Let’s examine this question by recalling a thought from marketing guru Theodore Levitt.
At its very basic, granular level, any product or service that effectively delivers on the customer/member expectation (the need for outcome fulfillment) can derive growth in 1) sales, 2) participation, 3) brand identity, and 4) word of mouth.
The important point to remember here is that whatever business you run, your success will be all about fulfilling the outcomes of your target audience.
Outcomes & Growth
You can make the case that ….
Increased Participation = Outcome Fulfillment…
People wont participate if it doesn’t meet their “immediate needs”
…Which in turn Reflects Product or Service Consumption…
Consumption is a form of participation or engagement
…Leading to Growth (if it delivers on #1 above)
You can measure it in money, satisfaction, community participation, idea generation, spin off products, retention, evangelists, or in how many members are willing to pony up their own cash to join or remain a member versus having the employer do so.
Professional vs Individual Needs
Associations should serve two purposes: to foster innovation and good works at the “professional” level and to deliver products and services from that level that meets “individual” member needs in an engaging way.
Why engaging? Because you compete directly or indirectly for the attention of members and their level of sophistication related to the experience of the use of a given product versus those from other sources. How compelling is the product/service idea, business case, design, delivery?
One cant live without the other. Who would join your organization if all you chose to do was “ivory tower” programs and projects that had no relevance in the day to day world of the rank and file? Conversely, the quality of your products and services and the advancement of your profession would be affected if you just focused on delivering products that weren’t linked to more professional aims.
To fulfill this dual mission, you need a strategic and product level engagement strategy.
Then There Is Strategic Engagement
Strategic engagement is defined by the type of organizational strategy your association chooses to deploy (product leader “most advanced”, price leader “cheapest” or customer intimate “most customized”) based on your:
- strategic financial goals (defined by increased productivity and growth in existing or new products and services)
- member value proposition (defined by the type of org strategy you deploy)
- internal value creation processes (operations, customer mgmt, product and service mgmt)
- HR and IT systems (for managing people and information capital)
- intangible asset mgmt (to build a culture, leadership, alignment and teamwork to support the org strategy)
For more on the importance of choosing the right strategic engagement strategy to align your systems and processes, read Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s book “The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market.”
And You Have Product/Service Level Engagement
Research conducted by Peer Insight, LLC show that businesses who focus on designing systems to create and maintain a compelling customer experience also deliver better profits than businesses who focus on operational excellence.
The most successful companies included these approaches to designing compelling customer experiences:
- Start with unmet user needs, not new ideas
- Research methods that are based on deep customer empathy (e.g., ethnography)
- Focus is on the customer journey – not merely your own touch points
- Emphasis on identifying and winning the moments of truth
- Rapid, low-fidelity service prototyping
- Open innovation – including the customer in the earliest stages
- Open innovation – bringing together a unique value network
- Creating evidence of the brand attributes within the touch points
- Use of storytelling to convey the experience intent
- Overcoming metrics that run counter to creating compelling experiences
- Creating a broad view of experiences – going beyond marketing and into operations and IT
Growth Is Key
If you aren’t growing (however you measure it) as an organization, you will become irrelevant to the audience you seek to serve. People trust sources who provide fresh, compelling, trusted, and practical products or services.
You can apply the same rule to organizations as well as individuals: stop growing and you become less valuable to the world in which you live.
Business history is littered with examples of companies who forgot about making relevant products and services. Why should association longevity be any different in this “Long Tail” world?
How People Choose to Participate Is As Different As How Someone Likes to Learn.
Lurkers participate differently than those of us who actively contribute content in a collaborative way. The classic adoption cure shows the early and late majority of people will engage once a tipping point occurs among the early adopters who only make up 10-15% of your total audience. This is further confirmed in the latest research on online collaboration that most content contributors represent less than ten percent of your total audience. So you need to develop a method of engagement that plays to this.
Last year’s shareholder letter from CEO Craig Dubow outlined its digital strategy for engaging the audience Gannett defines as two groups: the “lean back” and the “lean forward” audience types. The former is the traditional audience publishing has built itself to serve. They do not engage…they silently consume often in one place. The latter represent the future and requires rethinking how news is designed, delivered, and consumed as their consumption demands require different content, different means of distribution and different times of consumption.
Dubow says, “Our vision is that consumers will choose (us) for their news and information needs, anytime, any where, in any form.” To achieve this “our mission is to transform Gannett to this new environment; to provide must-have news and information across all media…”
To achieve this Gannett plans to redefine its relationship to its customers. Admitting that in the past they delivered content the way they wanted customers to consume it, Gannett will turn this strategy on its ear and “put the customer first” from product development to content gathering to advertising sales.