Smart associations know that to stay relevant and continue to engage existing and potential members they need to keep up with digital trends. A digital-first approach makes your organization more flexible and responsive, crucial in a world where technology and consumer behaviour shift and develop quickly. 

According to IDC, by 2023, 75% of organizations will have comprehensive digital transformation (DX) implementation roadmaps, up from 27% today. You don’t want to be left behind.

To find success in a digital-first landscape consider five strategic levers to help your organization proactively enter the digital age. These levers are concepts you can draw on to enable your association to shift approach and model to be more resilient and nimble, embracing a digital first approach while improving member experience.

Find your audience

It’s not enough to rely on consistent engagement and interactions with your core members. To find success in a digital landscape cluttered with free and plentiful professional development alternatives, associations must intentionally grow and expand their audiences. Digital-first audience strategy has been deployed to great effect in associations like HIMSS where they’ve grown their audience 40x while creating new products and experiences to drive growth.

You can use data and analytics to understand what is working, and optimize based on your audience intelligence. Audience insights can be used to inform personalized content, develop new digital programs, improve growth and engagement, and ultimately fuel radical growth for professional associations.

When you use data on habits and behaviors to develop an effective digital strategy, it means you have the ability to frame your offers and communications in a personal way so that they resonate. Americans spend more than 12 hours each day interacting with media devices, so you need to meet your audience where they are, and in ways that connect. 

Audience development is about building relationships, nurturing existing members while expanding your member base and increasing loyalty, not just with members, but with a broad, engaged audience. 

Content is king

How will people know who you are and what you do unless you tell them? You need to be communicating thought leadership via different media forms on a regular basis. Content is more than just written text – consider video, podcasts, interviews, articles, blogs, photos, infographics and more.

But just moving content to digital isn’t enough. You can’t just create online versions of in-person experiences and expect engagement metrics to soar. Modern customers expect a more comprehensive personalized experience; channels, context, and intent all play a role. Your content should do more than educate. It should engage, bringing viewers along on a journey that feels relevant and personal. Focus less on selling memberships, and more on serving the needs of the audience. 

People want content that is relevant to them - 72% of consumers say they only engage with marketing messages that are personalized and tailored. It may seem like an insurmountable challenge to deliver this level of personalization, but modern technology has made this kind of marketing accessible. Software and integrations (like ours) make it more cost effective to understand and send bespoke communications to prospects, current members, potential partners and other interested parties.

Your content should have multiple aims and outcomes, allowing for audience benefit, membership relevance and wider industry value. 

Perfect products

Our modern digital-first landscape has upended the notion of transactional products. A study by Walker predicted that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Your association experiences, products and programs need to offer diverse and impactful value. Consider how your offers can be purpose-built for segments of your audience and membership, with respect to unique career journeys, topical interests and educational needs. 

And don’t just think about improving the offers themselves. Think about how to lessen the operational impact when executing these experiences. Nimble organizations involve other partners in their offerings, rather than producing everything in house. Executional strategies like this allow you to diversify offers while engaging sponsors and other stakeholders, opening doors to even more opportunities for your organization. Digital offers are dynamic and integrated. You can deliver these digital experiences in multiple formats, communicated via multiple channels to extend their impact and improve member experience. 

Does your tech stack up? 

Digital-first associations leverage technology to make processes more effective and efficient. 

You can use technology to your advantage by integrating and connecting platforms and systems, resulting in systems that work together, rather than in silos. Automation saves time and effort, so your staff can focus on high-value strategic and member engagement work. 

Realtime customer insights can help organizations stay relevant, coming up with new and innovative ideas. Replace your static annual surveys with dynamic feedback loops based on actual audience and member interaction with your association’s content and digital experiences.  Gallup recently found that organizations leveraging customer behavioral insights outperform peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin. The proper tech stack will provide insight into what is working by sharing data on behaviors about how users are engaging with your properties. This level of organizational intelligence is crucial for developing your digital first strategy and growing your organization.

Modern technological processes and platforms will allow you to more effectively deliver the education, expertise, thought leadership and benefits that your members expect.

Operations strategy

Technology is the enabler, but not an end-all, be-all solution. Becoming a nimble, global, digital-first organization is an approach and attitude, supplemented by modern technology. 

The digital world is one that relies on agility and dynamism. Association management and governance practices can learn from start-up and tech culture. Shift from traditional, in-person operational models to a nimble and responsive approach. Lead your organization with an entrepreneurial and innovation-forward mindset.

In a dynamic marketplace, traditional approaches no longer offer the same value. McKinsey promotes an agile approach that “should be comprehensive in that it touches strategy, structure, people, process, and technology.”

To thrive in 2021 and beyond, pull on these strategic levers to shift towards digital-first models. Securing your association’s presence in this landscape is more than just moving operations online and posting to social media. Leverage modern, data-driven techniques to secure your association’s future for years to come. Audience, content, product, technology and operations all play their role in becoming a growing, nimble, digital-first organization.

If you’d like to explore these concepts further, consult our blog, or reach out directly to start a conversation about kickstarting digital transformation at your association.