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Ever since the association management profession discovered the importance of marketing in the delivery of benefits and services, there has been much discussion about value creation and definition over the past many years. One of the first articles that started the discussion was published in Association TRENDS in 1997, “True value is not a hardware store,” which illuminated the need for quantification of benefits and services delivered to key association segments, and the need to compare this quantification with the dues dollar to register value in the mind of the member.
Given this value equation “journey,” the search for a proverbial “Value Index” has been for associations like searching for the “fountain of youth” these past 15 years. Many associations have tried to invent an index to forecast what is most important to the member and can predict how members will receive a given program product or service. But members are fickle and their value targets change over time, and most members will not fill out data update forms, in which they do not see great benefit. We have yet to see a hard-wired index that is applicable to most associations that they can take to the bank in developing their recruitment and retention campaigns, as well as in research and development for products and services.
What we have learned is that converting value to plain English and delivering it in a methodological and systematic way makes an impression on members and keeps them writing checks. This value equation methodology is the single most important action an association must take to retain its remaining members, while enticing larger members to give more in this time of shrinking revenues and due formulae that have not kept pace with the times.
Importance of member value needs assessment research
Over the past 10 years survey instruments and qualitative research techniques have been developed that can get to the core of the value equation for all products and services. These survey techniques, which have become fairly standard among research firms this past decade, involve measuring the satisfaction and importance that members perceive for all of the association’s offerings and forming a “gap” analysis for each that indicates where the association needs work in articulating its value message. Some of these survey reports can superimpose association demographic data on each page of the survey analysis, giving the reader a clear and instant picture of how each demographic segment or class of member feels about each program or service.
These surveys, if conducted every few years, can give the association a concrete "value index" benchmark. Further, given a discernful analysis, these methods should lead to the development of "quantified" value equations that can be used in value comparisons (even in the intangible area of government relations!) with the dues dollar and competitor offerings.
While many may search for the proverbial "Value Index," (and it is an expensive search), taking advantage of proven value needs assessment survey technology can give any association a great start in defining, quantifying and delivering the programs, products and services its members and prospective members will use and appreciate in the future.
See related articles in the Membership special focus, this issue.
Carey is lead strategist for Association Management + Marketing Resources, Bethesda, Md. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. AMMR is full service association management consulting and research firm.