Steven Shapiro is founder and president of Communications Strategy Group in Denver, Colorado.
During a time when content and networking have been commoditized, these five trends can help associations demonstrate value to members and grow the organization.
As a marketer, the association world is confounding. While individuals and for-profit organizations work to build an audience via compelling content and products, many associations have been sitting in the proverbial catbird seat with a built-in audience and affinity.
Unfortunately, many of the same individuals and organizations vying for eyeballs and attention have stolen the thunder from associations by becoming a resource for similar intellectual capital, connections, and solutions. And even more interesting is that in some cases associations helped them do it by affording them channels of promotion in exchange for sponsorship dollars.
That state of complexity and quandary is magnified by changing demographics and interests, competition for mindshare, and a host of technological and societal shifts that are forging an existential crisis for them. However, through our work, we’ve found that associations can utilize many of those same forces to regain momentum and membership if embraced and marketed well. Here’s a look at five of them.
Societal shifts often give rise to new challenges and demands within specific industries or communities. Associations that recognize and respond to these emerging needs can position themselves as valuable resources for their members.
The key is to be ahead of the curve. We work with one association that has a dedicated team—and budget—designed for “speed to market” of content and collaboration opportunities on burning topics for that industry. Associations can better anticipate the needs of their members and publish and promote fast.
For example, as AI impacts industries associations are in a unique position to lead the discussion, collaboration, and innovation. The spectrum of turn-key offerings can run from content packages to professional development to AI product analysis and reviews to association-developed AI solutions built in collaboration with membership. A dedicated team tracking trending topics and opportunities can fortify new revenue streams or enhance revenue in existing product and service channels.
Associations can enhance their reach, engagement, and relevance by embracing technology as a way to collect and analyze data to gain insights into member behavior, preferences, and needs. By leveraging data analytics, associations can make informed decisions about resource allocation, program development, and member engagement strategies.
To make strides toward personalization, associations can provide personalized recommendations, content, and resources based on member interests, preferences, and professional goals. Certainly, these journeys can be robust and complex CRM implementations, but associations without the knowledge and resources can start off with individual profile email journeys—new member, post-participation of an event, particular tenure in profession—that can build to more complex activation.
To serve their membership, associations must behave like the businesses they collaborate with. Leveraging their credibility and trust, their reach and purpose, and their intense understanding of the market, associations can create and launch new products and services that are highly compelling, engaging, and contribute to the bottom line.
Identifying your association’s core value proposition and then applying digital transformation to that innate value can inform a new product or service that makes the organization less reliant on memberships and events. One of our clients launched a professional-development mobile platform that is becoming the standard for learning and advancement in their industry. Be sure to seek out strategic partnerships that can accelerate and sustain offerings.
Many societies are experiencing demographic shifts, including aging populations, urbanization, and increasing cultural diversity. These changes have implications for every industry but are particularly resonant for associations. Associations have many of the characteristics and qualities that future generations are attuned to, including purpose and impact, community and connection, lifelong learning, advocacy, and social justice.
Understand the evolving needs, values, and preferences of the new, emerging, and mature demographics and afford them opportunities for collaboration and co-creation. Give them a voice and the opportunity to actively shape the direction of the association.
More is not better. Better is better. Over the years, as associations have sought to deliver value and achieve relevance, they have layered in an unsustainable array of products and services. Each option requires human and financial resources that may be detracting from focusing on the true source of value. And in some cases, those products and services aren’t aligned and may conflict or devalue the purpose of membership.
Associations must offer a focused selection of high-quality products and services, rather than an overwhelming array of options. Organizations should measure the engagement, usage, and profitability of solutions and be willing to jettison the products and services that are underperforming.
Associations continue to provide the essential avenues for professional development, networking, advocacy, knowledge sharing, community support, and social impact. But it’s going to take difficult decisions and investment to re-establish their six Rs: relevance, recruitment, retention, relationship, revenue, and resilience.