How a Virtual Course Improved Member Engagement and Nondues Revenue

Swart_virtual course February 28, 2023 By: James Swart

Transforming an in-person workshop to a virtual one helped the Consumer Brands Association bring in significantly more revenue, test out new networking opportunities, and most importantly, reach an underserved segment of their membership.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for associations on many fronts, the Consumer Brands Association, which represents the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, also viewed it as an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize and recapitalize on reaching an underserved segment of our membership.

Prior to 2020, CBA’s Food Labeling Workshop was held in-person and offered twice a year. This setup presented several challenges for both the association and workshop attendees: attending required being away from work for at least four days and the space available limited the number of participants. These factors combined resulted in a workshop that barely broke even. When CBA approached revamping the course and turning it virtual, these challenges were top of mind.

New Course, New Goals

A large segment of the CPG industry is food and beverage, which is highly regulated. This meant there was a need for educational opportunities on the basics of these requirements to ensure companies can minimize risk and protect their brands from recalls and lawsuits. Following extensive market research on existing programs, CBA approached the new course with eight goals in mind:

  1. Generate nondues revenue.
  2. Provide opportunities to CPG professionals to take the course at their own pace.
  3. Offer education that aligns with current adult learning principles and covers necessary information.
  4. Target a specific audience we were not providing member value to.
  5. Expand our reach within companies for this audience.
  6. Revamp the brand to cover all food and beverage products.
  7. Identify ways to retain the networking offered through an in-person course.
  8. Expand educational offerings for the industry.

These goals helped us create a self-paced, virtual course that exceeded our revenue goal by more than three times and generating 400 percent more net revenue in one year compared to the previous in-person workshop. The workshop also ended up servicing five times as many attendees.

In addition, the Food and Beverage Labeling course (new name) incorporates virtual meetups, which allows attendees to ask questions and meet their peers in the field, and a discussion board lets participants communicate with their peers outside of the meetups. These also provide opportunities for us as association staff to develop relationships and deepen connections with our members in a new segment of the business.

Lessons Learned

Along the way, we’ve learned several lessons that would be applicable to other associations:

Don’t be afraid of trying. While our market research indicated a need for this type of professional development, we were still unsure of attendees would be interested in a virtual option. Creating a solid plan for development and marketing promotion allowed us to create a solid offering that was well-received by many in the industry. Never doubt the power of a solid plan in helping you reach your goals.

Use the power of people to promote. Now in its second year, the course has already established a reputation for itself. In reviewing registration data, we found that after the first session, we had several companies who elected to send more individuals to later sessions. We believe two factors contributed to this: a high-quality course offering and certificates and badges that attendees could post on social media to drive awareness.

Find a model that works, and replicate. CBA is in the process of exploring other segments of our membership that would benefit from this style of course. Given the relatively low number of resources required, asynchronous courses offer ample opportunities to generate nondues revenue.

James Swart

James Swart is manager, education, at the Consumer Brands Association.