How Associations Can Become Data-Driven Organizations

May 30, 2018 By: Amy Williams and Scott Pearce

Associations that haven’t yet acquired a data-driven mindset when planning how to serve their members miss out on valuable insights and risk becoming irrelevant to members. Here are essential questions to ask as you position your marketing department to harness the full potential of data.

Gone are the days when associations could create value based on what they thought members wanted. Now, smart associations take advantage of data and customer insight to drive decisions.

Being data driven and generating innovative solutions that address member challenges is essential for future growth and sustainability. With many new and interesting ways of networking, accessing professional development, and even participating in advocacy programs and grassroots campaigns, people have many other ways to obtain traditional association benefits. It is more important than ever that associations gain the ability to analyze and meet members’ needs and demands. In short, data has become a currency that organizations cannot live without.

While data brings many opportunities, it also brings challenges. There is an overabundance of tech tools that can be used to gather, curate, and analyze data, making it hard for associations that are just jumping in to know where to begin. The mass adoption of mobile devices across all demographics has made it more difficult for many associations to keep pace with gathering member data at critical touchpoints throughout the member’s journey. Finally, as the saying goes, “Not everything that can be counted, counts.”

Despite these challenges, associations must move forward. “As you transform into a more data-driven strategy, it’s imperative to embrace the fact that opinions, while valuable, should only be informed by data,” says Tim Mason, vice president of operations and chief experience officer at ISACA, an information systems services organization. “It’s easier said than done, and it requires a cultural shift across the entire organization.”

Setting Up Systems

Now that you know how imperative it is to be data-driven, it’s time to assemble teams and systems that will get you there.

Because data allows marketing, communications, IT, meetings, education, and membership teams to understand their members and customers in ways that weren’t possible before, departments can no longer work in silos. They must operate with full transparency, sharing data and insights and working together toward a mutual goal.

This calls for putting together a core data team that will be responsible for the development, implementation, and monitoring of your plan. Ideally, this team will have representation from IT, marketing, communications, membership, meetings, education, publications, and advocacy. It is important to identify a team lead to coordinate.

As you transform into a more data-driven strategy, it’s imperative to embrace the fact that opinions, while valuable, should only be informed by data.
—Tim Mason, ISACA

Your team’s first step is to begin with the end in mind, defining your desired outcome and the key results that will identify if your objective has been met. Examples of questions that may help define your goal include:

  • Will you use the data to listen to members and improve the member experience?
  • Do you want to better understand how your members engage with your association via social media and content on your website?
  • Are you hoping to use your findings to better segment communication to your target audiences?

Once your goal or objective is established, work backward from there to identify the most direct path to success and what data you will need to measure to report on your progress. These measurements will be your key performance indicators. Next, identify the systems those data elements are captured in, making note of any data gaps.

Have the team nail down answers to these questions:

  • What data do you need?
  • What technology will best gather the data?
  • Who will own the data, and who will be responsible for gathering it?
  • Who will glean insights from it?
  • Who will create reports from these systems and how frequently?
  • How will the data be shared interdepartmentally to ensure any actions that need to be taken can be executed?

Once you build a process around gathering and interpreting the right data, you will have the foundation set to evolve into a modern organization.

Associations, whether trade or professional and regardless of size, cannot afford to rest on past accomplishments, nor be passive when it comes to delivering value to members. By asking the right questions, identifying the right tools with which to gather data, and gleaning actionable insights from the data, associations will be able to innovate in deliberate and sustainable ways.

Amy Williams

Amy Williams is director of marketing and communications for the American Society of Anesthesiologists in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Scott Pearce

Scott Pearce is director of marketing for the American College of Radiology in Reston, Virginia.