Two More Views on Member Value

By / Sep 21, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Member data is great, but it won’t answer all your questions. A pair of qualitative methods for understanding value might help your association better meet member needs.

The cover of the September 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review asks a fundamental question: “What does your customer really want?”

It’s a question every business asks itself, associations included (though primarily about members, of course). Two of the features in the issue offer paths toward an answer, and, while they examine the question of value from rather different angles, they’re both notable for their lack of emphasis on data analysis.

Know Your Customers’ ‘Jobs to Be Done’,” by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan, recommends a simple but intimate understanding of customers’ situations. Meanwhile, “The Elements of Value,” by Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicolas Bloch, breaks down the concept of value into a grab bag of smaller components.

The “job to be done” philosophy suggests that member engagement and innovation demand a real-world understanding of members’ lives.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

Christensen’s “jobs to be done” is not a new framework; he developed it in the early 2000’s, and it has a devoted following of JTBD practitioners. But he and his coauthors suggest it is especially valuable today as a life raft for businesses drowning in waves of big data:

The fundamental problem is, most of the masses of customer data companies create is structured to show correlations: This customer looks like that one, or 68 percent of customers say they prefer version A to version B. While it’s exciting to find patterns in the numbers, they don’t mean that one thing actually caused another. … After decades of watching great companies fail, we’ve come to the conclusion that the focus on correlation—and on knowing more and more about customers—is taking firms in the wrong direction. What they really need to home in on is the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance—what the customer hopes to accomplish.

Hence “job to be done.” Uncovering customers’ jobs to be done is less about demographic data and behavior tracking and more about getting insightful feedback from customers by asking the right questions. Their circumstances are most critical to understand. My favorite anecdote from the story is about Hershey and its Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Minis:

They discovered an array of situations—driving the car, standing in a crowded subway, playing a video game—in which the original large format was too big and messy, while the smaller, individually wrapped cups were a hassle (opening them required two hands). … [Reese’s Minis] come in a resealable flat-bottom bag that a consumer can easily dip a single hand into. The results were astounding: $235 million in the first two years’ sales and the birth of a breakthrough category extension.

For associations, the JTBD philosophy suggests that member engagement and innovation demand a real-world understanding of members’ lives. Last year in Associations Now, Anna Caraveli, Ph.D., author of The Demand Perspective (ASAE, 2015), urged associations to develop that understanding, arguing that the modern view of engagement should be about two-way relationships, not merely driving interaction. “When members suddenly make a connection between what the association does and what is critically important to them, they are converted from participants to loyal members, donors, and champions,” she wrote.

JTBD practitioners have developed a specific interview method for gaining customer insights, which associations could adopt. And a friendly rapport with members means associations can often easily arrange visits with members in the field and see their daily jobs to be done up close and in person.

Value Under the Microscope

Almquist and his colleagues, meanwhile, examined value as a physicist might and sought to deconstruct it down to its most basic parts. They identified 30 of them, and called them “elements,” though a periodic table was not the visual metaphor they chose.

Instead, they arranged the elements in a pyramid of increasing levels of impact, inspired by the classic presentation of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom are “functional” elements, such as quality, informs, or saves time. Above that are “emotional” elements, like wellness and nostalgia. Next are “life-changing” elements, such as motivation and affiliation/belonging. And at the top is a single “social impact” element, self-transcendence.

The authors argue that these qualities of a business or a product are irreducible (hence “elements”) and that they are typically hidden inside or below the surface of the way a customer describes why something is valuable.

In our research we don’t accept on its face a consumer’s statement that a certain product attribute is important; instead we explore what underlies that statement. For example, when someone says her bank is “convenient,” its value derives from some combination of the functional elements saves time, avoids hassle, simplifies, and reduces effort. And when the owner of a $10,000 Leica talks about the quality of the product and the pictures it takes, an underlying life-changing element is self-actualization, arising from the pride of owning a camera that famous photographers have used for a century.

It may be useful for associations to examine their own benefits in this way. For instance the value of networking might be better understood as a combination of the elements connects, fun/entertainment, provides access, and affiliation/belonging.

Or, when members say they value an association’s education programs for the prospect of career advancement, they may be valuing the elements informs, reduces effort, makes money, badge value, provides hope, and self-actualization.

The authors write that companies that appeal to more elements of value tend to perform better and that those scoring higher on emotional elements average better Net Promoter Scores than companies scoring well on only functional elements—a reminder for associations that their member benefits ought to appeal in terms of both tangible, “good for the member” value as well as broader, “good of the order” impact.

Both of these efforts to better define and understand what customers (or members) value urge organizations to get beyond their databases and metrics and get a more personal, experiential view of customers’ needs. How does your association gain this insight into the member experience? Could the jobs-to-be-done or the elements-of-value approach work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor at Associations Now, a lifelong Phillies fan, and a proud alum of Ohio University. More »


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