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Associations Now

Communicate Value, Increase Membership

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, May 2011 Intelligence

By: Andrew Miller

Summary: Tips on how to keep members by delivering what they value most.

When making the decision whether or not to become a member of an association, people ask, "What's in it for me?" But when communicating the benefits of membership, associations typically provide a list of bullet points extolling discounts on products and conferences, access to a network of potential business partners, and subscriptions to newsletters and magazines. Is this what potential members really want to see? Not likely.

People join associations for two reasons: They want to develop personally and professionally, or they want access to new potential customers. Unless associations are providing one or both of those elements, it will be difficult to keep membership strong. Sure, we all want discounts on products or services, but there are many different places where those can be found.

Association executives should have just one objective in mind: to provide as much value as possible to their members. If they do this, their association will grow. If they don't, well, let's not go there. Members should be thought of as customers, and if the customers are not happy, they will take their business elsewhere. Your communications must always keep that in mind.

Associations should be run like a competitive business, which means staying on top of the newest methods of reaching out to customers (members). Here are two powerful options to consider:

Video testimonials. Video has become one of the most effective ways to communicate a message. Short, compelling videos are easy to watch, easy to make, and easy to share with colleagues and business partners. It is one of the quickest ways to get a message out to a large number of people.

Associations should leverage this technology by videorecording different members talking about how they have personally and professionally benefitted from being a part of the association. Endorsements from third parties are a strong way to appeal to potential customers' self-interest because they see one of their peers talking about the value of being a part of that community. These testimonials help to tell the story of what the association can actually do. They are a much more powerful tool than mere words on a website.

Show your work. In addition to video testimonials, association executives should not shy away from discussing the impact that associations have on the economy, their specific industries, or even the environment. Again, appealing to the self-interest of the potential or existing member, associations need to communicate the value they offer. Have they lobbied the government for more open-trade policies? Have they influenced social change? Showing tangible evidence of their influence and how that has benefitted their members will help associations thrive. They need to show their members and potential members how they can help them in ways that no one else can, and that means forgetting about being humble and talking about actual results that have been achieved.

With so many organizations out there to choose from, associations need to help customers and potential customers make a choice. The most important success factor is ensuring that the association's message is focused on the value for the member and communicating that message in the most effective ways possible.

Andrew Miller is president of ACM Consulting in Toronto. Email: andrew@acmconsulting.ca

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