Gastric bypass surgery was not at all the topic of the call. I had been conducting routine member interviews. During one of these calls I found myself in lengthy and heart-felt conversation about how the surgery, a last option for most, saved this member’s life. She talked about how she now has time with her 4-year old granddaughter and how she’s able to volunteer at church when getting there even once a week on Sunday used to be a struggle. We were there to talk business but instead we chatted about the thing that mattered to her most. I learned a lot from her story; members can teach you the most amazing things.
Members tell me about their goals. They tell me about their dreams, professional and not. They chat about their organizations, their day-to-day work and their biggest accomplishments with a bit of well deserved pride. I also hear about where they are stuck, what is not going well and their fears about the future.
I am a reformed marketer. I always knew the value of member insights but I used to get what I thought I needed strictly from research reports and the data from our database. That is, until this wasn’t enough. Tentatively at first but then with more consistency I started to seek out more one-on-one conversations with members. Soon I learned that these conversations were invaluable. I’m not a member but by listening to enough members I could place myself in their shoes.
The more all associations can listen to our members the better we will be because we will:
Fall into a cycle of adding more value – Talk to members and we hear about their problems, goals and challenges. When we hear about these same problems enough we can’t help but try to solve them. When we help your members solve their biggest problems we start adding more value to membership.
Stop doing the things that don’t matter – Listening to members we find out which benefits really matter. We can then stop doing the things that don’t matter and have more time and resources for the things that do.
Talk in their language – Web and marketing copy reads better when an industry insider writes it. The writer knows what the issues are, how the audience feels and the actual words members use. The copy connects with members when they think, “wow, this organization knows exactly what I’m going through.”
Give ourselves more time to respond to changes in the industry – When we are in constant meaningful conversations with members they will tell us what is new on the horizon. Some of them may have even worked out the implications of these new trends for the profession, industry or even for the association itself. See those trends early and we have plenty of time to prepare our members and organization for them.
Listening to members creates connection and empathy. Connection and empathy is essential for great marketing.
First published in MASAE’s PACE magazine.