Bill Deluise 
Bill Deluise
Vice President, Society Strategy & Marketing, Wiley 
Santa's list
Source: VStock LLC/Thinkstock

You can blame it on my inner child, but when city sidewalks – busy sidewalks, in fact – are dressed in holiday style, it’s impossible not to let the thrill of the holiday season seep into every aspect of life. And with only a couple of days left until the Big Guy makes his magical, globe-trotting journey, delivering presents to every good kid in the world, I’m finding it hard not to think about what advice Santa would give to the leadership of societies and associations and the partners that are working with them to bring cheer to their members all year round.

That’s right: the Membership Lessons of Santa Claus. From effective audience segmentation to unmatched event promotion, St. Nick offers a range of good guidance to help society and association executives and elected leadership make every time of the year the most wonderful time of the year. Here's our top five:

He’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…

We can’t talk to a society executive for more than 15 minutes these days without hearing some combination of the words “member,” “acquisition,” “retention,” and “engagement.” Attracting and retaining members are among the top goals of almost every organization we interact with. Now, I’m not suggesting categorizing your member prospects based on their general tendencies toward having a pleasant or agreeable manner in socializing with others, but the hard line Santa takes in determining where to invest his time and resources (on the nice) and when to ignore a certain segment of his audience (the naughty) is instructive.

Market segmentation can take a couple of forms. Up until recently, I would have said that the big three approaches to segmenting your market are demographic (age, for example, or gender), geographic, and psychographic (values, tastes, and preferences), but then I read and fell in love with “Rediscovering Market Segmentation” by Daniel Yankelovich and David Meer, a February 2006 Harvard Business Review article. In it, Yankelovich and Meer argue that “psychographic segmentations have done little to enlighten the companies that commission them about which markets to enter or what kinds of offers to make, how products should be taken to market, and how they should be priced” and differentiate between attitudinal segmentation (based on beliefs and tastes) and behavioral segmentation (based on previous buying or using behaviors). Attitudinal segmentation, they suggest, is great for advertising and marketing, while behavioral segmentation is better for product development and innovation. They have me sold, but you should check out the article for yourself on HBR.org.

However you choose to segment, there’s a lot to be learned from the Nice or Naughty List about focusing on the members or member prospects who mean the most to you.

He's got a bag that's filled with toys, for boys and girls again…

Oh, yes, the fabled bag of toys. Filled with exactly the present that every child in the world is wishing for on Christmas day. But how does Santa know what to include on The World’s Biggest Shopping List?

Well, he asks, of course. At malls all over the world, at holiday fairs, and by working the elves late into the night reading mail sent to the North Pole, Santa is omnipresent, and he’s using that hyper-availability to solicit feedback from the people that he’s looking to delight on Christmas morning.

The importance of ongoing assessment of your members’ needs, expectations, and behaviors can’t be overstated. Through membership surveys, focus groups, interviews, workplace observation, web analytics, and a host of other channels, there have never been more ways to gain actionable, useful customer insights.

My favorite approach recently has been social listening, which, as it turns out, isn’t just code for wasting the (work)day on Twitter under the guise of a professionally responsible activity. Social listening, the process of monitoring conversations that take place on social media to inform marketing, sales, and product strategies, isn’t just gaining traction in marketing circles: it’s rapidly become the norm. Forbes does a decent review of the benefits and potential uses of social listening. Ready to dive in? Check out Bloomerang’s post on “4 Tools for Nonprofit Social Listening and Reputation Management” or Hootsuite’s “How to Use Hootsuite for Social Listening.” Because the best way to make sure that the members on your “nice” list are getting exactly what they want this year? Let them tell you themselves.

Who comes around on a special night? Santa comes around on a special night…

Do you hear what I hear? That’s “special night.” Singular. Not special months or weeks. Santa has one big day all year. You wouldn’t know it, though. He’s fighting the Great Pumpkin for display space at retail establishments the world over in the month of October. He pops up in white-fur-trimmed, red swim trunks in “Christmas in July” promotions. Hell, he has parents warning their misbehaving children that he’s watching in the middle of March. Santa is a master of pre-event promotion.

Now, the internet is littered with white papers, best practices, and case studies around pre- and post-event promotion, many of them useless. Buried among them are some great pieces of advice, though, like these:





Whatever tactics you deploy, in the same way that Santa’s encroaching on everyone else’s holiday (I’m talking to you, Easter Bunny), think about how you can extend the life of your annual meeting. Of course, in much the same way that Christmas carols in October make shoppers cringe (too soon!), tread carefully with your promotion. Velvet Chainsaw pointed out recently that you have to keep pre- and post-conference promotion relevant to helping members solve their information problems and growing their networks in order to keep it engaging.

He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake…

It’s not creepy when Santa does it, so why not use every available medium to better understand how your members are interacting with your offerings?

What is your analytics strategy? If you’re like the nonprofit organizations that the Stanford Social Innovation Review referenced in their Summer 2014 article “Big Data for Social Innovation,” your analytics strategy could be better: “Nonprofits and other social change organizations are lagging their counterparts in the scientific and business communities in collecting and analyzing the vast amounts of data that are being generated by digital technology. Four steps need to be taken to improve the use of big data for social innovation.” From disparate data sources to weak data governance approaches, there are a slew of things that could make effective use of data difficult. The article addresses some strategies that organizations can use to make their data work harder for them.

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen. Comet, and Cupid, and Donder, and Blitzen…

And how do you know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and the rest of them? It’s not a secret: Santa doesn’t work alone. He couldn’t. It would be impossible. Discovering every wish, creating every present, negotiating his own commercial rights with Coca-Cola for those adorable seasonal commercials: there’s no way one guy can do all of that, no matter how magical he is. Nope. Kris Kringle knows what he’s good at, and he brings in partners to manage the rest. Transportation and shipping? Reindeer. Production and Manufacturing? Elves. Digital rights and licensing management? Mrs. Claus (probably). The Christmas A-Team is working hard around the year and around the clock to keep Santa looking good.

Designing effective partnership strategies is essential in meeting those goals that cannot be achieved with the resources and assets available to the organization alone. It’s a bit dated now, but there’s a good article on Entrepreneurship.com that addresses how to evaluate and select a strategic partner. Written for start-ups looking to decrease time to market or tap into markets that they couldn’t reach alone, the article recommends an eight-step approach to identifying and contracting with a strategic partner. It also references a Partnership Proposition Worksheet to help think through the elements of the partnership (the link in the article itself is broken, but this one works). For a more visual worksheet, try the Strategic Partnership Canvas, outlined in this blog post by Kosta Stavreas, a strategy consultant and technology entrepreneur.

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas…

I could go on (and would love for you to chime in with comments below), but in closing, what was true in 1897 is just as true today: Yes, (Virginia,) there is a Santa Claus. And not only does he exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, but he's also a source of ideas and insights and inspiration for all of us in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.


Happy holidays, to you and all of your loved ones, from all of us at Wiley.

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