Associations are no longer the only go-to source for industry news, education, and member networking. There has been an explosion of private companies that offer professional development courses and mastermind-style meetups. While established social media platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram continue to provide online networking and peer learning opportunities, newer players like Clubhouse, Substack, and Mastadon provide new and exciting digital engagement opportunities.
Why should you care about these non-association services? Because many of them are 100% free. If your association is overconfident about the value of your membership, you may suddenly find yourself on the sidelines of your profession. Read on to learn how your association can stay relevant to members in the face of free services and make membership dues well worth the cost.
The Danger of Resting on Your Laurels
Remember Skype? Before the pandemic, they were the go-to video calling and conferencing app. Whether it was catching up with your mom or jumping on a work conference call, Skype had you covered. You would think that when the pandemic hit, Skype’s strong market share and trusted brand would have sent its sales into the stratosphere. Well, we all know how that turned out. Zoom quickly overtook Skype to become the world’s leading video conference brand.
How could Skype let its brand authority slip away so quickly? They were overconfident about their market monopoly, and complacent about how well they could serve their clients. While Skype was rolling out cute emojis to appeal to younger audiences in the face of WhatsApp and Snapchat, Zoom was boosting the features that really mattered: stability and reliability. Now, even with the growing popularity of Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, Zoom still dominates the market.
As CEO Magazine notes, “[Skype] lost focus on the basic values that made the product so popular in the first place, and tried to emulate the competition rather than lead it.”
5 Ways to Develop Your Association’s Value Proposition
What could Skype have done differently? The same thing will keep your association relevant in an ever-changing world: develop a strong value proposition.
Readily available, free digital content and services offered outside the association space present a question to your members: is association membership worth the cost? If membership is not mandatory in the profession you serve, you have to try even harder to make your value proposition clear.
Here are 5 ways that you can develop your association’s value proposition.
#1: Find your USP
USP = Unique Selling Proposition. What does your association offer to your members that no one else can? That’s your USP. Research what your non-association competitors are offering and compare them to your member products and services. What’s on your list that isn’t on theirs? Are there things on both lists that you can improve on to offer more value? Have you identified gaps in the market that present opportunities to develop new products and services?
Let’s say that both you and your competitors offer online education courses. If you can bring on an industry sponsor to lower the admission fee, have access to rock-star keynote speakers, or can offer robust certification courses, you’re already ahead.
#2: Research Member Needs
As an association staffer, you may think you know your members. But if you’re basing your products and services on this anecdotal knowledge, you’re missing out. To truly solve your members’ problems, you first need to gather solid data on what those problems actually are. You may be surprised to learn that what you hear from members in calls and emails doesn’t represent the full suite of needs of your membership.
The best way to get this data? Just ask! Depending on the size of your membership, there are many ways to research member needs:
- Online surveys
- Virtual or in-person focus groups
- Strategy conversations with your Board
Don’t forget about the needs of potential members! If your Association Management System (AMS) tracks soft leads, how they have engaged, and provides their contact information, that gives you a wealth of information. What have they done with your association so far – signed up for a newsletter? Based on their past actions, what are they likely to want to do next? Asking such questions can help you better understand what existing and potential members need, and how you can best deliver those services.
#3: Broaden Your Reach with Partnerships
The ability to form key partnerships is a vital USP for many associations. As a key player in the profession you serve, you likely have a network of stakeholders that can be leveraged to better meet member needs.
Start by creating a list of stakeholders that you have partnered with before – what did you last partner on, and how did things go? Are there opportunities for future partnerships that would result in improving member services?
When it comes to bringing on new partners, get creative. Associations often get into a relationship rut, relying on the same group of organizations for all their initiatives. Thinking outside the box will help you broaden your perspective and identify exciting new opportunities.
Start by thinking about the services you already offer. Which partners could help you take that service to the next level, or launch something new? Event partnerships and social media partnerships can have a huge impact by exposing your association’s brand to a whole new audience. Bonus: your association will benefit from the positive optics of collaborating with another organization. Especially if that means better service!
#4: Ditch Black and White Thinking
In the association space, it’s easy to fall into the binary thinking of member vs. non-member. Technically this is a valid comparison; either someone is a member, or they’re not. And your goal is to convert as many non-members to members as possible.
But in practice, it’s not quite so simple. In addition to member vs. non-member, the other important question is about how they engage. You may have members that don’t attend free-to-member events but always read your monthly newsletter. Conversely, non-members may attend events at a higher rate but never read your newsletter. Which person is more engaged? When it comes down to it, engagement is measured more in shades of grey than in black or white.
When considering your value proposition, make sure to review your current offerings with an eye toward the different levels of engagement that they represent. For example, you may offer the following types of access to digital content and courses:
- Free content
- Content requiring registration
- Pay-per-view content
- Members-only content
- Members-only pay-per-view content
A robust AMS can give you data on which options are doing well, and which aren’t, and how that has changed over time.
#5: Never Stop Improving Your Value Proposition
The world doesn’t stand still – and neither should your value proposition. It’s important to remember that membership needs don’t exist in a vacuum. Yes, there are always industry-specific factors that impact member needs. If a new piece of legislation was passed that impacts how your members operate, of course, it would be helpful to offer a webinar to help them navigate those changes. But you also need to factor in larger social and cultural changes. Think about how your association had to pivot and quickly adapt to shifting member needs when the pandemic hit.
This means that a value proposition is never static because it must always meet the needs of your members. And the needs of your members depend on what’s happening in the world around them.
To make sure that value proposition evaluation doesn’t fall through the gaps, tie it into an existing organizational process. This could include annual reviews for strategic plans, programs, member satisfaction, and more.
Do free products and services offered by other organizations make your association irrelevant? Only if you stand by and let it happen. A strong value proposition clearly tells potential members why it’s worth joining and tells existing members why it’s worth staying.
We recently launched our new 4-step Member Acquisition System (MAS), which keeps all your member growth and retention tools in one place. Start with our on-demand webinar, where our fearless CEO Ashish Malik takes you through the system step by step, and shows you how our MAS can help you make the most of your digital marketing spend while attracting new members and actively engaging existing members. Access our free webinar HERE!