Association executives are aware that the industries they represent are constantly evolving, as are the needs of their membership base. Continually developing new ways to more effectively and efficiently share knowledge, data, trends and opportunities is vital to the health of any organization. But associations can also effectively drive growth through the development of new and innovative resources, products and services that directly address the needs of its members. To do this, it’s important to create a strategic model that helps foster the continued creation and implementation of such assets.
Too often, this kind of strategic thinking by association leadership is limited to an annual conference. Given that conferences tend to drive most of an association’s operating capital throughout the year, such focus is understandable. But if your association is not thinking, on a quarterly basis, about how to improve its overall value to its membership base—and not just those who attend meetings—it is likely that many of your members may start questioning the value of your organization. And without a robust and growing membership base, your sponsors will become skeptical about their ability to generate prospects from supporting your association. This is just one of the reasons that, for associations, product development is key.
Addressing a need. As with any form of product development, if you are not addressing a need, then you are wasting your time. If your motivation to adopt an innovative idea or product comes from the fact that you want a new technology or another association had success with a new idea, then you need to pause and ask yourself: How is this idea addressing members’ needs? What are you not offering that could elevate your value proposition to members? And how will you pay for the development, execution and sustainability of this new asset, and what will potential sponsors need from your association in order to support it?
The lure of new technologies. Today’s associations have a unique opportunity to engage and connect with their communities year-round. New technology resources are available for associations to customize content and target their marketing and outreach to select audiences. But, similarly, rather than asking if they should use these innovations to drive revenue, associations will benefit from asking why members would benefit, how would the association do it and when to start. To answer these questions, it is critical to focus on your entire audience, including members, prospects and current and potential sponsors.
Creating a new model. Once you have a new program or product that addresses needs and adds value, the next step is to create a sponsorship model. This process involves looking at three distinct areas: First, define how the sponsorship aligns with the asset—where, when and how prominently will they be recognized? Second, conduct a cost-basis analysis to define a sponsorship price—how much will the asset cost? Are you trying to recoup the total cost from sponsors or only a portion? What will it cost to just fulfill the sponsorship deliverables? Third, measure the value and ROI from the sponsorship—how are you going to track usage and impact and report it to the sponsor? As you package the offering, determine if you want to sell each asset individually or develop bundled offerings to drive deeper buys from sponsors.
For example, for a domestic hunger-relief charity, we were asked to increase exhibit and sponsorship among all events. After a review of the current programs, we created a conference sponsorship program with new attendee/ member demographic data; new sponsorship, advertising and year-round opportunities; and a new contact database that increased the prospect universe. By looking at the bigger picture and taking the time to create and develop the new programs and assets, the organization saw a 21-percent growth for two events and a 40-percent growth of the client organization’s exhibitor base.
The creation of a new product or service is not an undertaking that should be entered into lightly. Understanding members’ needs and having the right market research will clarify which potential offerings provide a high-value proposition for members and increase the chances of it paying off.
Dave Burnell, director, Sales Services of SmithBucklin can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Association News magazine. www.associationnews.com. Reprinted with permission.