If associations want to grow, stay relevant, and continue to bring in the revenue it takes to serve their members and industries well, they have to evolve with the times by adopting the business practices of their for-profit counterparts.
Are associations open to change?
Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
“Associations adopt for-profit trends all the time, but they just adopt them five years later—seven years later,” said Cecilia Satovich, senior vice president at Results Direct. “And I’ve never really understood why such a long time-lag? If something is a good idea for a for-profit business to help it grow, why is it not a good idea for an association?”
Satovich offered a couple of larger trends that she thinks associations would do well to consider.
Elevate customer engagement
“Whether it’s retail companies offering fashion advice or home improvement companies creating video tutorials, for-profit companies are going beyond selling products to actually coaching customers on how to use those products as a way of selling them,” she said.
These retail companies recognize that consumers are both busier than ever before and that they have more choices than ever before. So, if they don’t step up with services that differentiate themselves and make purchasing and using their products easy and enjoyable, then consumers will look elsewhere.
How can associations employ this trend? Satovich thinks that associations can really excel in this area by revisiting their membership value propositions. Although most associations already offer great products, services, events, and more, she thinks that associations can go beyond this by “helping the members with their businesses and careers more holistically than ever before.”
For instance, the American Board of Orthodontics recently created customizable resources that enabled its members (credentialed physicians) to spotlight their expertise as a way to get new patients.
Harness voice technology
Another trend that for-profits are figuring out how to use conversational technologies. Think Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri.
For instance, what if someone could ask Siri, “I feel stuck in my career?” Satovich asked. “What should I do?” Siri could then ask a few follow-up questions to discern what industry they belong to, where that person is in their career, and ultimately, direct them to resources and events from the pertinent association. You start to see how this could yield new member prospects, more event registrations, and more revenue and relevance for the association.
Alternatively, associations could leverage this kind of technology to help their busy members register for meetings and conferences. Satovich said that with the onslaught of the internet, associations have made the conference registration process “unintentionally painful.” What used to be a delightful conversation with a professional from an association’s member services has become eight or nine online pages to fill out, in some cases, some of which aren’t even adapted for mobile. (Last week, blogger Tim Ebner talked about using this technology from a membership perspective.)
What if associations could use the data they have on their members—as far as conference preferences go—and create a simple—even, gasp—enjoyable conference registration experience?
“That kind of experience is really not that far away, and it feels really hard and big and scary but it’s an opportunity for them to really shine,” Satovich said. “I’m afraid for associations because if they don’t grab that [opportunity], there’s plenty of for-profit businesses that will—that will see that financial opportunity.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with the correct name of Google’s voice command product, Google Home.