Robbie Baxter is the founder of Peninsula Strategies, based in in Menlo Park, California, and author of The Membership Economy.
New competitors and members’ changing needs can be a one-two punch to your membership numbers if you’re not fighting to keep them up. Here are eight questions and a look at membership-based tactics that will help you be responsive and stay relevant.
Recently, an executive on the board of a well-respected professional association shared his concerns with me about dwindling membership. His conclusion was that their messaging must be off, that people just didn’t understand the value the association could provide. My conclusion: The organization’s value proposition was way off.
Associations can struggle to stay competitive and relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. People join associations because they want to connect with like-minded people. It’s about building long-term relationships, status, and developing a better career. But now, professionals can access benefits like content, connections, and career opportunities without belonging to an association.
This has given rise to what I like to call the “membership economy”—an emerging business model that is making inroads in nearly every industry using customer-centric tactics like access over ownership, subscription pricing, inclusiveness, and digital community. Many companies in the private sector are getting wise to the value of these membership models. Software as a Service (SaaS) companies use subscription pricing, live events, and online communities, for example, while consumer-based subscription services are providing access instead of ownership—a new way of packaging value. Facebook uses the language of membership to attract users. Amazon continues to disrupt and dominate through its membership Trojan horse, Amazon Prime.
The result? Associations must compete with a huge variety of groups and information sources.
Any association hoping to attract newcomers must be willing to change and find ways to incorporate membership-based tactics to stay essential and competitive. So how can your association strengthen relationships to continue to grow? Consider these important questions:
Despite the challenges they face, associations still have many advantages to leverage for members, including a long legacy of trust: They are mission-driven, independent, and peer-run, which gives them credibility that for-profit organizations generally don’t have. They also have a loyal base and know their existing members well. Many provide benefits that are still desirable, including proprietary research, credentialing, and aspirational awards. With such a strong foundation in place, why not make the necessary adjustments to cement your place in members’ lives?