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The challenges facing membership institutions

If you work within a membership institution, it’s likely that you’re currently involved with plans to define and implement a strategic vision that will see you through to 2020 and even beyond. You only need look at the conversations being facilitated by industry bodies such as MemCom and Memberwise, for example, to get an idea of the central role these strategic visions play in ensuring long-term organisational growth and success - and to understand the number of moving parts that must be managed in order to turn these visions into reality.

Now, with your strategic vision set to impact every element of your culture and processes, you may think that the technology required to facilitate this is purely a tactical consideration. The reality though is that the tools you choose to help implement your vision will significantly impact not only your ability to achieve your goals but the ease with which this can be achieved.

A good Content Management System (CMS), for example, is crucial to the success of modern membership institutions but - in today’s digitally-connected world - most membership institutions will require something more comprehensive than 'just' a CMS. Something that integrates fully into the day-to-day of the organisation, that underpins the whole of the membership marketing strategy and that links seamlessly with the membership Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy, however that may look.It goes without saying that, when you're talking about the technology to underpin a strategic plan that takes you to 2020 and beyond, you're inevitably looking for a system that becomes (somewhat at least) the lifeblood of the organisation. And, though there are plenty of options of course (in particular we at Box UK also work with Drupal and Umbraco), it is in these exact situations that a solution like Sitecore comes to the fore - being not just a CMS, but an integrated experience platform that can deliver you significant advantages over the short- and long-term.

In this article I’ll look at some of these advantages in more detail, digging into how Sitecore can support a range of specific objectives common to membership institutions, from delivering member experiences that can compete with the very best on offer in other walks of life, to building a digital platform from which you can make your voice - and the voices of your members - clearly heard.

Sitecore: supporting organisation-wide digital transformation

Like all industries, organisations within the membership sector are seeking to do more digitally, in response to evolving audience demands and emerging technological opportunities. Often this is a particular challenge for membership institutions, which may be used to managing all areas of operations - from the application process through to content distribution - using traditional paper-based methods.

Responding to this challenge then requires an integrated, unified and transformative approach to digital - which is exactly what Sitecore enables. As an end-to-end experience platform, Sitecore provides a single, central system from which to manage your digital transformation initiatives, featuring sophisticated analytics, personalisation capabilities and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integrations alongside its web content management functionality.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these then, starting with Sitecore’s CMS component…

Content management: helping you fully leverage your assets

Yes, Sitecore isn’t only a CMS, but the experience platform does include extremely powerful content management capabilities. These are of course still a must for membership institutions, who often deliver much of their greatest value by providing access to specialist knowledge, information and resources, raising the profile of both their organisation and the profession they represent in doing so.

Sitecore makes it easier for members to navigate through this content to find exactly what they need by allowing for the setup of a coherent, consistent and intuitive Information Architecture (IA). This of course needs determining offline first but with the correct IA structure and relevant taxonomies in place (no matter how sophisticated) you're able to streamline wayfinding for site visitors and, through surfacing the right information in the right place, encourage exploration across your site too.

The Royal College of Nursing, when they transitioned to Sitecore for example, ran an exercise with Box UK to analyse, prioritise and structure over 30,000 existing pages and documents in order that the new site surfaced the highest-demand content most clearly, and so supported member needs more effectively.This ease-of-use benefits content editors too, with in-page editing, role-based permissions and multi-stage workflows available to support the process of creating and updating content. This means that you can always be confident in the accuracy of the information on your site - ensuring that it reflects any current legislation and campaigns - as well as in your ability to respond quickly to emerging news and events - keeping your members engaged, and you front-of-mind.

Analytics: enabling you to measure success

So often, much of web performance is tracked back to visitor numbers, bounce rate, page views etc. The truth is though that without the granular understanding behind this it can mean very little indeed. With Sitecore however you're overlaying your standard web stats with an intricate understanding of what your users are doing on your site - and importantly revealing where the site is working for you, and where it’s not.

For example, Sitecore supports the creation of specific ‘goals’ based on certain visitor behaviours (such as viewing a certain number of pages) or actions (such as requesting more information). By tying these goals back to specific content, channels and campaigns, you can quickly see which elements of your strategy are performing best against the metrics that really matter to you - whether this is growing a quality membership pipeline, building brand awareness, monetising key assets, or anything else.

