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Measuring and Analytics Reveal What’s Reasonable to Expect of Your Publications in 2015 - 12/10/2014 -


Measuring and Analytics Reveal What’s Reasonable to Expect of Your Publications in 2015

In this exclusive interview with Monica Bussolati, principal of Bussolati Associates, she encourages associations to think about whether they are doing enough to understand their members — or planning to do basically the same thing they’ve always done next year.

By Carla Kalogeridis

Signature: If you were sitting down with a group of Association Media & Publishing’s most active members, what would you say to them? Is there something burning inside of you that you would want to share?

Bussolati: Yes, there is something burning. We all know that how everyone gets and shares information keeps changing. I see that as nothing less than a mandate for associations to lead the way for how communities are engaged by the owners of that community.

Associations put a lot of care into cultivating these niche audiences, and once they've been cultivated together, it's pretty easy pickings for a for-profit company to come in and get the attention of that community for their money. We've seen it happen. With how easy it is to get data and intelligence and to find people through all the social channels, now more than ever, associations need to be on the very cutting edge of marketing and community engagement.

So that means that when associations are considering their plans for next year, they need to think further than being iterative on what they did in previous years. Look at what other organizations with big member bases are doing. How do they measure engagement? How do they build their communities?

Signature: Do you think that the association paid membership model is still a contemporary business model, in light of the fact that there are so many nonmember for-profit groups putting out great content, events, and association-like services?

Bussolati: I think the membership model in general is brilliant. In fact, it seems that the whole world agrees because you can find restaurants that are moving to a membership model — members are the ones who can get reservations and nonmembers can't. You can see grocery stores having membership models. Costco membership is their top revenue-building product. REI and lots of other corporations are looking to have membership models and lots of media outlets. So the idea of having membership and paid membership and different levels of membership is very contemporary.

But now that almost everyone you meet on the street is a member of something, it's important to consider the levels of membership and what the benefits are because expectations have really changed. It used to be that people were only members of these niche communities. But now, most people are members of a lot of communities — and that really informs their expectations of what membership means. Think about someone who is an Amazon Prime member; his or her expectation is in two months this membership is more than paying for itself.

And now you've got these communities that can build up and really provide a lot of support in LinkedIn or in other social channels that are outside of the control of the association, even though the association may have their own social communities. It's even more important that associations take a hard look at the value of membership through a very contemporary lens.

Signature: There are some associations where members can actually see the amount of money they're saving by being a member and can easily justify the cost of membership. But for other groups, their member benefits are less tangible. Should associations put dollar amounts on the different types of content they offer so that it’s easier to connect the dots between the cost of membership and the value of membership?

Bussolati: Not every member is a value-conscious member. That won’t convince everyone. Each organization has an audience with its own unique mix of perceptions. There is some value in making it a bit more tangible for people who need to see it.

We work with one organization, they have a membership, and a magazine, and they do remarkable events. On paper they look a lot like an association, but they are a media company. We are helping them now to define an "engaged” member. How do you define a mid-range versus a low-range engaged member?

We define all of that so that we can target market to them in different ways. For instance, you could define it based on offsite actions like attendance to events — combined with onsite activities like opening up emails, clicking on links, spending time on the websites, commenting on a blog, being engaged with the group’s social media content — and that sets parameters for what is a highly engaged member. And this needs to be automated, if it is time-consuming to gather this data then it is not sustainable.

Signature: And then what do you do with that information?

We can measure it and use to it to set goals and to segment audiences. We now have a list of people that was automatically generated based on the parameters that we created. So here's the list out of everyone in our universe, in our marketing database, that meets the criteria of a highly engaged member, and then we create sub-lists of those lists.

Then we can start to uncover the pattern of an engaged member and how that connects to the bottom line. If we are successful in making more people match the same pattern of that highly engaged member — that is, our most profitable, low-cost acquisition member — is it worth it?

Getting more people to match the highly engaged model is really important. That doesn’t mean that you are only trying to change the behavior of your existing members –some members will never be more engaged. Rather you now know what the success profile looks like and you are trying to get more of them. So measuring engagement in and of itself is not that important, but tying it into the bottom line is really important. This is what tells you about the value of your community for the things that are not so tangible. When you're measuring everything, you start to learn what really matters to your communities, and it gives you more authentic information than a member survey does.

If you're measuring everything, you'll know what they're after, and you'll be able to give them more and more and more. You'll be able to see what changes when you give them more and more and more. You can say, "Here's where we measured six months ago and here's where we are today. Do we have a community that's more engaged? Are they relying on us more as a leader or sole source of trusted information from this niche?"

Signature: It’s tempting to say that what you’ve talked about so far is the membership department’s job and not the publisher's. And yet, it's obvious that publishers, editors, designers — anyone involved in the communication side — must be thinking about these things when they create content.

Bussolati: You bet. I think the days of those kinds of silos are gone because the demand is overwhelming for an association's content. And no association is going to make a dent in meeting that demand, if they have silos and if they don't really start collaborating at the highest possible level.

Signature: You’ve mentioned the importance of measuring, digging in deeper, and really getting into the analytics. Is Bussolati in the measurement business?

Bussolati: Anyone who's in marketing is in the measurement business. Anyone who's in publishing better be in the measurement business.

Signature: So if a client of yours comes to you for design work, is it likely that you would then say, "What are you going to do to measure the effectiveness of this?"

Bussolati: It's always been a big part of how we work. We have always been proponents of design as a tactic to support your strategies, and so when anyone hires us for design, we explore what existing strategies are in place. We explore their goals, and so the natural next questions are: "How are you going to measure the success of this project? How are you going to measure the success of us working together?"

So many times we find that associations might be looking to restructure and rebrand their magazines, but they still want to approach it the same way they did a decade ago. They want to find a designer whose samples get them all titillated. They want someone they enjoy speaking with. They want someone's whose got a process that inspires confidence, and they want to feel like they're in good hands — and all of that is still valid.

It's just that it isn't enough any longer. Now you need a provider who really understands, "All right, what is a magazine?" It’s content marketing, and so how should this magazine be performing for you? What is reasonable in 2015 to demand of your publication? What's reasonable in 2015 to demand of your website? I think that's the important way to look at it now. That's why we do design, but it's inextricably woven with the metrics.

Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. Read more of her interview with Monica Bussolati in the next issue of Signature magazine.


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