Are You Ready to Tackle What Lies Ahead in 2020?

It’s a new year and a new decade—don’t create a new excuse to put off your big innovation plans.

By Eric Goodstadt

“Never mind about innovation.” There’s a phrase uttered by no one—ever.

Without a doubt, you know the importance of moving your association forward, even beyond its comfort zone, and you recognize the need to make strategic change.

After all, you face competition for members’ attention from a sweep of new sources. Likewise, you must address underlying changes in your members’ worlds that bring into question the validity of your existing business model.

While a few factors are at play, research shared by the Association Laboratory in its Looking Forward 2019 report notes that a three-year upward swing in mergers and acquisitions is radically affecting what members seek from trade and professional associations, causing a reshuffling of target audiences served and forcing associations to rethink their value proposition of catering to individuals versus businesses.

It’s imperative that associations lean in to new thinking to adapt to the shifting landscape.

It’s imperative that associations lean in to new thinking to adapt to the shifting landscape. Innovation, transformation, and a willingness to be bold are necessary—not only to make progress but also, in some instances, to survive.

Take a small step, then a big leap.

Begin with a small but potentially transformational project. Pick something where the odds are in your favor. You want a small win that will let you ignite and drive internal conversation around new approaches.

At the International Trademark Association, for example, a podcast that started as an experiment in 2018 became a major engagement endeavor, garnering executive support. The Brand & New podcast brings to life stories about two of its key goals: embracing innovation and promoting the importance of brands and trademarks. The podcast has been so successful at building ITA’s reach that it also played a prominent role at its annual meeting.

Avoid surface-level boldness.

If you lightly refresh your legacy content, for instance, the half step is going to be transparent to members and would-be members. And more important, it won’t help you reach broader goals.

Look to the Grocery Manufacturers Association for inspiration. It’s in the midst of fully rebranding as the Consumer Brands Association. The group saw its target audience changing and has begun to adapt to this new world order by completely refreshing its messaging for its new audience mix.

Zero in on ideas that generate nondues revenue.

It’s never a bad idea to support a plan for change with a revenue-backed business case.

Consider this play by the American Astronomical Society. It learned last year that Sky & Telescope, a magazine relevant to its field, was being sold. The society strategically acquired it with the aim of creating a new revenue source. (Bonus: The magazine helped AAS reach a new audience, ultimately growing membership.)

Stick to your vision.

Most associations have the strategic pieces to make these moves. The challenge? You also need a road map to bring your vision to life, one that aligns with how your organization needs to adapt to thrive in this changing world.

If you want to reshape your organization for the future, you have to take the first step. Don’t let a natural tendency to stick with the status quo lead to entropy. There’s no future at all in that approach.

Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than 20 years of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors, including associations and nonprofits.

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