Five steps to thrive

A step-by-step guide to help membership organisations engage, inform and lead.

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.

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.

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.

For further information, or to discuss your specific brand or communication challenges and how we can help, talk to us.

‘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

Lead the debate
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.

A membership organisation’s biggest asset is its members; going to the membership to seek opinion can be a powerful member engagement tactic – who doesn’t like being asked what they think? Packaging those opinions back to the membership creates debate as well as raising brand profile.

A good example of this approach is the way the Energy Institute (the EI) has brought to life the data generated from its annual member engagement piece, the Energy Barometer.

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’.

The Energy Barometer, now in its fifth year, has taken on its own flavour, but is always helping to build the EI’s brand. This is a genuinely engaging report which works across the digital channels to present hot topics in a bright and memorable way. It provides clear evidence that the EI’s members are not only active and engaged with their membership body but are also taking the debate beyond their own sector.

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.

However, the perilous journey from dusty and bland to modern and challenging is fraught with bear traps, and the biggest of these is verbosity. Of course there’s room for long and detailed white papers – it’s what some members want – but the appetite for this content is usually among the die-hards. The next generation aren’t always looking for a stodgy full three course meal, but a tasty snack they’ll want again.

There are quick wins: improving web content through a streamlined user journey and sensible navigation; great mobile experience; e-learning tools; personalisation; and creating genuinely great content that a user doesn’t have to do battle with to find the value.

We’ve found that if there’s one thing that many organisations are guilty of, it’s saying everything, all the time to everyone. Using valuable content and knowing how to edit, re-use, re-package and how to find an audience-focused hook is often a trick missed.

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.

See how we put this thinking into practice…