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Accelerate Your Speed to Market

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Associations have to move faster than ever to introduce new products to the marketplace. You can get speedier with smart product management and boost revenue by extending your reach to new customers.

The pandemic has taught associations two things about launching new products and services. First: They can get new concepts to market quickly. Second: Now they have to.

“I think we’re in a period where associations can no longer take a year to think about bringing a program or a product to market, which is what I’ve seen traditionally in the past,” said Josh Goldman, CAE, director of consulting services at Tagoras. “I think appetites are changing and organizations are willing to be a little bit more risky.”

For instance, the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s pandemic-era experience has shifted its approach not only toward speed to market, but also toward market expansion. At the onset of the pandemic, AIHA established a task force to develop materials for a host of industries on how they could safely operate during COVID-19. The initiative, originally called Back to Work Safely, was more public-facing than usual for the association, says Sue Marchese, CAE, AIHA’s managing director for strategic communications and external affairs. But within two months it had an initial batch of materials ready, and by six months it had back-to-work materials available for 27 industries.

“We don’t typically turn around and put things out for the general public, but this was an exception—there was a need,” Marchese said.

Though Back to Work Safely wasn’t initially planned as a revenue driver, it’s become one, she says. AIHA has received approximately $750,000 in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue developing materials for the initiative, which is now called Healthier Workplaces, and disseminating them internationally. To date, the materials have been downloaded 4 million times.

The success of the program has led AIHA’s content advisory group to consider developing more public-facing content in other areas.

“Before, we were really only producing technical documents for the industry, but Back to Work Safely changed the way we as a staff can move into action,” Marchese says. “Now when we produce content for the membership, we also consider how we can also bring it to the public.”

Prototype Process

AIHA’s experience exemplifies an approach that Goldman recommends for standing up new ideas quickly: rapid prototyping, then expanding on what works.

That process starts with research about member needs and interests, then dedicated time to mock up what the solution might be. A minimal viable product is fine; the goal is to test interest in real time, with the understanding that adjustments will be made.

“It might be a course, it might be a certificate program, it might be an entirely new service model,” Goldman said. “Take it out to market in a segmented way and gather feedback on interest, willingness to pay, pricing sensitivity, and pricing elasticity.”

Take [a prototype] out to market in a segmented way and gather feedback on interest, willingness to pay, pricing sensitivity, and pricing elasticity.— Josh Goldman, CAE, Tagoras

Tagoras uses a matrix with clients that recommends three go-to-market steps: generating ideas, verifying ideas, and testing ideas. At each step, the association should have a plan for tracking relevant data, listening to members, and directly asking them questions related to the plan.

To avoid confusion and frustration, Goldman recommends that associations have a chief product officer on staff. “A decentralized approach creates a lot of potential internal competition for resources to get things to market, but also buyer confusion, saturation of particular segments of the market, and under-service of other segments of the market,” he said.

During the pandemic, the Energy Marketing Association moved quickly to make its certification training program virtual. EMA found that a virtual option, stood up in less than three months, resulted in a 40 percent increase in applications, compared to the two-day in-person session it previously offered. Moreover, the experience has prompted the association to launch a set of webinars that have increased its annual budget line for training by 40 percent.

“It’s given us the revenue that we needed to make new programs and take new steps to move our certification forward,” said Sam Schwarz, EMA director of marketing and member engagement. “Previously, we didn’t have the monetary resources to do that.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel.

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