When the world shifted in March, many professionals and companies turned to their trusted associations for support. Associations responded by quickly adapting their resources to ensure accessibility, demonstrate responsiveness, and preserve community. Among the themes that emerged from McKinley’s COVID-19 June 2020 research:
- The rapid development of new content and resources
- A change in long-standing policies around open versus restricted access
- Efforts to ensure that virtual platforms like websites and webinars would continue to provide information
- Forums for community building and information sharing across the industry
This new approach has translated into high levels of engagement for associations. In some cases, entirely new audiences have taken advantage of the expansion of non-member access. Education offerings, webinars, and resources like website content have become important channels to reach new stakeholders.
How have associations engaged these new audiences? We outline a few examples and recommendations below.
The (Relatively) Known Audience: Nonmembers
It is common for associations to have segments of the industry or profession that never join or engage. Yet as associations have lifted barriers to accessibility and affordability, many of these nonmembers have participated at higher levels. What should be the end game for these new audiences? The answer might not be as simple as “membership.”
Offer alternatives to membership
As we look to 2021 and beyond, associations will need to cultivate sustained engagement with the new nonmember audience. One approach is to help nonmembers define their own levels of participation through options like:
- Subscription models
- Credits for education, webinars, etc.
- Product bundles
- Cross-promotion of related products and services to drive greater participation
- Pay-what-you-can membership
- Trial membership
Avoid assumptions about nonmembers
While your nonmember participants may share some demographics with current members, it is important to avoid broad assumptions about the expectations, perceptions and needs of this audience. Instead, establish a baseline of knowledge about your new audience segments with formal or informal research. Start by analyzing data from internal tools, such as website analytics, to better understand interest areas and nurture nonmembers through related content.
The Secondary Audience
Even before COVID-19, associations were exploring secondary audiences as a way to diversify participation and revenue. Rather than limit membership to a defined universe, associations began exploring adjacent and emerging markets to find areas of unmet need. Below we outline some examples of how associations have adapted their offerings and positioning to appeal to these secondary audiences.
Opportunities to engage “gatekeepers”
Across many sectors, the roles and skills of professionals have evolved. In the healthcare sector, practice administrators have played an increasingly important role as coordinators and “gatekeepers” of information and resources for their healthcare colleagues. From the association perspective, these administrators represent a critical link in the membership and engagement cycle of other professionals in the practice.
Recognizing the opportunity to better serve their needs and increase loyalty, many healthcare associations have assessed or even launched dedicated resources for practice administrators. The most successful associations have expanded on existing products and services while still protecting resources for the core membership. Through pilot programs and other highly focused approaches, association have slowly increased engagement within this new segment.
Engagement beyond the CEO
CEOs and the C-suite have long been primary target audiences for trade associations, but many organizations are deepening their reach within member companies.
The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) recognized the critical need to support the industry by helping companies recruit and retain employees at every level. Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of ASCM, described his association’s approach in our previous webinar, The New Turnaround CEO:
“We had been focused on senior leadership…we now are as concerned about helping entry-level individuals with high school diplomas find jobs. There’s a significant population out there that needs re-training and re-entry into the workforce that was not part of our product mix three to four months ago. It is a significant part of our opportunities in terms of addressing a need.”
Associations like ASCM are developing resources for employees at all levels of the member company – from safety training to certifications. This investment provides tremendous value to both the employee and the CEO, whose top concerns are often workforce recruitment and retention.
Opportunities in adjacent professions
As professions or industries redefine themselves, they also present opportunities for associations. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) explored the expansion of its educational offerings to adjacent professions as a way to diversify revenue and participation.
McKinley supported CAS with a market analysis study that started with 34 potential markets and narrowed the focus to 17 for a targeted assessment based on the following four filters. McKinley then ranked the potential markets based on overall opportunity and perceived investment, which helped CAS develop a strategic, targeted approach to growth.
Adaptability is critical
This year will be remembered as one of tremendous adversity and change. The association community is responding and leading in unprecedented ways. Look around at the audiences that exist right in your database or in adjacent professions and industries. There could be opportunities for growth that are waiting to be explored.