Value Vertigo

Maximizing engagement with your association's benefits while also staying on top of evolving member needs is enough to make you dizzy.

Last week, I shared a member engagement program at the National Association of Realtors that is designed to be a fun, easy way for members to learn more about benefits and opportunities that NAR offers. It’s a prime example of how an association can effectively communicate value to members.

But what about the opposite approach?

Andrea Pellegrino of Connection Strategists suggests that, instead, associations should listen closely to what members say they value. In other words, members should communicate value to the association. In a February 6 webinar, Pellegrino said, “A member does not join first and then become engaged. … They bring their concept of value with them.”

What’s the minimum number of members who say they need something to justify the association providing it?

So, who’s communicating value to whom again? And which comes first? Can an association create a benefit and then show members that it’s valuable to them? Or must members first show the association what benefits they would value if the association created them?

Each of these perspectives on member value in associations is, itself, valuable. But neither accounts for a complete picture. The former risks complacency or irrelevance in the face of evolving member needs and demographics. The latter risks becoming too reactionary or creating solutions that don’t scale.

You can talk up your benefits until you’re blue in the face, but if they’re not useful or relevant to your members, you’ll lose them. On the other hand, if you ask all of your members for what they need, you won’t be able to serve every unique situation perfectly (if you tried to create custom solutions for everyone, you’d be a consultancy, not an association). But what’s the minimum number of members who say they need something to justify the association providing it? 10? 100? 10,000? Once you decide on that number and develop a product, you ought to tell your members all about it, right? But do you promote it to all of your members, or just the ones who said they needed it? What about other members who you think might also need it? And what about a year or five years later? Are you still telling members about that benefit, or is it time to ask them what they need again?

In Marketing General Inc.’s 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, association membership professionals said their top challenge to growing membership is “membership too diverse/difficulty meeting needs of different segments.” I propose we call this condition “value vertigo”: You ask members what they value and find too many disparate needs to serve them all, but when you produce core benefits you believe are valuable, you find it difficult to maximize engagement with them.

Is this a permanent condition, or is there a solution somewhere in the middle? If you’ve ever found yourself with a bad case of value vertigo, what’s the answer?


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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