This is a two-part series that came out of a conversation with Shannan Reid from the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and how she transformed her chamber by instituting member marketing personas. In this first post, we’ll cover what marketing personas are, why they’re important, and how to begin crafting them. In part two, we’ll discover how she used the exercise to transform her chamber’s offerings.

Chambers often want to help every business. That’s a lot of content creation and many marketing messages. In trying to meet the needs of everyone, you run the risk of appealing to no one. Personalization is key to successful marketing and that’s where member marketing personas come in.

Member marketing personas help you better understand each type of member and what they need to reach their goals. In this article, we'll explore why marketing personas are so crucial for chambers of commerce and how they can make a substantial impact on engagement, recruitment, and member retention. Plus, as a bonus, we talked to the member persona guru--Shannan Reid from the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. She walked us through how she created member personas for her chamber.

Understanding Marketing Personas

Before delving into their importance, let's define what member marketing personas are. They are fictional representations of your ideal members or stakeholders, based on market research and data.

Creating personas is not something you guess at. You look at your current successful members and derive who they are. Examine demographic information, behaviors, goals, and pain points. These personas help you better understand your audience and tailor your outreach and services to meet their specific needs. When you can speak to someone as if you know them, it has a large impact on retention and recruitment. Plus, it will make your marketing efforts seem less like marketing and more like problem-solving and providing value

Why Marketing Personas Matter

Marketing personas offer a lot of benefits to your chamber marketing strategy and organization including:

Enhanced Engagement

To effectively engage with your audience, you must first understand who they are and what motivates them. Member marketing personas provide a clear picture of your target audience, enabling you to craft messages, initiatives, and programs that resonate with them. For instance, if your research indicates that small business owners in your community value networking opportunities, you can create events and resources that cater to this need. You might draft a blog post on “How to Be a Great Networker” or host a monthly Business After Hours. By speaking directly to their interests and pain points, you're more likely to capture their attention and keep them engaged. They will feel like you “get” them.

Efficient Recruitment

Attracting new members is critical. Member marketing personas help streamline your recruitment efforts by focusing on the individuals or businesses most likely to benefit from chamber membership. With well-defined personas, you can target your marketing campaigns and outreach to focus on potential members who align with your chamber’s mission and values. This not only saves time and resources but also increases the likelihood of attracting committed, long-term members.

Conversely, it can help you understand who is not worth as much of your time. Time is one of your greatest resources, so you want to make sure you spend it wisely. For instance, if you only have time to talk to two potential members, wouldn’t you want to focus your efforts on the person who was most likely to join and thrive with the chamber?

Improved Member Retention

Member retention is the other side of recruitment, and you probably spend a lot of time on it. You don’t want members leaving after only a year. Member marketing personas are valuable here too, as they allow you to continuously cater to the needs and preferences of your existing members. By staying attuned to their evolving interests and challenges, you can develop programs, events, and services that keep them engaged and satisfied. Personalized communications and offerings can make members feel valued and more likely to renew their memberships. Plus, they can help isolate things you can do for the members that they need and aren’t able to do for themselves.

How to Create Member Marketing Personas

We sat down with Shannan Reid to discuss how she worked with her board to create effective marketing personas at her chamber. These personas have changed how they recruit and retain members. Here are the steps she suggested:

Member Personas Exercise

Phase 1: Preliminary Research

  • Print your entire list of members.
  • ​Categorize them into like groups. (Look at the representative who interacts with the chamber most.) What industries do they represent? What demographics do they share?
  • ​Determine the 4-6 categories within chamber membership. Record how much of your member group they encompass. For instance, what percentage of entrepreneurs make up your total membership? 10%? 20%?
  • ​Examine your total drop list and correlate the percentage of that number for each category. For instance, do lawyers tend to drop after the first year? If a group is likely to not renew, nix them from your possible member personas list.
  • ​Create a persona for the top 4-6 groups you’ve found in your membership. List who they are, what they need (from the chamber or elsewhere), and their goals. Give them a name so they come alive for you.
  • Gather key leaders and stakeholders to participate in your discovery step. Shannan’s team included: the current and incoming board, current and incoming ambassadors, and current and incoming Connectors (outside sales).
  • ​Take each one-pager and spread it out on the wall. Give each group a chance to walk up and digest each persona (complete with name and image).
  • ​Color-code sticky notes for each team and give them five minutes to digest and add to each area, the important ones being Pain Points and Successful Engagement.
  • ​Rotate each group around the personas then gather back at the table for a debriefing.

Here’s some of the feedback Shannan’s board shared:

  • “I didn’t realize what challenges other personas were facing.”
  • ​“We do offer some solutions to some of these pain points already, but we aren’t communicating those so that they know how to take advantage of those solutions.”
  • ​“We’d love to expand our profile to reflect this level of insight so we can quickly digest who we are working with or can reach out to.”
  • ​“We are strategically trying to pair people together! It’s like Chamber Match.Com!”
  • ​“I originally went into this with the notion that if 60% of our people were two personas, we could just target those groups and tackle most of the work needed. Boy, was I wrong. These personas all need each other! We have lots of work to do!”

As Shannan described it, “Light bulbs were going off everywhere and great ideas for solutions were already stirring. After dismissal, most hung around for another 30 minutes discussing things in pockets. I had to run them out! I love seeing them energized.”

Phase 3: Matching Needs with Benefits

  • Finalize the one-pagers on each persona. Distribute them to the stakeholders.
  • ​Create a giant matrix on butcher paper on the wall. On the Y axis list the personas (down the left column). On the X axis (across) list by groupings all the activities and value propositions you offer at the chamber CURRENTLY.
  • ​Use color-coded post-it notes, to designate (for each persona) a ranking of HIGH, MEDIUM, or LOW, the perceived value of each offering. For instance, an entrepreneur persona may place a low value on your course offerings simply because they don’t have the time to attend an in-person seminar.
  • ​Assess your CURRENT value propositions as a chamber. Next…
  • ​Identify GAPS based on the needs from the discovery phase.

Additional things to consider:

  • Understand the external dynamics that impact those needs and perceived value. For example, age/maturity in business could be a factor.
  • ​Decide what level of dependency a business has.
  • ​Consider member lifecycle: initial membership, the 1st year, and the path to leadership

Phase 4: Meeting Member Needs

Finally, after all the research and assessment, it’s time to take those identified gaps in what they need and what you offer and determine what benefits, activities, and value offerings should be developed going forward.

When it comes to retention and recruitment, understanding and connecting with your audience is paramount. Marketing personas provide a roadmap for effective engagement, recruitment, and member retention. By tailoring your efforts to the needs and preferences of your ideal members, you can create a stronger, more vibrant chamber that benefits both your organization and the local business community you serve. Invest the time and effort into creating and using marketing personas, and you'll undoubtedly reap the rewards of a more engaged and committed membership base.

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