Associations that experience a drop in membership often believe it’s because of price. They think some people just aren’t willing to pay the high cost of dues, events, and products. But that’s not really true. Price isn’t the problem. Value is.
People will pay a lot for things that add value to their companies, careers, and lives. What they won’t do is shell out money year after year without getting something real and valuable as a return on their investment. If you think your association has a pricing problem, what you really have is a value problem. And a value problem is really a value proposition problem.
Movie theater vs Netflix
Imagine you run a movie theater (assuming the pandemic is over). You’re focused on delivering the best possible experience to your customers—comfortable seats, the biggest screen, the best sound, the tastiest popcorn. You are hands down the best movie theater in town. But there are always some empty seats. What’s the problem? You’ve failed to realize that many people prefer to stay home and watch Netflix.
Too often, associations lose sight of what their members actually want. They endlessly promote networking, education, and certification, not realizing that members might need something else. Or, maybe, that they need the same things but packaged in a different way. It’s no wonder associations struggle with membership acquisition and retention. They’re too busy trying to cram people into their outdated value proposition when they should be focused on how to best serve members today.
How to fix your value problem
If people aren’t leaving your association now, they soon will be. When the recession hits, people will cut whatever they think costs too much. They might not renew their membership in your association because money is tight. What they’re really saying is the value isn’t there for the price you’re charging.
Logically, dropping membership is a terrible idea. Especially in difficult times, your members need you for your advice, resources, and access to a community of helpful, empathetic peers. Somehow you need to communicate just how much value you can add to your members’ businesses, careers, and lives. You must prove yourself so vital that people can’t imagine getting by without you.
Before you can do that, you need to dig deep to uncover what matters most to your members and prospects. Whatever that is might be different than it was a year ago, and it will likely change a year from now. A survey won’t tell the whole story; it’s too limiting. Instead, you need ongoing conversations and focus groups (easily conducted via videoconferencing during COVID-19). You need to keep asking “Why?” until you get to the heart of their goals, roles, responsibilities, aspirations, pain points, and challenges.
Why ask why
On a multiple-choice survey, your members might select education as the No. 1 reason to join your association. In a focus group, you can go deeper. Pose the question: Why is education important?
Imagine what your members might say: “I want to…”
- make informed decisions that save my company money
- stand out from colleagues and get a promotion
- work more efficiently to improve my work-life balance
- help my company innovate and advance in our industry
- make the most of our limited budget to help more customers
- understand how new laws apply to my business
Depending on what your members say, you might discover that “education” really means efficiency, innovation, career development, compliance, or something else. The more you ask “Why?” the easier it will be to understand your base and their most pressing concerns. From there, you can match your value proposition and your offerings to their needs. You can innovate wisely to stay relevant. You can also eliminate anything that no longer adds value, saving you time and money and helping your audience to see only those things that matter most.
It’s not about you
Trying to be a movie theater when your members want Netflix is a losing battle. Associations exist to serve members, not the other way around. Focus on value and your membership and retention goals will take care of themselves.
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