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December 20, 2017

Associations Continue to Adjust to the Pace of Change

Just as association executives were eager to discuss future trends impacting the industry at the ASAE Fellows Retreat, they were interested in learning more about how to adapt to changing market conditions at Holiday Showcase 2017, Association Forum’s annual December event.

As in past years, Holiday Showcase was the perfect mix of compelling education and holiday cheer, with topics ranging from content strategy to how to enhance your non-dues revenue opportunities. In the end, association executives had ample opportunity to continue their dialogue about not only identifying and anticipating drivers of change but also effectively leading their organizations or respective departments through these somewhat tumultuous times.

While the pace of change quickens, certain topics have remained fundamental to association success. We have seen these topics play out in our work with the association community as well. Here’s a look at a few key issues that not only were worthy of note at Holiday Showcase but also were trends that we identified during our project scoping conversations with clients this past year.

Integrate Your Strategy for Long-Lasting Impact

While associations have shown an increased interest in strategic planning, some still struggle with integrating those high-level goals into the operations of the organization. An increasing number of our strategic planning conversations with clients now take that additional step toward implementation and resource allocation. The takeaway is simple: strategic planning cannot be a theoretical exercise, but one that can align with an action plan that will positively impact the association. The bridge that we create for our clients between strategy and implementation also filters down into other areas of an organization, such as product innovation, pricing and marketing.

One Holiday Showcase session, led by Dede Gish-Panjada and Jeanne Sheehy of Bostrom Corp., walked through a tool to help unpack the product development and revenue growth process. The session outlined a variety of key questions to ask about the target market for the product, connection to the organization’s mission and how to define the value proposition. It was one good, tangible example of the theme that we discuss with many of our clients: taking the proper steps to ensure your strategy “sticks.”

Continue to Focus on Segmentation

Speaking of value propositions, much of our work in 2017 addressed the keen interest that associations have in speaking directly to their unique customer segments to avoid a “one size fits all” marketing approach. This specific communications effort starts developing a compelling research agenda that will identify key drivers of value based on not just demographic factors (age, years of experience, position, etc.) but also psychographic factors (outside interests, level of engagement with the organization, sense of belonging, etc.). From there, we help develop a marketing or communications strategy that will speak directly to an association’s most important target audiences, which in turn helps create a stronger connection that leads to increased member retention and stronger customer loyalty over time.

Be the Change You’re Expecting in Your Market

In his presentation about content strategy, Ralph Gaillard, M. Ed., Chief Learning Director for the Illinois CPA Society, introduced the concept of VUCA – “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity,” which in many ways sums up the norm for associations in today’s market. His message: “Be brave,” especially when considering changes to the fundamental aspects of your organization, from your membership model to content strategy.

At McKinley, we have noticed a trend toward associations wanting to “be brave,” as they review product offerings and consider more customized membership models. Additionally, organizations have shown a greater interest in understanding their current position, identifying their desired future state and developing a plan to achieve that vision. For some associations, that translates into a better understanding of their market and the universe they are striving to serve. For others, it translates into thought leadership opportunities and the ability to lead a field of professionals through tumultuous times. Most importantly, the ability to assess the current organization, identify areas of strength and potential gaps and work to make the required changes has proven to be a successful strategy for associations that are trying to stay ahead of the pace of change.

What is your organization focused on as we approach 2018? Please feel free to leave a comment below or contact the McKinley team or me if you have any questions. Speaking on behalf of my colleagues at McKinley Advisors, we wish you, your families, and your association communities the best this holiday season.


McKinley Advisors

McKinley Advisors is an award-winning association consulting firm providing tailored research, marketing and strategy services to solve your unique challenges. We help mission-driven organizations by providing strategic guidance, research and insights, business transformation assistance, and membership and marketing...


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