Mary Byers, CAE opened the 2013 Avectra Users and Developers Conference with a keynote about the competition that challenges associations and what you can do in response. Her talk was based upon a book she co-authored with Harrison Coerver, Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations.
First, she discussed six challenges facing associations:
- Use technology to deliver the association to your members, because they don’t have time to come to you.
- Members are increasingly concerned with the ROI of their dues investment. However, anything you do to demonstrate value has to get through the barrage of information hitting their inboxes and online platforms. Figure out what you do better than anyone else and focus on getting that across.
- If the average age of your members is 50 or above, how are you going to replace those retiring members? How are you meeting the needs of younger members?
- Is your market undergoing specialization or consolidation? The American Medical Association’s membership used to include 75 percent of the market; today they have less than 25 percent because doctors are joining specialty associations. The National Association of Home Builders has seen its industry consolidate as small local builders were bought out by large national production builders.
- People have access to online resources and relationship-building opportunities without having to belong to an association.
Most of Mary’s keynote focused on competition, the new normal. Associations must identify their competitors and the challenges they present. She talked about five types of competition.
- Members have limited dollars for association memberships and will ask themselves: where do I get the best ROI? A specialty or industry association? A state or national association?
- Media companies now own 23 percent of trade shows as part of their line extensions. How can you extend your strengths into new products and services? Associations worry about cannibalizing their meetings with virtual offerings, but what if someone else beats you there? Don’t be locked into one way of doing things; offer options. Focus on content creation and curation.
- Buying groups are entering what was once association territory.
- Associations must have an active, strong Web presence. Where do people go first for information? Google. Does Google take them to you? Say hello to SEO. As for social media, Mary said, “Having an account is not a strategy.” She predicts the rise of young professional groups offering ad hoc, informal meet-ups without requiring dues. In Raleigh, a 1,500-member SEO Meetup group meets monthly. Do these people really need an association?
- Members are often the competition, for example, law firms providing continuing education, Avectra offering education and CAE credits at AUDC, or consultants offering webinars.
The new competitive environment means:
- You have to think differently and use data to make decisions. Competition has changed our landscape. You need to identify competitors and their strengths. Ask yourself, “Can members get this (program) from somewhere else at a better price?” She recommends abandonment as a strategy so you can focus on your strengths.
- You have to ask different questions and have inter-departmental conversations. How can we save time or help members save time? Is there a better way to do this? What can we automate or systematize? What don’t we know that we need to know? How can we help members work less stressfully, more profitably and more productively?
- We have to budget differently and have a technology plan. How much does your association spend on technology? Is it more or less than what you spend on meetings? What would happen if you doubled your IT spending over the next five years?
Mary talked about a few association clients that broke through resistance and came out ahead. The board of the Carolinas AGC didn’t want to use reserves to develop IBuild, a members-only online portal for construction project leads. Mary said, “Reserves give you time to die more slowly. Use it to invest in the future.” In the end, Carolina AGC did borrow from reserves and paid it back in just two years because IBuild delivered 1.6 million dollars in revenue. It’s worth asking the tough questions.
Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who thinks the Avectra clients she met at AUDC13 are well ahead on the road to relevance.