Membership Marketing on a Budget: Perfecting Case Studies

Case studies aren’t a new concept, but when marketers are continually taught to think outside the box, it’s easy to forget an old classic. As a professional association, not only are your members your customers, they are also your most important member benefit, because it is access to other like-minded professionals that your new prospects are signing up for. Written case studies highlight this benefit by showcasing the range of professional talent within your organisation. As an added bonus, case studies will attract inbound links, enhance your SEO and provide soundbites for other marketing activities.

Several months ago I worked on a series of written case studies for the ICF website, and found a simple solution for making this a cost-effective content marketing activity. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Draw Up Member Personas

As a membership marketer you will already have a good idea how to segment your membership. It’s a good time to revisit these segments and draw up some member profiles that you think best represent your membership and the image of the organisation that you are trying to project. For example, when I joined ICF I was concerned with the Institute being represented as a ‘stuffy old boys club’. The real members I wanted to showcase were young, male or female (yes female foresters!), suit-clad (no plaid shirts) and worked across a variety of forestry roles including science, arboriculture and management.

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ICF used case studies to showcase the diversity of forestry and arboricultural roles in its membership.

2. Secure Quality Images

Good images are critical for good online content. If you have a nice fat marketing budget, now’s the time to trawl your database for the perfect members to fill your desired profiles and commission some great quality images. If, like many of us, this is not case, you can do just as well by asking members to supply the images for you. I know what you’re thinking. You’re going to get grainy, low res, out of focus 150 x  150 Linkedin headshots. Yes, when I made this request, I did get some of those. But by casting my net wide enough, I made sure I also got some killer marketing-ready shots too.

The first thing to do is send a membership-wide appeal for images. Make the appeal quite vague in terms of what you will be using the images for, because inevitably it will lead to many requests to be featured or for collaborative working, and you need to balance the danger of letting members feel rejected with a continued focus on your own project objectives.  However, make sure you secure rights of use from the outset. You’ll save a lot of headaches once you get further down the design stages.

3. Align Your Member Personas with Available Images

Most of your membership will identify that there is a fantastic opportunity for promotion on the cards, and responses will reap a plenty of useful material. Now it’s time to go back to your membership profiles and find out who fits the bill. Other considerations are how likely is it that the member will promote their story online (do they tweet, use LinkedIn, have a blog, etc?), and how good they look. Yes shallow, but good looking people DO attract more attention (marketing 101). Just be sure not to sacrifice good looks for authenticity – stock images won’t work here for obvious reasons.

4. Let Your Members Tell Their Story

Finally, once you have a good picture of who you want to profile and some great shots to match, it’s time to approach the prospects to tell their stories. I believe that the best method here is to offer some guidance, without putting words in their mouth. For my case studies, I gave members a word count and a theme (career progression, business development, profile-raising etc.) and asked them to write their membership story in their own words.

5. Integrate Video Content (optional)

Video content can easily be tied in, and all the better if you have some cash or capacity for editing. Part of working to a budget is being realistic that you may not be able to commission a digital agency to take care of this for you, so have a look some free tools like YouTube Editor, Windows Movie Maker, or Blender.

JulieThomson is Marketing and Communications Officer at the Institute of Chartered Foresters. She has a background both in digital marketing and the third sector, having worked in fundraising, communications and marketing roles both in Dublin and Edinburgh. Julie has a Masters in Marketing from Edinburgh Napier University. Connect with Julie on Twitter @juliet_adamson

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