Trust is the foundation of just about any relationship. This is true in life and business. It’s true for your association, too.
We know that you think people trust you. You think that, by virtue of existing for the good of your industry, trust is a given.
But we’ve seen the numbers and interviewed enough people from enough associations in enough industries that we’ve been able to form a pretty good working hypothesis.
And here it is: The reason prospects, non-members, and less engaged members don’t come to your event is that they don’t, in fact, trust you. Specifically, they don’t trust you with their time and their money.
Therefore, if you want these people to come to your event, you must build their trust.
Here’s how to start doing that.
Trust Building Step No. 1: Question Your Assumptions
When you’ve been putting on an event for a while, with the same kinds of meetings, sessions, networking groups, celebrations, awards ceremonies, etc., it’s easy to get tunnel vision about what the bulk of people in your industry want.
In working with associations, we see this all the time.
It looks like this: Your association has always done things a certain way, and because a small group of passionate members have given you good feedback, you assume that experience generalizes to everyone. The events team gets it in their head that this is what people want.
So you invest in certain types of programming and spend your marketing budget on what you believe are the sure things and the big draws. Then you push the messaging out to prospects and non-members. But they either don’t show up, or they show up once, and don’t show up again. They’re lost, and you’re left wondering why.
We can tell you why: Because you made an assumption. You created something you believed people wanted, and relied on confirmation bias to keep sticking with it.
But assumptions do not breed trust. In fact, they erode it.
Try this: List out your biggest marketing initiatives around your events. Beside each initiative, note the underlying assumption behind it. Then ask yourself: What if your assumptions are wrong?
To find out, you’ll need to do Step 2.
Trust Building Step No. 2: Start Listening Better
Most of the associations we encounter pride themselves on listening to their members. But when we help them pull back the curtain, we discover that they are mostly listening to engaged members.
In other words, they are overservicing the engaged, at the cost of missing out on what is driving (or not driving) the unengaged.
Think of it this way: Your association represents an industry. Your members likely only account for a small slice of that total industry. And your engaged members? They are a tiny slice of a tiny slice. It’s easier and more convenient to connect with that tiny slice, but it’s woefully incomplete.
You must talk to everyone. But here’s the caveat: You can’t talk to prospects or non-members as if they already trust you. To build trust among people who don’t know you very well, you must first listen to them. This is how you can discern what excites them, motivates them, frustrates them, and scares them.
You can use surveys as one of the ways you listen, but remember that surveys tend to be completed by people who are already engaged. You need to get beyond the usual ways of asking for feedback.
For example, you might segment interested prospects into strategic customer focus groups and try out different offers. Does pushing a gala get a good response? Do they click through when you talk about networking dinners? Certifications? Use data to listen.
Trust Building Step No. 3: Open the Gates
More than anything, to grow and stay relevant, you want to appeal to non-members. But when you lock up everything on your website and gate it for members-only, you’re signaling to those non-members you so desperately want that they’re not part of it.
We know the argument that associations make. That gating resources creates value for members. That access should be a member benefit, given only to those who pay dues.
But . . . why? After all, isn’t your purpose to serve the industry?
We need only to look back a few years, to the beginning of the Covid pandemic, when you ungated your best stuff and shared freely. Do you remember what happened? We do. Engagement was through the roof. Webinar attendance was setting records.
You doubled-down on your mission and threw open your arms for the good of people and the good of the industry. Why is that different now that people aren’t locked in their homes? Why are we back to gates and walls?
What would happen if you threw it open again? Would you lose members because they suddenly thought the value of membership had diminished? Or would you gain the trust of a whole slice of people who suddenly feel invited? Conventional wisdom says that trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. But if your association gets out of its own way, you can at least get started on the right path.
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