“What kind of member are you?” Segmentation and associations

The Toronto International Film Festival is upon us, bringing the city both glitterati and traffic gridlock near the venues (life is full of tradeoffs…). Around downtown there are banners and posters asking what your Festival personality is. Are you the Arbiter of Taste, the First-Timer, the Veteran, Le Cinéphile, or something else?

What the festival has done with this marketing campaign is segment its audience. Not everyone wants the same thing out of the festival. Not everyone uses the festival in the same way (The Record-Breaker wants to see everything; #The #Hashtag #Addict just wants to see what’s trending).

We get segmented all the time. Every time Amazon suggests a book to you based on previous purchases, you’re being microsegmented. By tracking your behavior (purchase, browsing, commenting), Amazon can learn more and more about your preferences, grouping you in smaller and smaller cohorts. Some find it creepy, but most of us follow the clicks until we find a book we like. If we didn’t, Amazon would change their tactics, since they are such an extraordinarily data-driven company (to put it mildly).

Given that we are all experiencing this as consumers, it surprises me to find that many associations are still treating all or most members in the same way. Some don’t segment meaningfully at all – they treat all members the same. Others may separate out individual members by life stage – students, full members, retirees – but only in terms of level of dues. I see member surveys which don’t try to cluster or cross-cut the data in any consistent way, clearly not attempting to do a meaningful segmentation, even when they have a nice juicy sample size.

This represents a huge lost opportunity. Segmentation is a way to engage more directly and distinctly with members, by thinking about who they are and what they might want from the association based on that. It should then drive strategy, programming, marketing messages, and operations. You take different approaches for different segments, where appropriate and practical. The benefits can include more engaged and loyal members – who doesn’t like the feeling that something was designed for their needs?

It’s also a great exercise in member-centricity. If you are thinking hard about your segments, you have to try to see things from their point of view, and that’s a good lens to look through regularly.

Often, organizations already know something about the segmentation they might adopt. They will talk about the differences between members who work in the public vs. the private sector, or members who are sole practitioners vs. those who work in large departments, or large companies vs. small businesses. Geography often comes up in terms of how to get educational programs out to scattered or remote populations, but not that often in terms of how to help those people network and stay connected to the field in other ways.

It’s a place to start.

In this increasingly personalized and tailored service environment, does your association really want to take a one-size-fits all – or even a three-sizes-fit-most – approach? Does that get you the insights into your membership and prospect pool that you need to thrive?

If you’d like to discuss segmentation approaches or anything else, please get in touch.

Photo: Meredith Low

Contact us at meredith@meredithlow.com or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.