How To Make Associations Relevant Again

Associations today are facing competitive threats from all sides. Every profession has multiple organizations seeking to serve it giving prospective members more choices than they have the time, energy or resources to support. Yet without participation and engagement, members won’t fully experience the association’s value and their membership is at risk. According to one survey, 56% of members who dropped out did so because they did not receive the expected value to justify the cost of dues.

How can associations entice more members to participate in its programs? One area often overlooked is in helping members with individual challenges they are facing in their lives outside of the association. The ASAE study, The Decision to Join, found that although collective benefits such as those that support the industry or field are the primary appeal of membership. Yet interestingly, a variety of personal benefits were rated almost equal in importance.

Is your association overly focused on acting as an advocate for an industry and underestimating the need to advocate for members as individuals? Member needs are constantly changing. Associations who stay in touch, keeping their finger on the pulse of issues affecting all aspects of member lives, will remain relevant and create a level of value unmatched by any of the emerging competitive threats.

Some associations try to overcome this problem by contracting with third-party providers to sell everything from credit cards to insurance to discounted shopping for members. These benefit providers provide the same products and services to a wide variety of associations. To achieve cost efficiencies most of these companies not only provide the benefits, but also the marketing. In most cases, using generic control creative across all the associations they support. However, with commoditized programs and commoditized marketing, it is not surprising that most members don’t find compelling value in these programs and largely ignore them.

Unfortunately, the risk to the association is much greater than missed sales goals and frustrated providers. Branding research has shown members do not necessarily differentiate between the larger Association and its benefits providers. Depending on the number of benefits and volume of contacts, members may be exposed to more third-party communications than they are association messages. Over time, the association brand, its positioning and its value can become largely defined by outside third party messages.

How can associations regain control over not only its brand but its relationship with members? This topic will be addressed in the next edition of our blog. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you would to learn more about how Bodden Partners is helping associations redefine their value for the next generation of members, contact us for free custom consultation.