The world has changed but the majority of international associations didn’t even notice. They appear to be frozen in time and unaware of what the future will bring. But they do have to understand their world is changing with or without them. New concepts are urgently required. There has to be a new approach. Associations have to stop thinking in membership terms, but in communities. Already many associations find that financing is increasingly difficult. The acquisition of sponsors requires high levels of manpower and new solutions. The situation is also made more difficult by stricter compliance regulations and higher member demands. Moreover the potential participants have consistently less time and financial resources. They attend one top event each year. And this means internal competitions between association meeting organizers.
I believe one of the biggest errors of the basic concept of associations nowadays is their “exclusive” approach by creating barriers, through monetary, educational, occupational and geographical means. They also consider and treat their information and their platforms as exclusive goods. However, in many cases, the reality is that their information is not exclusive enough anymore. There are a lot of other sources and networks in a global digital world competing with each other. You do not have to be a member of an association or a participant at their annual meetings anymore to have access to it. Moreover there is a new generation of potential members coming.
The digital natives are the future clients of associations. They are fast, flexible and used to permanent dialog. They have increasing demands on information flow. The members as known today, who pay their fees once a year and are satisfied with the things they usually get, will be a thing of the past. Therefore associations will need to stop defining their markets by members and participants, and start to see and approach them as their potential clients. As business corporations, they have to have a clear purpose & vision and a clear strategy to fulfill it.
If I were an association today, I would ask myself three fundamental questions:
- Why am I here?
- What will be my purpose in the future?
- Why should potential clients choose me or my offer? Or in the language of corporate marketers: What is my USP (Unique selling proposition)? Where do I differentiate myself from my competitors in the market?
By rethinking the reason for their existence, associations will have the chance to redefine their purpose, their strategies and definition of future markets and, consequently their tactics. No matter if they are a for-profit or non-profit organization they need a clear purpose and vision. These two are the essential requirements to develop precise strategies and objectives and create tailor-made tactics. I am convinced that this is the basis for a sustainable development of every association.