Monday, April 15, 2013

Accessibility vs. High Fidelity

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Read an interesting blog post about the changing nature of music industry. According to the author, after generations of working to make the music being produced more accessible, the industry is changing its focus to deliver the highest quality sound experience possible. The internet and the MP3 player has made music almost universally accessible, and so the market is switching to high fidelity as its primary value proposition.

It got me thinking about some obvious and some not-so-obvious parallels in the association business. Many, if not most associations seem focused on accessibility--getting more prospects to join and getting more members to use more of its services. Growing the membership, increasing attendance at conferences and events, expanding the scope and influence of the association--these are objectives that perennially appear on many of our strategic and action plans.

But I wonder if, like the music industry, high fidelity is increasingly the better model for associations to be following. The internet has affected our industry in many similar ways, not only making our knowledge and intelligence services more accessible, but giving our members access to more information that doesn't necessarily come from our association. The challenge of keeping up with the quantity of information available--and its accessibility--is increasingly difficult.

In this environment, the discriminating member is not necessarily looking for more, they are looking for better. More is easy. More is everywhere. But better is rare and difficult to find. An association that focuses on providing the highest quality experience, even at the expense of more and more accessible services, is going to have a competitive advantage.

And that idea leads me to my most interesting questing. Is it possible to do both? Can your association pursue both accessibility and high fidelity? I tend to think not, that this is fundamentally an either-or proposition, and something that every association leader should think carefully about before committing to a particular course of action.

Unlike the music industry, success for associations can probably still be found down either path, but trying to walk both of them is likely to leave you lost in the woods.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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