Adam Wasserman is director of membership and marketing for the Smart Electric Power Alliance in Washington, DC.
Associations looking to better meet member needs and deliver an exceptional member experience might want to consider channeling the marketing and product development tactics of two tech behemoths—Amazon and Apple.
I often say that organizations that want to provide a great customer or member experience need to think like Apple and act like Amazon. After all, the phrase is catchy, and both companies are well known for their unparalleled success.
But these are billion-dollar corporations with armies of talent and vast resources, so you may be asking: How can my association possibly do what they do? Before we can answer that, let’s explore what it means to think like Apple and act like Amazon.
Apple is the master of creating things you didn’t know you needed. Once a product is released, you cannot imagine life without it. The iPhone, iPod, iMac, and Apple Watch (trust me, you’ll buy one sooner or later) are all examples.
Amazon, on the other hand, excels at connecting you with the product you are searching for, making it easy to buy with just a few clicks. Once it has your attention, Amazon offers you related products that might be of interest and in formats that make it easy to click “buy” again.
Apple is the master of creating things you didn’t know you needed. Amazon excels at connecting you with the product you are searching for, making it easy to buy with just a few clicks.
So, what lessons might you be able to apply from thinking like Apple and acting like Amazon? Here are eight steps that improved member and customer experiences at my association:
1. Identify needs. We used to ask our members to tell us what they wanted. Then, we delivered a product or service based on that feedback, but we scratched our heads when it failed to meet expectations.
By thinking like Apple, we asked fewer questions about which products or services were beneficial and more about looming challenges our members and customers expected to face in the years ahead. That change in thinking opened us up to big opportunities, and now we make decisions based on member and customer needs, not on what they may tell us about specific product types they want.
2. Understand your audience. When creating a new product or service, ask: Who is my audience? Why should they care? And how is my product different?
If you create a product that is just like something else, you will be fighting for a market share that’s already established. Instead, develop and build a product aligned with audience needs and spend your time, money, and resources wisely. If you understand who your audience is, you can target your outreach to members and customers who are most likely to use a product or service.
3. Tap into emotions. People react to emotional appeals. Have you ever watched a commercial with the sound muted? Most ads have little to do with the product or its features and much more to do with how you will feel when you buy and use it. Associations can tap into emotions too, by highlighting the value of community, promoting the knowledge that members share to help make the industry or profession better, or reminding members that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Don’t sell products, sell connections and solutions.
4. Recognize inbox overload. The chance that I will act on an unsolicited email is small, unless I happen to be looking for the solution it offers at that time. Our members feel the same way. Email is still a major part of our marketing efforts, but it’s not a magic bullet. Direct mail is making a comeback because there is far less of it in today’s digital world. We’ve also found that digital and print advertising can work, but we are still talking to our audience when we should be talking with them.
5. Use inbound marketing. Amazon relies on inbound marketing to attract prospective customers’ attention by creating and sharing useful content. This is one of the reasons why Amazon shows up in your top three search results. Google AdWords can be an effective tool, but it can also be expensive. We take advantage of Google AdGrants, which awards nonprofits $10,000 worth of in-kind marketing each month.
6. Take opportunities to cross-sell. Your members engage with you in many ways—by downloading whitepapers, attending webinars, or registering for conferences, for example. With each engagement, they tell you more about their interests. Act like Amazon and use these moments to suggest other products and services that fulfill the same need. We used to group our products by type—report, event, or blog post—but now we group them by subject, and engagement rates have increased.
7. Develop products that deliver on mission. My organization exists to advance clean energy and a modern electric grid. That narrative needs to weave through our products and services to deliver an experience that our members can’t get anywhere else. It really is about the journey, not the destination, so ask yourself: How do your products and services relate to each other, and how do they roll up to your mission statement?
8. Adapt quickly. In two years, we have rebranded and changed our association’s name, merged with two other associations, dramatically increased our new product offerings, and seen a 60 percent increase in membership revenue. Our executive leadership and board recognized that being agile was necessary to provide value to our members.
After all, doing the same thing over and over again will only deliver the same results. And in today’s world, it’s a recipe for extinction. Consistently challenge the answer to why you exist and adapt accordingly. Your members will thank you.