Increased Competition Offers Opportunity for Association Events

A new Freeman study shows that consumer brands are putting a greater emphasis on in-person experiences. While this means increased competition for associations, it could also mark the perfect time for you to harness your meetings' unique advantages.

Earlier this week, the 2017 Freeman Global Brand Experience Study was released.

The study, which surveyed close to 1,000 marketing professionals across North America, Asia, and Western Europe, revealed something that’s not too surprising: Chief marketing officers and brand managers worldwide are putting more emphasis on in-person brand experiences.

“The role of brand experience continues to increase in scope and importance, as audience expectations evolve,” said Chris Cavanaugh, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Freeman, in a press release. “Steep competition, changing demographics, and more sophisticated audiences mean now, more than ever, marketers need new approaches. The right brand experiences have the power to evolve brands, build relationships, and inspire action.”

These brand experiences come in the form of in-person events, tradeshows, hybrid and virtual events, and pop-ups, among others. And those surveyed also said that they plan to invest more in these experiences in the next three to five years.

For associations, an increasing number of experiences coming from both business-to-business and consumer brands in the years ahead could spell more competition. But, rather than sitting back and waiting for it to happen, associations must begin figuring out how to edge out this impending competition now.

Where to Begin

As I was thinking about how associations might get started, I was reminded of some of the points that Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of digital credentialing company Credly, made last week at ASAE’s inaugural Xperience Design Project event.

He continually stressed that associations have several unique opportunities to capitalize on.

“You get to work with your members for a lifetime,” he said. “Nobody else who is responsible for the content and the design of learning experiences has the potential to reach people for a lifetime.”

Associations are also well positioned to see the future, Finkelstein said. “Because you look at the lifelong learning of your members, you also can look into the future and see what their needs are and will be as learners,” he said. “That’s something that an employer or a college or a company or university can’t do.”

These two strengths combined constitute “a formidable force that will be hard for anyone else to compete with,” he said. “But it’s up to you to take advantage of it.”

How Do You Get It Done?

To capitalize on these advantages, Finkelstein urged associations to focus on the six Cs: context, crowdsource, curation, choice, competencies, and credit.

Context is the place where people learn, but “it’s also psychological and mental and emotional—it’s a mindset,” he said. “And it needs to be created ahead of an event.”

Crowdsourcing is the ability to give people the opportunity for customization and personalization. This is somewhat aligned with curation. In the past, curation was done by staff who selected speakers and decided on sessions ahead of a meeting. Today, curation needs to happen in real time.

“You want to maximize the opportunity for interaction between attendees,” he said. “You want them to see each other as experts and give them to chance to learn from each other on the fly, because this is when the best learning will happen.”

Meanwhile, choice is about giving attendees the ability to select who they want to talk to and when, whether that’s fellow participants or exhibitors. “To plan that kind of networking and solution-building is something that is rare,” he said. “So, how can associations plan for interactions that ensure that breakthroughs will happen for attendees during the process?”

Finally, you need to know the core competencies that your participants need to be successful, and then use your meetings to help develop them. “You want your attendees to leave knowing that they’ll be able to work better and be better leaders as a result of attending your event,” he said.

Now is not the time for your association to rest on its laurels if you want your events and experiences to survive and thrive. Instead, it’s time to stand up and harness their unique advantages.

How is your association making the most of these advantages? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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