It Takes One To Know One

Across North America professional associations are in a state of decline. Their membership rates are falling, attendance to their events is waning, and their value propositions are being displaced. In many cases associations are struggling just to survive.

The decline of associations is a large trend with a lot of contributing factors, but it’s also easy to sum up. Boomers join associations, young people don’t. Young professionals are seeking out communities.

People demand more than membership

Selling association memberships is an uphill battle. What do members really get for their money?

The traditional benefits of participating in an association were networking opportunities with industry contacts, group discounts on insurance or related services, and maybe some educational opportunities or industry certification.

The challenge today is two-fold. First, contacts are cheap. We all have access to LinkedIn and Google, and can find and connect with people quickly. And two, we’re all pressed for time. Getting out to an association breakfast or luncheon is rarely the best use of an executive’s time.

Associations can’t grow using the strategies and services of the past.

A community is boundaryless

An association will plateau, but a community is boundaryless.

People don’t buy into communities, they join them. They self-select the group, because they identify with it and want to learn and make a contribution.

The shift is subtle, but powerful. When people pay to join an association they expect a service. If the service doesn’t meet their expectations they leave. When people join a community they expect to participate and contribute.

Communities are drawn together by like minded people who are working towards common goals. Associations can immediately shift their value proposition by inviting people to participate in their community and its activities. Instead of pushing memberships, push participation.

Membership dues are secondary. People join a community to learn, grow and contribute. Invite them to join, and ask them to participate.

It takes one to know one

Most professional associations have a clear Point of Sharing™: a shared interest, shared experience or shared values. The commonality is the industry or profession.

Figuring out the Point of Sharing™ of a professional association is very easy. It’s usually in their name. For example, the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating is for companies that manufacture and distribute plumbing, heating, PVF and waterworks products. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers is for Professional Engineers.

The clear Point of Sharing™ allows associations to easily shift their marketing strategy into community building.

You don’t have to sell someone on joining the community, because they self-select. They either identify with the group, or they don’t. The best way to sum up membership is “it takes one to know one.”

If a prospect or member doesn’t get or believe in the community’s mission, then they won’t participate or contribute. They’ll expect to be served. If that’s the case, they aren’t a fit.

“It takes one to know one” is the mantra that drives growing your community.

Associations must change gears

Progressive associations get it. They are changing their governance and how they engage their membership to cater to the demands of young professionals.

The challenge is getting the rest of associations to understand the shifting role they are playing in business. It’s no longer about membership and delivering services. Great associations lead great communities.

What do you think?

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Jeremy Miller is Brand Strategist, Speaker and the President of Sticky Branding — a strategic branding and business development consultancy that helps companies stand out, attract customers and grow sticky brands.

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