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Are you making the most of your association’s natural assets?

Your association is perfectly placed to flourish in the digital world.

If the thought of taking a digital-first approach for your association makes you uneasy, hear this: your organisation is perfectly placed to flourish in the online world – you just don’t know it yet.

Your association is the envy of the world’s biggest and most influential brands.

Yep, you read right. So envious are these big multinationals and corporate types, they spend millions trying to emulate what you naturally possess: a community of cordial, like-minded professionals.

Think about it: from its beginnings, your organisation was endowed with a sense of community, your members raised on the belief that connecting with other passionate professionals benefits both the individual and the industry at large.

On the other hand, brands were founded on the pursuit of profit, their customers remaining secondary to aggressive, even unsustainable economic growth. This approach may have put big businesses in good financial stead for a few decades, but their aptitude for customer connections remained severely underdeveloped. As a result, and as the developed world completes its transition from analog to digital, from one-to-many to many-to-many, brands are floundering, desperate to learn the ‘human’ side of business – something your organisation learned long before the invention of the Interwebs.

The point: your association is perfectly placed to thrive in this new, interconnected universe. Our question: are you making the most of your prime position?

You’ve got the audience, now what?

In a conversation with the team at Lush Digital Media for their podcast Brand Newsroom, our head of strategy, Roslyn Atkinson, posed this question, pointing out that associations are largely blind to their advantage, resting on their laurels of a comfortably established and well-understood member base. This approach may have worked wonders back in the 90s when:

  • People addressed other people by looking right in their actual faces, in the real world
  • Members had to actually show up to an association’s events to find out gossip and pick the brains of industry thought leaders, or else rely entirely on their printed journal

Now, this approach is broken. Your members address tiny illuminated screens more than real faces and they don’t need you to give them information – they have Google for that.

Here’s the thing: a member who pays their annual fees, opts in for your email updates and occasionally attends your events doesn’t necessarily feel connected to your organisation. In fact, our research shows that reinvigorating disengaged members is the third most worrisome challenge faced by Australian associations today.

This shouldn’t be the case. You have in your possession a clearly defined, niche membership made up of individuals who are providing you with not just their personal information (something a brand marketer would consider killing for) but also their attention. Back to our original question: are you making the most of your prime position, creating and sustaining a sense of belonging among these individuals? Or are you floundering?

Think like a brand, act like an association

We did just label brands as a bunch of socially underdeveloped, money-hungry flounderers (they’re not that bad) but associations, your corporate counterparts aren’t doing it all wrong – the Brand Playbook is one you most certainly should consider taking a page or two out of.

Brands may still be learning how to build ‘human’ into the way they communicate, but they’re well on their way to embedding themselves into the hearts and minds of their customers. They move fast, they’re digitally minded, they reward innovation and they work their customer data for everything it’s worth. Importantly, they invest wholeheartedly in content because they recognise its ability to spark and nurture a connection with customers. You only have to glance at the marketing outputs of brands like GoPro, Dove and GE to know that their focus is shifting irreversibly away from seeking out direct profit and towards placing the customer at the centre of their universe.

Envious? If you’re not doing all of the things above, you should be.

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Pharmaceutical Society of Australia