Does your association have a clear purpose? The clearer your purpose, the easier it is to engage members and successfully deliver mission and vision.
- Fit for Purpose – Ideologically, every association must have a purpose, be fit for that purpose and be accountable to its members to achieve that purpose.
- Uniting Vision – The very act of defining the objectives helps articulate an association’s value proposition based on exactly what members need. This can be invaluable in bringing diverse stakeholders together under one vision.
- Future Strategy – Clear objectives set an association’s strategy for the future, so it knows exactly where it needs to go, and how to get there.
- Benchmarks – Measurable objectives provide the benchmarks to keep an association on track, and serve as an early warning signal if it deviates from them.
- Active Progress – By necessity then, if an association is to progress, it is forced to tackle the threats and challenges blocking its way. It creates action on the very thing(s) holding it back. What could be more powerful?
- Continuous Improvement – Updating objectives and striving for improvement year-on-year creates a cycle of performance and results.
Measuring progress towards clearly defined objectives greatly increases the likelihood they will be achieved. Clarity provides direction, boundaries and accountability. Without it, problems can compound.
- Wasted Energy – Without clear objectives and the processes to support them, the same issues can circle round in endless loops, creating a cycle of wasted energy. It makes it easy for associations to coast, which is when complacency can take hold.
- Uncertain Performance – Without benchmarks, an association can never know if its performance is excellent or poor, reducing the desire to improve.
- Over Confidence – Without measurement, it is easy for associations to believe they are performing well, when they may not be. A dangerous mindset.
- Stagnation – Without progress, objectives can remain unfulfilled leading to stagnation.
- Implicit Messages – The implicit message of not having measurable objectives is that it is acceptable not to achieve them, which virtually assure they will be missed.
- Inefficient Activity – When activity is measured instead of specific outcomes, it creates more activity. A cycle of being busy without making progress.
The complacency that arises from vague goals eliminates the force for change, which stifles innovation. But innovation is essential for survival, progress and relevance. Without the impetus for improvement, complacency can create bureaucracy. Insidiously, systems, processes and employees can become inefficient. Associations with vague goals may be blissfully unaware of the dramatic consequences of the complacency this engenders – and vicious cycle it creates through the entire association.
In the future, association success will be dependent on outcomes. Members and markets will reward association performance against measurable objectives, not on activity. The competitive nature of the network economy means members will increasingly pressure their associations to deliver results. They will demand a better return on their investment, and expect their association to achieve their mission, vision and objectives.
Somehow, Tom Cruise and Jim Phelps deliver Mission: Impossible. They find a way. Perhaps it wasn’t impossible, after all. The mission simply needed clarity, direction and ambition – three great attributes to set tomorrow’s agenda.
Move from the vague to the specific. Move from the passive to the active. Be clear on your purpose. Establish ambitious measurable objectives for your association, your members and your markets. When you do, you create a powerful competitive advantage to help you succeed.
Organisational clarity starts with mission, vision and objectives. It is the first defining step and the foundation of every association – why do we exist and what is our purpose? Everything follows from this critical description.
The next step is to translate the mission, vision and objectives into the language of your members and markets, and to communicate a powerful value proposition.
In his 2009 TED Talk, Simon Sinek proposed the idea that people (or members) don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. His golden circle puts the why right in the centre of communications, which is then encircled by the how and then the what. Most associations talk only about what they do – very few explain why they do what they do. Don’t assume people know why you exist, or what’s in it for them. Tell them, clearly and consistently. And then deliver it.
A value proposition is a statement that answers a simple question – ‘Why should members choose you?’ It is a promise of the value to be delivered by an association, and how this will benefit members. It can be used for the entire association or for a single product, and explains how it solves a problem, and why it is better than its competitors. It creates a communicable competitive advantage when members believe they receive greater value by choosing it. The ideal value proposition is clear, concise and compelling – and appeals to the most important or most emotive needs of members.
A contemporary value proposition can be powerfully articulated in a couple of well-worded sentences. Authors Erick Peterson and Tim Riesterer defined Power Messaging¹ as three key elements to differentiate organisations: something that’s unique to you, important for customers (members) and completely defensible. Incorporating concise, specific answers to these three is the basis for a persuasive value proposition that encapsulates exactly why members should care, join and engage with an association. It’s about talking to members, in the language of members about what’s important to members.
Traditionally members joined associations to be part of that sector or profession, gain a sense of belonging or status, and enjoy the benefits of information, advocacy and networking that come from working together for the collective benefit. Individuals can now gain many, if not all, of these benefits from alternative providers, including some for free. This makes it essential for associations to create compelling value propositions that articulate their unique differentiators.
This is particularly important in markets undergoing rapid change, disruption or disintermediation. A value proposition designed for the needs of a sector say 10 or 20 years ago is unlikely to be as relevant today, let alone into the future. The question of where the sector is likely headed needs to be included in the thinking, in the same way that ADMA repositioned themselves from the Australian Direct Marketing Association to the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising – and created a futuristic value proposition to match.
The value proposition is the foundation of an association’s business model, including all decision making and member engagement strategies. It links with the mission and vision to provide clear direction on who the target member audience is, and how the association will serve them. In defining what an association does, it also clarifies what it doesn’t do. It creates teamwork and confidence by rallying the entire staff clearly around what they need to do to deliver the promised value. It creates internal efficiencies by avoiding the need to rethink the same thoughts time and again, because the direction has already been agreed. It engages members because they understand what their association is out to do, and this breeds trust and confidence. The precise wording of the value proposition keeps the marketing and communications messaging consistent, which helps them cut through the clutter of confusion in the market. It enables an association’s marketing to work harder and smarter.
Commercial brands create the best value propositions and position statements. For example:
- Salesforce: Sell smarter and faster with the world’s #1 CRM.
- Pinterest: Join Pinterest to find (and save!) all the things that inspire you.
- MailChimp: Send Better Email.
- Apple MacBook: Years Ahead.
A value proposition is often beyond a slogan or a position statement. It can take the form of a bold headline sentence, supported by a couple of specific sentences, detailed bullet points or visual communication. It must answer the initial question of why your (defined) members should choose you, as well as the specifics, benefits and uniqueness of your offering.
Appoint a small internal team to build your value proposition and empower them to consult widely. To do its job, your team must define your target audience and their specific needs, within the context of the market and all the competitors operating within it, and address any myths or negative perceptions in order to create a concise and powerful message.
The next step is to bring the value proposition to life visually through the consistent use of logos, images and visuals. These are often best incorporated into brand style sheets or guidelines that clearly articulate how and when both images and wording are to be used. This rigour will resolve one of the most frequently replicated errors in association marketing – inconsistent and muddled messaging between campaigns, and between different products and services within the one association. Members can miss campaigns entirely when associations chop and change the colour and usage of their logos, the key words behind their written messages or the themes underpinning their creative executions. A lack of brand consistency between different products, services and divisions can also disengage association members. The association brand behind every message must be immediately recognisable, if it is going to resonate with its target audience. Associations can avoid all the wasted activity from off-brand, off-market or off-message communications by adhering to defined value propositions.
Investing the time and effort to get the value proposition right up front will pay dividends for years to come.
What’s your next move – will you resist change or embrace it?