Will members get enough value from our association in the future? Yes, membership may have held steady last year. Yes, retention metrics may also be stable. But that doesn’t mean we are free from worry. Always looming is the big question, are we doing the right things now that will give members value now and in the future?
One big hot button for association professionals that triggers our fears is technology. We wonder, with technology changing, are we keeping up? Or technology allows members to do for free what we provide for a fee. Or there are so many ways to communicate with members and prospective members now on social media and in other channels, are we in the right places?
Another worry prompting trigger for us are our fast-changing industries. The association industry is changing as we see some associations struggle and consolidate. Changing membership models is top of mind for many. Discussions about how technology is hurting us and helping us are abundant. Not only is our association industry in flux but for many of us, our members’ industry or profession is fast changing as well. Here too we find new technology creating massive change. Members are also struggling with fast-changing regulations, uncertain futures, and shrinking budgets. How do we stay ahead? How do we provide value in the midst of all this upheaval?
This next thought may seem counter-intuitive, but all this uncertainty gives our associations tremendous opportunity! As we think about providing exceptional member value into the future, we have three levers to pull: strategy, innovation, and marketing.
Opportunity Lever 1: Strategy
A top question from association professionals, “is our strategy right? Will it carry us into the future? Or do we have to change our strategy?” That’s a fair question. We should all be looking at our organization’s strategy regularly to see if we’re on track. But how do we know if we are on track? By knowing the answer to these two questions. Who do we seek to serve and what big problems do they have that we can solve?
For well-established associations, we should go back to our members, particularly the members who love the association the most. We need to learn more about who they are. Develop a profile. Then find out much more about their problems. We can ask, “What are your biggest professional problems? Why are they problems? What are you doing about these problems? Is anyone helping you solve these problems?” In these answers, we will find the clues that will inform member-driven strategies.
Opportunity Lever 2: Innovation
New benefits, new services, and new products can add value. So can refreshing existing benefits and services. Innovations can also be found in other parts of the association from research, to editorial, to member services. Here again, the problem-solving approach gives us clues on where, how and when to innovate. Perhaps a more consultative approach can be developed for the time-strapped but resource-heavy member? Or an online self-serve approach may work for the budget-starved member. Start this process by deeply understanding members’ problems then figure out solutions for them; these solutions become our next innovations.
It seems like there’s a lot of risk in innovating because there’s no guarantee that the way we solve our member’s problems is the way they want their problems solved. We can take away some of this risk by starting small and monitoring interest along the way. Are you thinking about delving into a new topic? Start with a tweet. If you see interest try a blog post. Are they still interested? Try a few more blog posts. Now try a webinar. Does there seem to be an insatiable curiosity about this topic? Maybe now we can introduce a half-day symposium. Innovation doesn’t have to be resource-heavy, risky or high tech, especially when you start small and building up.
Opportunity Lever 3: Marketing
“Members don’t know all that we do” or “members don’t even take advantage of the benefits they are entitled to” is a common issue in associations. Does it seem like the organization is talking, talking, talking and no one is listening? Sometimes that’s because we are not linking our members’ problem with our solution.
Members have a way of articulating their problem with their words and phrases. Members also have a thorough understanding of their problem, but they may not have a clear conception of the solution. When we come at them with features and benefits, they may not be able to link our solution with their problem. The key is to ground them in their problem first. Show them that we understand their problem well and then take them to the solution. When we do this well, we tell the story our members need to hear.
Our member-driven focus on these three opportunity levers: strategy, innovation, and marketing can help position us to offer the most member value now and in the future.