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Associations: Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Multiply Your Millennial Membership

February 2, 2017
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Posted by Vinnie Schneider

Many trade associations are seeing a decline in millennial membership, and the conclusion may seem obvious—millennials are simply not interested in joining associations or other professional organizations.

The reality is, however, that most millennials strongly value the benefits that associations provide—like career resources, networking opportunities, and a sense of community.

Much more frequently, the problem is that the association’s millennial membership recruitment and retention strategy is not aligned with what millennials value.

The American Optometric Association recognized the opportunity that growing millennial membership provide for their organization, so Dovetail recently completed a membership recruitment campaign specifically targeting millennial non-members. We worked with the AOA to develop a recruitment and retention strategy that would be perceived as valuable to millennial optometrists nationwide.

When targeting millennial members, ask yourself the following five questions to be sure you’re positioning your organization as a valuable resource versus an unnecessary expense.

     1.) Do you know who they are? Who they really are?

The term ‘millennial’ describes anyone who in 2017 is between the ages of 21 and 36. With such a large range it is clear that you are targeting a diverse group of people. Further segmentation is required to properly reach your target audience and to communicate effectively.

Beyond age demographics, it is important to develop a clear ‘persona’ of your millennial member. Ask yourself the following questions—or better yet, ask them directly through market research:

Is your millennial target optimistic about their career prospects? What sorts of sources or websites do they consume for information? Do they tend to live in urban communities, rural communities, or both? What excites them, and what worries them?

For our AOA recruitment campaign, we began our efforts with a quantitative research study in the form of an online survey, which allowed us to narrowly define the millennial non-member target in order to develop the most effective messaging strategies to reach them.

     2.) Does your association’s brand resonate with millennial values?

Millennials are confident and optimistic about the future, and they relate strongly to brands that project the same values. Furthermore, millennials support causes, not necessarily institutions. Associations should base their brand in what they stand for and fight for, not just in their own name recognition or history.

You may even consider a slightly different messaging campaign or slogan in your millennial-targeted communication.


Our campaign concept for the AOA, “United in Possibilities,” projected a feeling of hope to which millennial optometrists were naturally drawn.

     3.) Do you communicate “at” them or “with” them?

Communication is a two-way street, and millennials expect to be able to have an open dialogue with brands and companies. This is critically important for associations as well.

For the AOA membership recruitment campaign, we assisted in creating a Young Member Committee. This group was tasked with reaching out, forming connections, and above all communicating with prospective members. They explained why membership was important to them, with talking points that aligned with our campaign concept.

millennial membership associations

Using official talking points can help keep conversations on message and flowing naturally.

     4.) Do you provide content that truly helps them, consistently and regularly?

Too many associations fall in the trap of producing content that talks exclusively about their own achievements. Millennials are actively searching the internet for help and guidance, providing your association the opportunity to be the helpful expert that they regularly consult.

Not sure what your millennial target is searching for? Use free keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner to investigate.

For the AOA recruitment campaign, we found that young optometrists were searching for keywords such as, “how to reduce student debt,” and, “where to find optometrist continuing education.” Dovetail created content optimized for those keywords using SEO best practices to draw prospective members to a landing page geared for membership conversion.

     5.) Do you have the right media mix to reach them?

Many associations are beginning to understand that social and digital media are important tools to engage with millennials, however they are not the only tools in the toolbox. Millennials use different devices and platforms, sometimes simultaneously. It is important to strike a balance of frequency so as to be helpful and present, but not annoying.

For our campaign with the AOA, we used email, direct mail, social media, and events—with all creative work grounded in our strong campaign concept.

millennial membership associations

Utilize a mix of media to communicate with millennials and break through the clutter. Ground all communication in a consistent campaign concept to amplify your message.

Is your association looking to improve its relationship with millennials and to grow millennial membership? Dovetail can help. Click here to download our free Association Branding Infographic.

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