Monday, January 7, 2019

Don't Put Association Benefits Before Member Outcomes

Amanda Kaiser on her Smooth the Path blog had a good reminder last month for all us association professionals about the importance of speaking to members in a language they understand. In Association Marketing: They Said/We Said, Kaiser says: "When members talk about the value of their membership they tend to talk about outcomes ... But when associations talk about the value of the membership they tend to list benefits."

I had an opportunity to put this advice to the test when I visited one of the largest members in my association last month. They are already heavily engaged in many of our activities, but I wanted to provide them with an overview of all our benefits anyway. It would provide the structure, I thought, to call their attention to how much value they already get out of their membership, but also allow me to highlight a few areas where they could amp that value up even further.

So, in putting my slides together, I initially focused on listing all the benefits my association offers. Mindful of Kaiser's advice, I decided to group them by the over-arching strategic objective that each was designed to address, and for a while I thought that would also reveal to outcomes that mattered to them. But slowly I began to realize that the strategic objectives in question were the association's, not the member's, objectives. They were the things we wanted to achieve so we could provide the best value to our members.

I needed something different -- and that's when I remembered an exercise we had done last year, when we had defined the "pain points" our members felt that could be addressed by the benefits we offered. I blogged about these back in May 2018, and there are six of them:

  • Enhance my brand
  • Understand the market
  • Increase my sales
  • Reduce my costs
  • Find technical or engineering staff
  • Educate me and my team

Reworking my presentation so that our benefits were organized along these lines suddenly made so much more sense for the purpose I had in mind.

Why do company executives decide to have their companies join our association? I could now ask. They want to enhance their brand -- which they can do by engaging in the following programs that heighten their profile in our market and among their peers. They also want to understand the market -- which they can do by subscribing to the exclusive market data programs that our association offers.

I think you probably see my point. By structuring my presentation this way, I was able to talk about our programs, and the places that the member company was and was not engaged, but I was able to do it in the context of the outcomes that mattered most to the member.

In essence, I didn't put the cart before the horse.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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