Monday, August 27, 2012

Association Superfans

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A while back, the Harvard Business Review blog was running a series of posts all themed around the idea of "Creating a Customer-Centered Organization." I read them all with interest, looking for tips from the for-profit sector that my association could leverage to increase our interaction with our members--especially with regard to developing innovative programs and services that better met their needs.

But more often than not, I found myself realizing that the association sector actually had something to teach for-profits when it came to creating customer-centered organizations. Here's a good example, a post about how to Create Brand Superfans. In it, the author argues that companies should forget about measuring customer satisfaction, as it is a lagging indicator of performance. To truly succeed, companies need to take satisfaction to the next level as create advocates of their customers. An advocate:

1. Supports the brand. An advocate will stand by the brand even in times of difficulty, isn't afraid to react to criticism or correct factually incorrect statements about the brand, and will purchase brand products as gifts for friends and family.

2. Actively promotes the brand. Advocates share their experiences via various social media, openly praise company employees both internally and externally, and provide unsolicited feedback on service and quality. In some cases, they consider themselves "brand protectors."

3. Is emotionally attached to the brand. They have a sense of ownership in the brand. They will forgive shortcomings (such as price) when buying products, and treat the brand as part of their inner circle.

I think associations naturally attract and are frequently comprised of these advocates, or superfans. Indeed, in the WSAE White Paper on Association Innovation, we defined the stewardship position an association had for its profession or industry as one of the unique advantages it has that could be leveraged for innovation. Although we didn't use the term superfan, it's clear that when members view the association as a necessary institution--as something critical to the continued growth and development of their profession or industry--they are likely to become strong advocates of the association and its programs.

But there's a key difference between association and brand superfans. The HBR post makes the case that a company can turn customers into advocates by offering them special deals and extraordinary experiences. That can work in the association world, but in my experience creating an advocate isn't something you can do simply by giving stuff away. The best thing you can do to turn a member in a superfan is to put them in control and let them define and maximize the value they can derive from the association. Forget the free stuff. If you give them anything, give them the tools they need to create their own meaning.

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