Making data-driven decisions for your association starts by understanding your members. And while you can gain insights with surveys and data from your tech stack, talking with members is often the most powerful way to do so.
However, for association marketers, conducting hundreds of one-on-one calls may not be a possibility.
Luckily, associations can leverage their data to create member personas which, when combined with artificial intelligence, can help you to build actionable strategies tailored to important segments within your membership.
Member personas are fictional representations of an organization's intended audience or existing membership
, created to better understand their needs, preferences and behaviors. These personas are typically inspired by research and data collected from real members and are used as a tool to guide decision-making.
Member personas help associations:
Like any data-driven task, AI can easily be leveraged when building personas to streamline your work. More importantly, because these personas are inspired by common characteristics in member data, you don’t need to enter sensitive information into it.
Beth Arritt, President and CEO of The Arritt Group, has already made ChatGPT a part of her creation process and shared four lessons learned while experimenting.
When using any AI tool, prompting is critical to getting usable results – the more detailed you are, the better your outcome. The same goes for understanding the needs and challenges of your members.
“I’ll say you’re a marketing manager at an association, and you've been charged with growing attendance at your events by 3% and growing membership by 2%. Tell me a little bit about your pain points,” says Arritt.
However, marketers should look to be even more specific. Arritt suggests adding details like ages, years of experience, whether they have kids in college or not, their current role or career aspirations, the specific task they’re working on, organizational sizes or industries in your prompts. The point is to try and understand how these factors influence your member's decision-making.
“That's part of personas in general. Things that happen in your life, no matter how hard you try to get through, impact your decision-making and work,” says Arritt. “I always try to ask what their pain points are, what keeps them up at night and what they read. All those things shape their viewpoint, decision making and how they approach work.”
While everyone has a differing view on the use of AI, the one thing most can agree on is that it’s a time saver – especially when you’re combing through tons of data. While ChatGPT hasn’t automated Arritt’s member persona process, it does help streamline work.
“I could probably sit there and eventually write all this out. I'd miss a few things, I might bring in a thing or two that it didn't, but when I'm starting with this, I've just saved myself hours,” she says.
Once you have a basic member persona built, then you can expand. This is where those detailed questions come into play. And remember, this is a starting point. You can still call members and corroborate or update any of the information created by ChatGPT – but you’ll be doing so with some added freedom and time afforded by the new process.
By experimenting with AI tools, marketers can gain new insights and challenge their assumptions about their members or industry. This can lead to more effective marketing strategies and a deeper understanding of the needs and pain points of their audience while tackling inherent bias too.
"Traditionally we've said, ‘Okay, let's pick a member that we know, and model this off them,’ but we have an inherent bias,” Arritt says, “And don't get me wrong, ChatGPT does as well, but our inherent bias is we're limited by what we know of [members] and what we know of the industry.”
The person analyzing data to create a member persona may not have experience with that role and the associated challenges. Similarly, their scope is limited to your specific member data – missing helpful insights from folks in similar roles outside of your organization.
“It helps me expand my view and allows me to see other people's pain points, different roles that I've not been in
, and to get an idea and feel for what to look for and where to search next,” says Arritt.
When building member personas, outside statistics often inform part of the process and inform those initial “assumptions.” In-depth studies and articles that site statistics about the usage of specific tools, platforms your members frequent or even the reasons why they join an association are often based on old data.
“Some of the statistics that we just spout without thinking twice about it, are 10 to 15 years old, says Arritt. “That data is not relevant anymore.”
Yet, it’s the same data we use to make decisions about what our members want and need from their membership. This is where member personas can help add context. Understanding the actual challenge your member is facing or quantifying that data through questioning can help make informed decisions on updated data.
For organizations looking for ways to integrate AI into their process, marketing is an easy segway. You have tons of member data, and you want to leverage that information in a more strategic way. Member personas can become that tool for your marketing team.
Not only can it be completely anonymous (no need to use specific member data), but also it can help expand your understanding of your members beyond your preconceived assumptions. From member pain points to the potential influences on their decision-making.
“Don't be afraid of it and trust but verify,” says Arritt. “Trust that it's okay to use it for the right reasons, verify the information it gives you and use it to make yourself think.” These tools can all act as a starting point for your association, and when used correctly, help foster a better understanding of and experience for your membership.
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Jose Triana joined the Sidecar team as the Content Manager in 2021. He is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.
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