Laying Global Groundwork

global groundwork March 7, 2016

A multiphase ASAE Foundation research initiative is creating a roadmap for associations as they plan and execute their global expansion efforts. What do associations experiencing global growth have in common? A clearly envisioned end game and a plan to get there, deep research into potential markets, and long-term commitment.

The second phase of a multiyear exploration by the ASAE Foundation and global consulting firm MCI Group of associations’ global strategies, activities, and success underscores the vital importance of defining clearly why your association is entering a global market and doing your homework—on the ground and in person—before you go.

Global Growth Strategies, the report drawn from phase-two research comprising focus group discussions with association leaders experienced in global development, builds on initial research summarized in Achieving Global Growth: Establishing & Maintaining Global Markets. That study, of 330 associations’ global efforts, identified distinguishing marks of “growers”—associations that increased global membership or revenue from products and services outside of North America during the previous three years. Among them:

  • Growers introduce products into international markets much more frequently.
  • Growers recognize that they can’t go it alone—and therefore invest strategically in partnerships.

62% Percentage of global growers that reported that international business was very important or important, according to Achieving Global Growth.

Growers were also “more likely to highlight the importance of international efforts and more likely to reap the benefits of the investment,” according to Achieving Global Growth. Indeed, a telling commentary on growers is the level of priority they place on growth outside of North America. “Sixty-two percent of growers reported that international business was very important or important; non-grower respondents considered the importance of international business in almost completely opposite terms,” the report notes.

The subsequent Global Growth Strategies work was focused on how associations build strategies, make decisions, and overcome roadblocks in defining, entering, and developing new markets. The foundational piece is “a clear vision about the strategy for the country or countries the association will enter,” according to the report.

“The association leadership should decide up front the investment that will be made, where, how much, and for how long (three-to-five-year plans are typical),” the report notes. Associations need to determine whether the mission is profit, visibility for the industry, or some other motivation.

While the imperative will differ from one association to the next, the report recommends concrete strategic steps that association leaders should take as they consider market entry:

“Establish a research-driven plan that persuades stakeholders to invest.” Undertake research—including in-person meetings in the target region—that will support decisions consistent with a particular strategy.

Educate yourself on culture and adapt accordingly.” The need for a locally relevant value proposition cannot be overstated, nor can the idea that not all cultural understanding will be clear at the outset, so adaptability as experience unfolds is important.

“Invest mindfully, but make a strong commitment.” There are no shortcuts. Expect higher costs early on, and “prepare stakeholders for those expenses by clarifying the long-term value of the effort.” Take realistic stock of the resources at hand and the partnerships that may be needed to actualize the goal.

“Protect your brand.” Two key points: Understand intellectual property and copyright and how they are understood in the target market. And realize your association leaders embody your brand—goodwill could “make the difference between being perceived as an aggressive American interloper and an organization that is willing to build a symbiotic relationship.”

There’s much more in the report, including a special focus on China, where 57 percent of growers and 47 percent of non-growers anticipated they would find their greatest international growth in coming years.