Importantly, too, as a centralised platform Sitecore also joins up the member journey across all your different touchpoints, to give you the big-picture overview necessary to understand the effectiveness of your strategy as a whole, and to demonstrate this to senior stakeholders in a clear and concise way.

Additionally, with Sitecore you can even assign your visitors different personas, based on the actions they undertake (discerning between students and fully-fledged practitioners, for example) - providing the insight you need to start tailoring individual member experiences. Which brings us to…

Personalisation: ensuring a quality experience at every turn

Although (as mentioned earlier) the unique content produced by membership institutions is a key driver of increased conversion and retention rates, these days content alone is not enough to secure long-term loyalty. Members have come to expect the enjoyable, engaging interactions seen from leading B2C organisations across all other areas of their lives, and membership institutions must respond accordingly - delivering member experiences that are relevant, timely, and valuable.

This is an area where Sitecore really excels, thanks to its advanced personalisation capabilities that extend far beyond the typical “Hi [name]”. With Sitecore every element of your website’s copy, images and even layout can be tailored in real-time in response to explicit data (if a member is logged in, for instance) as well as a wealth of implicit data such as visitor location, the device being used, the channels or terms by which they’ve come to your site, and of course any persona they are matched with as they journey through your site. This information - held in Sitecore’s analytics tools - can even be linked back to your CRM system as it’s gathered, so that you’re constantly building an ever-better picture of your database.

And it’s not just your website this can be applied to either - all of your web and mobile properties, email campaigns, social networks and even print materials can also be personalised, to create a consistent experience that encourages visitors through those journeys that are most valuable both to them and to you. For example, prospective members can be presented with information around the benefits of membership to nudge them to complete the application process, while targeted help and advice, delivered exactly where and when it’s needed, can be used to encourage self-service, and so save on support costs - showing the direct impact this functionality can have on your ability to achieve your strategy objectives.

Data management: powering your strategy

Obviously, these fantastic personalisation capabilities are dependent on data, and specifically on having access to this data in a format that can be easily understood and applied by both human analysts and digital systems. This calls for a mature Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy, which we know from experience is something the majority of membership institutions are grappling with already, regardless of their specific strategic vision.

As these institutions begin to break down departmental and channel-based siloes within the business, further work must be done to consolidate and verify the data that exists within each of these siloes. However, while you may think that any efforts to integrate a CRM system with your digital platform must wait until this process is completed, the two activities can actually be undertaken in parallel - with integration beginning even as you work towards a cleaner database. Indeed, an integration project can provide the perfect opportunity to cleanse and standardise the information you possess, and so help drive your efforts forward more quickly than they would be otherwise.

And when it comes to Sitecore, the platform is ideally placed to support CRM integration for membership institutions. For example, a popular CRM choice in this sector is Microsoft Dynamics, which like Sitecore is based on Microsoft’s .NET language, making integration smooth and seamless process. If Microsoft Dynamics isn’t for you though, a range of alternative CRM systems are also supported by Sitecore - at Box UK we have worked with solutions including Silverbear and Integra for example, for large, international membership institutions.

In summary

Realising your membership institution's strategic vision will no doubt require the coordination of a variety of different pieces - but in choosing Sitecore, you’ll be giving yourself a solid foundation to support many of the activities necessary for success. Of course, technology alone won’t give you the results you need, so to ensure this (or any) system supports you at a truly strategic level, time must be taken at the outset to align your implementation plans with your ultimate objectives.

At Box UK we have a long history of helping membership organisations with these kind of implementations, and this experience has given us an in-depth understanding of the key drivers within the membership industry today. It's why the team will be up on stage talking about digital transformation for membership institutions at MemCom 2017 for example, and why we're holding a number of events through the rest of the year specifically focused around these goals and objectives. Which means, if you’re interested in learning more about how Sitecore can help you as a membership organisation, get in touch - and see how we can help.

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About the author

Phil Jones

Phil Jones

Technical Analyst Phil has over 15 years' experience in the IT sector. During this time, Phil has helped teams improve the robustness and quality of their software, resulting in happier customers and a happier team. He is also an advocate of mentoring and continuous improvement, having experienced their positive effects.

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