Written by Rachel Friedmann, MA, MSM, former Senior Business Development and Marketing Manager
“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products, but the products, not the profits, were the motivation.”
-Steve Jobs, in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs
Over the holiday break, I had the pleasure of finishing Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs. While reading it, I couldn’t help but consider our clients, where I work and how McKinley’s leaders have shaped our company. Our growth over the last few years has been outstanding, yet we all feel it is not as much about profit as it is about our ability to help shape the association community. Association staff members are passionate and driven to serve their members and their organization’s mission, which in turn makes our work at McKinley incredibly meaningful. And I am thankful that Jodie and Jay are nothing like Jobs! (Click here to see Jodie’s acceptance speech for the Academy of Leaders award—it might make you cry.)
As I kept pondering this unlikely comparison, I realized Apple and associations have some intrinsic similarities, but their approaches are just different. Let me explain.
Associations are unique places to work. Many have a mix of employees who come from the industry the association serves, and others who have backgrounds in areas such as marketing, research or advocacy. Working for any non-profit usually means that you have altruistic motives and find fulfillment in the work you do rather than in your salary. Therefore, passion for what your organization does and those it serves is the primary driver for most association staff to create great products and services.
Associations are lucky in that they attract passionate people. In contrast, Jobs struggled for a good portion of his career to find the right mix of people and to motivate them appropriately. He seemed to finally find the right balance during his last years at Apple. One thing is clear: anyone working for Jobs had to be passionate about the product, which is not so unlike how an association’s staff must be passionate to create great resources for members.
Throughout his career, Jobs made it clear that he thought people could not envision or know what they want, so he did not believe in market research, such as surveys or focus groups. Jobs and his teams created products that they thought the world should own and ensured that these products integrated together beautifully.
Anyone familiar with McKinley knows this is the opposite of how we operate—most of our engagements begin with market research. Most association executives understand that research gives members a voice and yields valuable insights to help organizations make effective decisions to enhance the member experience. Without truly understanding members, their needs and their perceptions of the organization, it would be difficult for an association to effectively make decisions. Therefore, associations are market-oriented because they take the time to understand their market and then do what they can to fulfill their members’ needs.
Associations do not have the integrated end-to-end user experience that comes with owning an Apple product. But like Apple, an association’s services can certainly integrate beautifully together or be very effective on their own. For example, a member or potential member could just go to a conference, but if they fully embrace the association and all it has to offer, they will receive a lot more. The member who enrolls in continuing education webinars, participates in the online community and reads publications is likely to have a better, more fulfilling experience. This end result is not unlike what heavy-duty users and Mac fans say about Apple.
Apple doesn’t thrive on people who just have an iTunes account, they want people to buy in, “drink the Kool-Aid,” and invest in more Apple products. iTunes was developed as a gateway—a method of introducing people to the Apple experience. Also, Apple is genius when it comes to repurposing and remerchandising. Who really needs an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad and a Mac laptop? How many people have most or all of these items? Apple has created excitement over enhancements in their products and the unveiling of the latest version of a product. I constantly wonder how I manage to live without Siri on my iPhone. Apple has repurposed its products and content in such a way that encourages people to buy more. Associations can definitely learn something from Apple when engaging members and repurposing educational content. Conferences or online resources could be seen as gateways, like iTunes, to everything the association has to offer.
In addition to being reasons why associations produce meaningful, high-quality work, these are also the very same reasons I love working at McKinley. By being passionate about our work and helping associations, McKinley is an enduring company where people are motivated to do their best and create meaningful experiences for our association clientele.