Research – Cost or Investment?

Recently I stumbled upon a series of articles about lessons learned in market research*, and what good marketers (and executives/managers) do to understand their ‘tribe’ - those people who matter to them. Now, these articles are aimed at organisations who have consumers as customers. But, it struck me that the essence of the messages applies equally to member-based organisations and associations. And so, I have consolidated the messages from the first three articles here.

First “Lesson” Forget what you think you know about your members. The key to understanding your target market (in this case, your members or potential members) is to understand what they really feel, need and want to succeed in their profession, and adapting your services and products to meet these requirements. It is not about what you think you know from talking to members from time to time at conferences and events or asking the few who always engage with you what they think. Don’t get me wrong – all these things are great to do and should be done, but according to these articles, the ONLY way to approach marketing to your target market is to undertake “proper” market research (defined as “scientific research conducted by independent professionals”).

Second “Lesson” You need to understand what really MATTERS to your members. Specifically, what matters to them as people? What matters to them about their chosen profession? What matters to them about membership? And what services do you provide that really matter to them – what differentiates you from all of the other choices they have?

What member-based organisations and associations need to learn is what matters to your target market (non-members and members), and then decide how your services can meet that need, desire, fear, or hope. Only once you understand what matters to your audience, can you craft your strategies to appeal to them. 

Third “Lesson” Proper market research (see definition above!) delivers a Return on Investment (ROI). It is an investment in the future of your organisation and an investment in your members. It is not a cost. And, done properly, it will deliver a return on that investment. Now, the figures quoted in the articles about the percentage return on investment are based on consumer market research from the USA, so I’m not going to quote them here. But, done correctly, your investment in research will improve your retention, attract new members and increase revenues from non-fee based activities.

To summarise:

  • Forget what you think you know about your members. Do some market research

  • The most important question you can ask yourself, again and again, is “what matters to the people my organisation represents?”

  • Market research is an investment in your organisation and your members (past, current and future)

If you want to learn more, please get in touch. Survey Matters is a market research agency working with member-based organisations, associations and other for-purpose groups.

*These articles can be read in full here: