And 4 Things to Add to Attract, Retain, and Engage Members of All Ages

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model

4 Things to Throw Out of Your Association’s Broken Business Model

In the past, associations thrived on in-person events, networking, education, and certifications—the more the merrier. But for years there has been a shift away from this old thinking to a modern approach where digital is king and people are less enticed by “stuff.” This shift was happening gradually until COVID-19 slammed on the accelerator. What began as a strategy to attract younger members is now essential to serving members of all ages. Your old business model is officially broken, and engagement is about to take a nosedive. It’s time to learn from your younger members so you can fix your business model, drive engagement, and thrive.

What We Know About Younger Members

  • Younger members grew up with Google and are used to instant gratification.
  • They’re careful with their money and slow to make a purchase.
  • They value community and purpose.
  • They trust people more than corporations.
  • They’re highly adaptable and can react quickly to any crisis or disruption.
  • They live online and are comfortable working and networking virtually.

A New Reality for Boomers and Millennials Alike

When COVID-19 hit, even the Boomers had to pivot and adapt. Here’s what the new reality looks like for members of all ages:
  • Google is the go-to resource (and your biggest competitor).
  • Money is an issue for everybody as the next recession looms.
  • Community means more now than ever.
  • We can get by with less stuff in our lives.
  • We don’t have to be there in person.
  • We can adapt to almost anything.
  • We can learn to use new technologies and work virtually.

Just like that, your association’s old business model centered on in-person events and endless offerings doesn’t work anymore. But the need for resources and support hasn’t changed. You have a golden opportunity to reinvent your association and serve members better than ever before.


What’s Out? What’s In?

Fixing your business model is a matter of removing clutter and adding value. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way forward.


OUT: In-person only resources
IN: Digital everything

Crisis or no crisis, your members don’t always have the time, money, or inclination to travel to your annual conference or even attend a local networking event. You need digital resources people can access quickly on their own terms. Templates, content downloads, virtual networking, job boards, webinars, and podcasts are just a few ideas. Break your event into time-conscious virtual tidbits, such as hour-long webinars, information packets, or online discussion panels.


OUT: Too much stuff
IN: Real resources that answer “What’s in it for me?”

Consider the cereal aisle at the grocery store. There are 16 different kinds of Cheerios that water down the brand and overwhelm the consumer. Your association faces a similar problem with your events, certifications, and education. Don’t be Cheerios. Focus instead on your core competencies. What do you offer that your members can’t get anywhere else? Which events deliver the biggest return for your members’ time and money? Don’t worry about revenue. Worry about delivering actual value and the revenue will take care of itself.


OUT: Sales pitches and corporate speak
IN: Meaningful, authentic human connections

The days of slick sales pitches and impersonal “professional” language are over. People are tired of being sold to, and they demand authenticity and transparency. The voice of your association should be human, conversational, and personal. Tell stories. Create online communities. Whenever possible, connect members and prospects with each other and get out of the way. Third-party endorsements are far more powerful than messaging straight from your organization.


OUT: Impersonal communications
IN: Behavior-based communications that are mindful of the customer journey

Nobody wants another impersonal eblast. Instead, use marketing automation to deliver timely, relevant content through marketing automation. Let each individual’s browsing, email, and social media behaviors dictate the next steps in your messaging.

If you can master how to attract, engage, and retain your younger members, you can do it for anyone. Start by throwing out old thinking and extraneous clutter. Then, add in a modern digital approach that delivers value through authentic human connections and a personalized customer journey.

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