable, and cost-effective way to engage with your members, nurture relationships, and drive meaningful outcomes. E-mail marketing deserves a prime spot in your organization’s marketing arsenal for three key reasons: 


  • Cost-Efficiency: For organizations with limited budgets, e-mail marketing provides a high return on investment. It costs significantly less than both paid advertising and direct mail, and it can reach a broad audience instantly.  
  • Targeted Messaging: E-mail allows marketers to segment your audience and send tailored messages to specific sub-groups of members and prospects. This personalized approach can boost engagement and member retention. 
  • Measurable Results: Today’s comprehensive marketing automation platforms offer robust analytics, allowing you to A/B test your subject lines and content, and to easily track open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. This data-driven approach enables continuous improvement. 

Good e-mail campaigns also provide a direct line of communication with your target audience. It’s an effective channel for sharing valuable content, industry-specific updates, and event invitations that keep your organization top-of-mind with members, prospective members, sponsors, and advertisers. To harness the full potential of e-mail marketing, we’ve put together a handful of best practices to keep in mind when developing your e-mail strategy.  


Segmentation is Key
One-size-fits-all e-mails rarely hit the mark. Effectively segmenting your e-mail campaigns involves dividing your contact list into distinct groups based on specific criteria such as membership status, interests, engagement level, and demographics. Content that appeals to one segment may not resonate with another. It’s also important to be mindful of where each contact is in the customer lifecycle and adapt your content accordingly.   


Write Compelling Subject Lines
Your e-mail’s subject line is the first thing recipients see, making it a critical factor in encouraging them to engage with your message. An effective subject line should be concise and straightforward – to display correctly on various e-mail platforms, subject lines should range from 40 to 50 characters – and should clearly convey the e-mail’s purpose. It should generate interest and curiosity without exaggeration or unnecessary embellishments. Consider writing a subject line that creates a sense of urgency by hinting at valuable, time-sensitive information or exclusive offers within the message. Most importantly, write with the audience’s pain points in mind – and highlight specific benefits or solutions the e-mail offers. If your marketing automation platform allows it, A/B test your subject lines by including personalization tokens, different calls-to-action, or even the time of day you send your messages. A word of caution when drafting copy: industry data from Invesp found that “69 percent of recipients report e-mail as spam solely based on the subject line,” so tread lightly with your word choice and steer clear of over-the-top promises or spammy language.  


Choose Quality Over Quantity
Instead of bombarding your members with e-mails, focus on sending valuable, informative content. Your e-mails should offer solutions, insights, or opportunities that genuinely benefit your members. Set a schedule that works for your audiences. While the best cadence varies from organization to organization, Databox research found that 33 percent of marketers send weekly e-mails, and another 26 percent send multiple e-mails each month. Monitor your open rates to keep tabs on how often your audience is interacting with your e-mails and when in doubt, ask them how often they want to hear from you – either by survey, website or LinkedIn poll, or by allowing them to choose their own opt-in preferences in your marketing automation tool.  In addition to identifying an e-mail frequency that works for your audience, consider also the time of day and day of the week when your readers are most likely to engage with your content.  


Implement Responsive Design 

In today’s digital landscape, it’s essential for association marketers to recognize that many members rely heavily on their smartphones to manage their professional lives, including checking e-mails. According to HubSpot data from 2021, 41 percent of e-mail views came from mobile devices (compared to just 49 percent on desktop), and that number has likely grown in the intervening years. Now more than ever, ensuring that your e-mail campaigns are mobile-friendly is not just a good practice; it’s a strategic necessity. Responsive design goes beyond ensuring that your e-mails merely display correctly on mobile devices; it’s about creating a user-centric experience that adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes and resolutions.  A well-structured, readable e-mail that provides an excellent user experience on mobile devices is more likely to capture the recipient’s attention and encourage them to take the desired action, be it registering for an event, accessing a resource, or joining a discussion. Mailchimp data shows that a mobile-responsive e-mail design can increase unique clicks by up to 15 percent. The bottomline is this: Neglecting responsive design can result in e-mails that are difficult to read, navigate, or interact with on smaller screens, leading to missed opportunities for engagement.  Furthermore, from a branding perspective, mobile-responsive e-mails convey professionalism and a commitment to member satisfaction. They signal that your organization understands and caters to the preferences of its members, ultimately strengthening your brand image and credibility. 


Other Things to Keep in Mind 

Incorporating the above steps will set you on the path to effective e-mail marketing, but there are a few other best practices to keep in mind when developing your e-mail strategy and writing your content:

  • Clear Call to Action (CTA): Every e-mail should have a specific CTA. Whether it’s registering for an event, downloading a resource, or joining a discussion, make it clear what you want recipients to do. 
  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different e-mail elements, such as headlines, images, and CTA buttons, to identify what resonates best with your audience. A/B testing can lead to significant improvements in e-mail performance. 
  • Automation: Use marketing automation tools to streamline your e-mail campaigns. Automation can help nurture leads, onboard new members, and maintain consistent communication. 
  • Measure, Analyze, Adjust: Regularly review e-mail performance metrics. Identify what’s working and what needs improvement. Use data to refine your e-mail marketing strategy continually. 

With limited staff and resources at their disposal, association marketers are under pressure to make every marketing dollar count. However, with the right strategies in place, e-mail marketing can be a cost-effective and highly efficient tool for reaching and engaging your audience. The reliance on e-mail as a top recruitment and engagement channel is not without reason; it has consistently proven to be effective. By following the best practices we’ve outlined – from segmentation to crafting compelling subject lines, choosing quality over quantity, implementing responsive design, and continually refining your approach through A/B testing and automation – you can unlock the full potential of e-mail marketing as member recruitment tool.  


Join the Conversation
How is your organization utilizing e-mail as part of your marketing mix? We’d love to hear your insights and experiences. To see more stories like this, join our mail list to stay informed about association industry marketing trends, insights, expert advice, and more. If you’re interested in bringing in outside help to assess and improve your e-mail marketing strategy, let’s chat! Schedule a meeting with the Vuma Business team today.