I’d like to begin with some questions: In this world of instant transmission and easy access to information, are we engaging more, or are we more easily distracted? When I say “we,” I mean it in the grandest sense of the term: we as businesses and organizations, we as marketers and consumers, and we as society. How do we handle the noise? Are we more careful about who and what we allow to consume our time and attention? Do we spend time and resources on only those things that matter, or are we scattered? In shifting marketing and media landscapes, are we desperately seeking value? How does one stay relevant?
This idea of value, and the question of how we continue to provide value, seemed to be the theme at the recent CSAE (Canadian Society of Association Executives) conference as well. Organizations are evolving to ensure they continuously provide value to members and stakeholders. Associations in particular must search for ways to stay relevant by redefining service offerings, and, consequently, what they can monetize to ensure their continued existence. Even membership itself is being questioned as a barrier to entry for potential engagement with new and changing audiences—especially in anticipation of the shift in the demographics of our workforce and the eventual exodus of the baby boomers. And the triggers for change clearly have links to communications and marketing.
Intelligence derived from marketing data is an important input into these strategic decisions. After all, marketing data is your insight into which audiences are currently interacting with your nonprofit and why. It tells us what content is getting traction and what is not, and what behaviors certain content provokes. This behavioral data is the kind of intelligence that should drive change.
Then, as a result of the growth or change strategy, new and/or refined plans are needed to adequately market the new value proposition to an increasingly segmented audience. But those initial findings will certainly give you a head start and an understanding about your current strengths and weaknesses. Once new business models, value propositions, and/or messaging strategies are established, success will depend on one’s adaptability and ability to be nimble in a changing landscape.
Let’s talk then about engagement. Associations who were in the middle, acting as a linking pin to all industry stakeholders, are finding a new place in the mix, and it isn’t necessarily as the “go-to” source anymore. Now more than ever associations need to communicate their value in creative and engaging ways.
The key to engagement (and to providing value) is to get to know your stakeholders. To do this, answer the following questions: “Who would want to engage with us?” and “Why might they want to engage with us?” “What does our community seek?” and “What benefit will they derive?” These questions are much different than “Who do we want to engage?”
Specifically for a trade association, the messaging model or strategy might center around the notion of demonstrating the value of the designation; the value of it to those who hold it (members), as well as the value it brings to those who derive benefit from it (employers, businesses). A successful organization creates value propositions where all stakeholders are somehow interconnected or linked.
From a creative standpoint, value is best demonstrated through storytelling (advertising or other), case studies, or knowledge-sharing that provides opportunity for the prospect to self identify, become inspired, and believe. To be blunt: demonstrate value, don’t say value.
Bottom line, it all comes down to understanding the value piece so that you can message on it.