As associations monitor members’ evolving marketplaces, many are taking a glimpse “inward” at key resources and policies—dues structures, communications, programs and services—to determine to what degree they meet member needs. Given the increasing specialization common to many fields, this can become a daunting process. Indeed, as the ASAE Foundation recently cited in Mapping the Future of Your Association, associations will need to be conscious of how the super-trend of “demassification” will impact their business models. Demassification theory suggests that customers will cease to subscribe to a “one size fits all” approach in favor of tailored solutions as they become more widely available through modern media and communications tools such as the Internet and e-mail.
Given this diffuse market, how can associations ensure that their dues structures and value proposition are appropriately tailored to these diverse constituencies? One tactic that can ensure that an association adequately positions its value is the “asset audit”. An asset audit begins as a simple cross reference of the programs and services offered by the association against the membership categories or segments that receive tangible benefit from each item. The audit can help get the evaluative process rolling with a simple schematic outlining the benefits members receive from various association resources. For example:
3 = High Value
2 = Some Value
1 = Low Value
0 = No Value
|M e m b e r S e g m e n t s|
|A s s e t s||Academia||Government||Industry||Suppliers|
This exercise provides a clear understanding of existing strengths and weaknesses. For example, when one association conducted the asset audit, it quickly discovered that the majority of the organization’s products, programs and services were geared toward mid- and senior-level executives. Therefore, if the association wanted to expand its reach to entry-level professionals, it would need to seriously reconsider its program and service mix. Ultimately, the audit helped the association realize that the time and effort required to meet the needs of this “new” audience would be too great to produce the desired return on investment. Furthermore, the association concluded that focusing on this segment would distract attention from their primary goal: meeting the needs of mid- and senior-level executives. Finally, the audit helped crystallize the marketing messages that would resonate with current and prospective members.
Of course, for the audit to be effective, an association must identify their key constituencies and develop a solid understanding of the value of the association’s resources through the eyes of members. These days, most associations appreciate the benefits of conducting professional market research to explore such questions. The trick is to capture, and then to actually apply the knowledge that is generated through survey results, routine member interactions, anecdotal feedback, and other forms of market intelligence. So, next time you are pondering your value proposition, dues structure or marketing mix, get that research binder down off the shelf and start to categorize your assets. I will venture a guess that you will emerge with a new approach to your project based on a seemingly simple premise: give the customers what they want.