The fusionSpan Blog

Rethinking Marketing Automation And Your Membership Lifecycle

Author Image
By Susan Baumbach |June 3, 2021
Marketing AutomationMembership

Many association professionals are undoubtedly aware of the membership life cycle of Awareness, Recruitment, Engagement, Renewal, and Reinstatement. The concept can be pushed further since your relationship with members does not look the same year after year, instead, it evolves. Thinking about the membership life cycle three-dimensionally is more realistic. Therefore, we now have a Membership Spiral!

spirals dimensionally

In this Spiral, you can think about the X-axis as several different things. The first is most obviously time as the member learns more about your association and you learn more about your member. The renewal cycle for your first-year member should look different than a renewal cycle five years down the road. The Spiral shows this concept more effectively than a two-dimensional life cycle. Also, your engagement with that member should be managed differently as they already know about your association and you may want to engage them by advertising different events or volunteer opportunities.


Another way to think about the X-axis is a measure of the member’s advocacy activities for your association. As time goes on you may have a segment of your membership that invites their colleagues to events, presents at conferences, or serves in a leadership position on a committee. These members have the opportunity to influence the Membership Spiral of other members as well.

When thinking about advocates, first you need to define how someone becomes an advocate. Is it after they forward 20 of your marketing emails to others, or that they attend 10 conferences in a row, or something else? Next, do you have the data to know when they cross that threshold? This question can be very difficult for some associations to answer if the data lives in unconnected platforms. For example, the marketing automation tool holds information about email forwards and the event management system holds historical attendance information. This leads us to a discussion of your association’s tech stack, with a specific focus on marketing technology (or MarTech).

Segmentation of Membership Spirals Using Data

Just as you can think about segmenting member advocates, you can also use data from across your technology platforms to segment the various membership spirals. The key factor is to have a tech stack that brings together all of the ways that members have engaged with you historically. The graph below is from Pardot, which is a marketing automation tool that integrates with Salesforce data and can also capture information about website interaction behavior. In Pardot as a member opens an email, clicks on a link, or visits the website, their score increases. This graph shows their cumulative score overtime, so in this example you can see the members stay consistently engaged. There is a leveling off in December, which makes sense due to the holiday season. This member is spending time with family and not opening association emails or the association wasn’t sending out communication during that time.

Segmentation of Membership Spirals Using Data

The next example looks a bit different because there is no engagement over the summer months. This was taken from an association that has a large segment of their membership who are university professors. So having little to no engagement over the summer months would make sense. If you are able to bring together historical data about your membership, then try to see if you can create segments. This is critical because how you engage with the member above versus the member below would be very different.

Segmentation of Membership Spirals Using Data

Awareness and Recruitment

Having a highly integrated tech stack will allow your organization to better capture leads and recruit them for membership. Many marketing automation tools will allow you to place tracking code and forms on your website. Once a lead completes the form, the system is then able to track website visits and behavior. Based on that behavior, for example two visits to the Join Now page but not purchasing a membership, would trigger automatic marketing emails to the lead about the benefits of membership. Once the lead purchases a membership, which is typically a data point captured in the CRM, that will feed back to the marketing automation tool to remove that person from the automated emails.


The classic example of engagement for brand new members is an automated welcome campaign that triggers once someone purchases a membership. But, let’s think further down the membership spiral when the member has been active for 4-5 years. By that time an integrated tech stack should know if this person typically attends the annual conference, or a bunch of regional events, or primarily engage with online training courses. Based on this historical data, if you are seeing a dip in engagement for a specific member, then you could send opportunities that are similar to how the member engaged previously. For example, if someone never took an online training course, that probably isn’t the avenue to re-engage them.

Depending on the marketing tool, you can also understand how and when the member interacts with association content. Do they typically open emails at 6am in the morning on their mobile phone or 9pm at night on their desktop computer? Capturing this information can help your association better target your content so that your intended audience is more likely to engage.

Renewal and Reinstatement

For association membership teams, renewal is a critical phase of the Membership Spiral. Alot of associations I work with will send renewal reminders and pretty common intervals, such as 30 days before expiration, 15 days, 7 days, etc. I haven’t found if there is a particular reason for that, or that is what the default values are, so everyone goes with it.

Again, let’s actually look at the data. What days of the week show higher email engagement? How many days before the renewal date do members actually renew? If 75% of your membership doesn’t renew until 3 days before the renewal date, then sending a 30-day reminder email may not be very effective. When looking at the data you could segment your membership to those who typically renew early versus at the last minute. Of all the data so far discussed in this blog, I’m nearly 100% positive that your association will have this data, but I really don’t see many associations using it.

Stay Tuned For More

By thinking of the Membership Spiral concept and leveraging integrated historical data from multiple platforms, associations can more easily attain membership goals. There are many ways to refine how your association interacts with members during each phase of the life cycle and over time.

Stay tuned for upcoming content focusing on tips and tricks for marketing automation at your organization. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to our talented team here at fusionSpan for all your Digital Strategy needs!

New call-to-action

Susan Baumbach
Rethinking Marketing Automation And Your Membership Lifecycle

Susan has five years of experience working in associations and nonprofits, gaining critical experience in data analysis and how data is managed in Salesforce. As a certified Pardot Consultant and Marketing Cloud Email Specialist, she guides the implementation process from discovery through go-live and support. She is committed to creating the best marketing automation solution possible for users and stakeholders alike.

More posts