How can member organisations thrive in the future
Member organisations: Five steps to transform your brand to engage, inform and lead more successfully
It can be tough out there for member organisations. Professional association membership is in decline as millennials struggle to see the benefits of membership beyond the need for continuous professional development (CPD) and networking.
The need to be visible with relevant insights, to retain and satisfy existing membership levels, as well as the scramble for the hearts and minds of the next generation of bright young things are all significant challenges – and this against a backdrop of digital transformation and pressure on budgets.
To add another layer of complexity, these challenges can only be met with mutual respect, understanding and co-operation across a mix of departments and stakeholders – IT, marketing, events, membership, knowledge, publishing and training – all of whom need to be on the same page.
Here are a few thoughts and clues as to how to approach these big issues, based on our experience of working with member organisations.
1. A shared plan has more chance of success
New member engagement and acquisition, member retention, member satisfaction and revenue growth are usually high on most organisations’ wish lists. Taking a step back from these targets and re-examining your brand purpose is a solid first step.
Asking a few well-structured questions helps provide clarity. What makes your organisation unique? What can members only get from you? What do potential new members want from you that you aren’t offering? Examining your brand personality, values and purpose will help build a core proposition that’s not only compelling and unique, but drives all parts of the organisation as a reminder of their place in the world.
The key is to use the right tools with the right mix of people within the organisation to create a core proposition and establish what it really means to your key audiences before sharing and cascading through the organisation. It’s not just good to share, it’s essential.
2. Learn from trusted brands beyond your sector
Consumers increasingly expect their trusted ‘big’ brands to be thought leaders and advocates. These trusted brands make it easy for audiences to connect on a human level. When you reach for your John Lewis card or your Costa app the reward is often tangible, but it’s also about having a sense of shared community.
These big brands make engagement look effortless, so what can member organisations learn for them? Clear value messages, delivered with a personality that’s consistent yet flexible, a personal experience across a mix of channels, a user experience that’s rich, sometimes challenging, often rewarding.
‘With the energy system in its current state of flux, one of the core parts of our mission – to gather and share essential energy knowledge – is more important than ever.’
Deane Somerville, Energy Institute
The role of many member organisations demands that they hold an impartial position on industry issues. Some are reluctant to offer opinions for fear of alienating factions of their membership. There is, however, often a simultaneous desire for the organisation to be seen as the media go-to body for expert and independent views, as well as to lead the membership with a visible expert position. The quest for absolute impartiality can lead to a bland paralysis.
As Deane Somerville, the EI’s Head of Knowledge Service, explains: “As a professional membership body, the Energy Institute is always looking for ways to more effectively engage with our members. With the energy system in its current state of flux, one of the core parts of our mission – to gather and share essential energy knowledge – is more important than ever. The Energy Barometer allows us to articulate the voice of energy professionals in a more representative way. It gives them an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience, and allows the EI in turn to bring these views to the public conversation’.
4. Existing content can drive digital transformation
A member organisation is the natural habitat of great thinkers and industry experts. This means there’s rarely a shortage of good content with real substance.
5. Blow away the brand dust
’Brand’ can be a dirty word to some members. Stories of wasted budgets on needless new logos still pervade. We all know that a rebrand or refresh programme must be underpinned by genuine substance and it will only be successful if this substance is communicated to all parties, active members and advocates.
Potential new millennial members are looking for more than networking opportunities and a CPD box to be ticked – they want an organisation that represents their interests, is active in reforming public perceptions and is driven by an ethical purpose. This ethical purpose is almost certainly there within your organisation, but it’s a precious commodity and needs to be used carefully. It’s potentially the brand DNA that will help transform an organisation from a provider of training, conferences and white papers into an essential and valued professional partner to inform and guide.