• Colby Horton

Keeping Email in the Mix: Association Marketing and Young Professionals

Although both are defined as digital-first generations, there’s still very distinct ways to digitally market to millennials and Gen Z - particularly as it relates to email.

Today’s associations face unchartered challenges. Sure, attracting and retaining members is at the top of the list. Now, add engagement and revenue to the mix, while attempting to keep an annual tradeshow afloat in a hybrid world of in-person and virtual events.


For a number of years, associations have thrived because of a core group of members who continued to be involved, lead and drive strategic decisions. They’re the ones who shaped the industry; who recruited new members based on word-of-mouth. They showed up to every convention, visited every exhibitor booth, attended every happy hour, and led vibrant discussions during networking events. But now, that group is retiring and associations are charged with filling the void with a mix of younger industry professionals - many with new ideas that will shape the association landscape for years to come.


For successful organizations, a good portion of marketing budgets are being spent on recruiting, retaining and engaging with these younger professionals. Five years ago, we were talking specifically about millennials - what makes them tick, how they like to contribute and volunteer, what they bring to the table when it comes to board and chapter leadership. Now, we would be culpable if we didn’t include Gen Z in the mix.


For this post, we’ll use the Pew Research Center’s generational definitions. Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 is considered a millennial. Anyone born after 1997 is considered Gen Z.


Although both are defined as digital-first generations, there’s still very distinct ways to digitally market to each - particularly as it relates to email. That’s right, email marketing is still the best way for associations to reach these unique generations. When done right, the ROI of email marketing is through the roof - for every $1 spent on email marketing, an association can expect a $42 return on investment.


By the Numbers


So, what do the numbers tell us about email use among millennials and Gen Z? First, let’s debunk a myth about email use with these generations. For both, email is the preferred way to receive brand communications. For millennials, 62% prefer email over other marketing channels. That number is even higher when it comes to Gen Z - we’re talking 65%. And, when it comes to marketing channels these generations deem as “most personal,” email took the cake again, with 64% of millennials and 60% choosing email as the most personal channel.


Both groups also receive a decent share of email per day. That said, millennials receive a higher volume of email per day, with 38.6% saying they receive 6-20 emails per day; 27.6%. report receiving 21-50 emails a day; and 7.5% receive over 100 emails every day. That said, 66.9% of Gen Zers received between 1-20 emails a day.


With this volume of email hitting their inbox, and the fact that these two generations remain digitally connected for the majority of their waking hours, you would expect them to check email multiple times a day. In fact, 75% of millennials check their email multiple times a day and 15.3% say they check it once a day. On the Gen Z side, 58% check their email multiple times a day and 23% check their email once a day.


And, when they check their email, it’s no surprise that it’s largely being read on mobile devices. In fact, 67% of Gen Z and 59% of millennials use their smartphone for email. Mobile is followed by laptops, then desktops. Surprisingly, a small percentage of both generations rely on a tablet for email.

Gmail is king for younger audiences, with a whopping 70% of Gen Z and 61% of millennials preferring the platform for email. Strong Gmail adoption for younger generations likely has to do with how the platform positioned itself as a thought leader as these generations were being introduced to email. Adoption and retention followed. Therefore, associations must make sure their email marketing campaigns look great on Gmail, now and in the future.


Now that you know a few of the email habits and quirks of these younger generations, how should your association use email marketing to reach them?


Email Marketing to Millennials


No doubt, millennials are digital natives, spending a considerable amount of time on their mobile devices. And while they are somewhat infatuated with social media and texting, they’re definitely a fan of email. In fact, 60% of millennials prefer email when it comes to communicating with brands.


A millennial’s inbox is busy, and they tend to have a low tolerance for spammy messages, with 74% saying they’re annoyed with too many marketing emails. So, keep these points in mind when email marketing to this generation:


Be cautious of irrelevant emails

Remember, you’re challenged with gaining exposure in a millennial’s inbox. Irrelevancy will only turn them off. In a survey conducted by MarketingSherpa, respondents cited irrelevant emails as the second-most common reason that they unsubscribe from a company’s email list. (The first reason is receiving too many messages from a company). In other words, never send an email regarding event registration to a member that’s already registered for the event.


Effective segmentation and personalization is paramount here. The good news for association marketers is that 70% of millennials say they have no issues with companies tracking their purchasing and browsing behaviors, while collecting valuable zero- and first-party data, in exchange for better-targeted messaging.


Text messaging is influential

Millennials have grown up using text messaging - and that has influenced the way they communicate. In fact, 70% say that text messaging has changed the way they write emails. That fact gives associations permission to be less formal in their email messaging. Keep the emails short and don’t be afraid to have some fun. By the way, a large majority of millennials have used emojis in their work emails. So, who’s ready to use emojis in association communications? 🙋‍♂️


Causes are critical

Millennials are extremely cause-driven. According to the Millennial Impact Report, they feel “personally responsible for making life better for themselves, their peers, and marginalized groups.” If an association needs to fill volunteer positions, or participate in community activities, emailing millennials for their support is a great way to begin building relationships.


Saving money is important

Money concerns among millennials are well-documented. Almost two-thirds of this generation say they’re living paycheck to paycheck and only 38% feel financially stable. So, if an association is planning for a discounted membership drive, or promotion of an early-bird event discount, putting together an email campaign to this group makes a lot of sense.


Email Marketing to Gen Z


Like their millennial counterparts, Gen Z is the epitome of a digital-first generation. When it comes to email marketing to this generation, associations have to go well beyond the traditional approaches from the past. To be successful, an organization needs to consider new and innovative new ways to catch their attention and provide the engaging digital experience they expect. The good news is that they don’t have years of marketers hitting their inboxes with promotional messages under their belt. Their inboxes are relatively uncluttered (37% receive less than five emails a day). When email marketing to this generation, keep these points in mind:


Fewer emails mean less competition

Since Gen Z receives fewer emails in their inbox, they’re more likely to open at a higher frequency. More than half say they prefer to receive emails from trusted brands daily or, at a minimum, a couple times a week. Association marketers should use this to their advantage. Consider a frequent email to young professionals in the industry.


Don’t shy away from video

Instead of continuing to present information in a text-heavy email, associations should think of unique ways to surprise an audience. Adding video is a great way to accomplish this. According to the Pew Research Institute, the platform Gen Z uses the most is YouTube. In fact, 32% more say they use it more than any social media site. Bring the allure of that site into your email campaigns.


Write like social media

Gen Z grew up in a social media environment. Members love encountering social-style content, like user-generated images or influencer marketing, in email campaigns. In fact, they’ve come to expect it.


Newsletters are important - don’t forget about them!

A recent survey found that 39% of Gen Z respondents reported that they subscribe to 1-5 email newsletters. They’re looking for authentic relationships with their preferred brands, including associations. Email newsletters provide the perfect opportunity for personal interactions with an association, while also enabling organizations to provide thought-provoking content while showing a human side.


Final Thoughts


No doubt, email should be in the marketing mix of any association. While it’s important to know what grabs the attention of young professionals within your organization, that information isn’t very useful if you’re not actually segmenting your data. We can’t stress this point enough: message relevancy is the most valuable asset of email marketing - particularly when marketing to younger generations. The “same old, same old” way of email marketing simply won’t be successful with millennials and members of Gen Z. Associations must be prepared to innovate and offer the personalized digital experience they expect.


How Can We Help?


Association Briefings has a team of association-focused experts excited to help with your individualized member communications. Let’s chat about how we can help with all your email marketing needs - from automation, creation, and personalized email news briefings. Reach out here to get started.



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