Launching a new membership site can feel a lot like the first day at a new school or job.
You know how you start is vital for your future earnings, so you pick out your outfit carefully. You set an early alarm to make sure you get there on time.
The nerves probably keep you up later than you’d like, but you pull it off, and once you walk through those doors to greet your new classmates or colleagues, you realize something:
It’s not half as scary as you thought. In fact, you got this.
Now, swap out “colleague” for “customers” and you have the same experience with a membership website.
Instead of a perfect outfit, you need the perfect membership software. And instead of getting up earlier than any rooster in its right mind would, you need a marketing plan.
Which is where this guide comes in. Today, we’ll take you step-by-step through everything you need to know to give your membership website a stellar first (or second) impression.
Let’s get right to it.
Step #1. Research your target audience and create a journey map
Researching your potential customers is such a pivotal step to creating a marketing plan for an online business or product that, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t be allowed to launch before you did your homework.
And it’s a step that can hurt even giants if it’s skipped.
Here’s what I mean:
Think back to the last time you ran out of laundry detergent or needed a random office supply.
What did you do?
If you’re like me, you headed straight to Amazon. It’s almost a Pavlovian reflex at this point.
And given that 55% of people say Amazon understands their needs and preferences in a way other retailers can’t match, it’s probably a reflex a lot of you share.
But the point isn’t to tell you about how great Amazon is. Instead, it’s to drive this point home:
Even with over half of their customers saying they understand their needs, Amazon couldn’t salvage the Amazon Fire from the dregs.
They didn’t understand what their audience wanted, and despite a marketing budget that could put someone through a proper undergraduate education, it was an all-but-lost cause.
The Microsoft Zune, whose existence only survives in recent memory because of Guardians of the Galaxy, is another example of a product that fell short in the hands of business behemoths because it missed its mark with its audience.
That’s how important this step is. Skip it, and it won’t matter how much time or money you sink into your launch. It’s not going to reach its potential.
So, how do you do audience research? You start with audience personas (which you can learn more about and get a walkthrough for in our previous article about online course marketing strategies). After that, you refine them to laser-target your products and promotions.
Refining is a crucial addendum in this step.
Continuously refining and reshaping personas helped one business grow their lead acquisition by 166% month-to-month.
A third of top-performing marketers report that having the tools they need for gathering data and analyzing it is critical to understanding their customers.
But a word of caution. While data is essential in marketing, it’s not the end-all-be-all.
For most companies, data-based marketing strategies only get them halfway.
On a scale of one to seven, with one being the lowest and seven being the highest, marketing professionals say analytics only get to a 4.1 in terms of contribution to actual sales performance.
So although hard data like analytics are a must-have and should be a cornerstone of your research, they can’t be the entirety of it.
Besides, even if they were enough, you’d need some serious traffic to get anything meaningful out of it, and if you’re just launching (or re-launching), that’s probably not viable.
One great (and fun) way to supplement your data is to create a customer journey map out of it.
This technique is the most popular choice of businesses looking to improve their conversions, with 66% rating it as a vital way to use data.
Customer journey maps are typically associated with user experience design (UXD), but that’s not a bad thing. Applying UXD research helped Sales Hacker reshape their marketing strategy and close up gaps by providing audience insights they might have otherwise missed.
Here’s what a customer journey map looks like in its most dressed-down state:
And here’s a peep at what the same kind of map looks like when it’s been decked to the nines by a designer:
A lot of this data comes directly from analytics, but you can enrich it further by scanning for online conversations on sites like Quora and social media and sending out audience surveys.
You can build your own journey map for free with tools like Lucidchart or UXPressia, but any kind of diagramming software will work. The key to succeeding with a journey map is making it as accurate as possible by combining analytical and anecdotal evidence.
Once you’ve got sufficient research at hand, the map itself is simple.
All you have to do is diagram tasks, emotions, and touchpoints -- places where your customers interact with your brand -- according to the different sales stages.
Looked at from another angle, you can create your journey map in five steps:
Start with setting your goal, and if you have any business partners, getting them on board with it.
Then look at the research you already have at hand and try to generate insights from it.
If you don’t have enough to complete this step, don’t worry, because the next is what we’ve covered today -- using your analytics and scanning social sites.
Next, create your map. It can be as visual -- or textual -- as you prefer.
Finally, use your map to shape your marketing, and more specifically content, plan.
Step #2. Use your journey map and data to create a content plan
A content plan is exactly what it sounds like: a framework for what kind of content you should create (such as blog posts, infographics, and social posts), when you should create it, and how you should distribute it.
You can do content marketing without a plan, but like most things in life, the more documented your strategy, the better your results, particularly if you want to monetize your blog audience in the future.
Which is probably why 40% of business-to-consumer marketers have a documented strategy and 23% plan to create one.
By the way, businesses from every online industry have credited content marketing as their growth-boosting linchpin.
But returning to content plans, creating a documented strategy keeps you on track when the million little hiccups of everyday life get in your way, and if you’re working with a small budget, stretches your dollar out further.
After all, if you know in advance what kind of content you need to create, you can maximize on its usefulness by devising ways to repurpose it (aka, creating once and publishing everywhere, as we covered in our previous article on giving away content for free).
You can find some excellent, free content marketing plan templates on Curata to get you started, but the basic gist is this:
First, find a content management system. WordPress is the most popular, but you don’t have to stick with a traditional CMS if it’s not your speed.
In fact, for a content plan, project management tools like Coschedule and Trello can help you manage your assets and schedule more intuitively. You can check out a detailed guide to the latter two tools (plus a bonus) in our article about blogging and SEO.
I’m personally a fan of Trello in particular, and I’m not alone.
As for how to put one together, it’s simple.
Generate your content plan based on the information you compiled in your journey map. What are the emotions people feel about your brand or membership when they first become aware of it? What about when they’re considering purchasing it but aren’t ready to jump in yet?
Address those emotions and frustrations with your content. That’s all there is to it.
Once you’ve got your content or project management system and strategy down, you need to build creative assets to go with your future content.
These are the graphics, icons, and other resources that will be associated with your business. Even better if you can create ready-to-share materials like social posts.
That’s what we do for our affiliates, and they love it.
Creating assets as part of your content plan help users share your branded content once you start publishing. The less work it is for them, the more likely your content is going to get traction.
The last step is to roll out your content plan. Create the copy for your blog posts (this article on online sales writing may help), pool the research for your infographics, and start getting it out there.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are the most popular distribution channels for professionals.
Implementing your content plan will not only attract a larger audience on social through shares, but it’ll also help your pages compete on Google when potential customers look up information about your subject area.
72% of marketers report that it’s their biggest driver for search engine optimization (SEO).
But if that’s not enough to convince you that this step can help you reach more customers and have a more profitable launch, consider the case of CollegeRaptor.
They had almost no organic reach. None.
Pulling together an infographic and creating content with public data that anyone could find helped them see up to 100,000 visitors per month in a year’s time.
Just this one piece of content -- a nice piece, but far from elaborate -- did all that.
After creating your content plan and aligning it with the stages you mapped out in your customer journey map, it’s time to launch.