Marketing Associations, Groups, and Organizations

You Exist in a Competitive Market

The idea of “stealing share,” growing share, or even the fundamental idea of competition is often lost in most associations and civic organizations. Although the directors of membership and marketing of these groups may beg to differ, the reality is that groups like these historically have left the ideas of competition and more to the point, taking share, up to the business world.

Choices and More Choices

heads of marketing associationsGroups that leave these ideas solely to the business world do so at their own peril. Activities such as work travel, evening children’s activities, working at home, church groups, working out, commuting, and the like are taking a larger piece of the typical individual’s time. And, in order for folks to be members of civic organizations and associations, they more than likely need to devote some amount time to them (even if you have to do no more than reading their publications). Membership in many civic organizations, associations, and clubs has been decreasing and umm…increasing. (Read about the importance of simplicity here).

The total number of people joining organizations overall is increasing but membership numbers for individual organizations is generally on the decline. Why? There are a plethora of choices today, which offer a degree of specificity that has never been seen before. No longer do mountain bikers join a “generic” mountain biking association, they can join an international association, a local association, an association for off-road riders, and if they are a member of a police force, there is the IPMBA (International Police Mountain Bikers Association).

Adults can become members of Rotary, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce, Shriners, Knights of Columbus, a professional organization tailored to their specific field, or any number of local civic organizations, clubs, church organizations, or athletic leagues.

Never Enough Time

The problem is that there are only a finite number of days in a week, a month, or a year. In business, if a consumer does not purchase your product THIS time, you still have an opportunity to sell them your product or service NEXT time. With associations and organizations, there may or may not be a next time. In many cases, once an individual chooses his or her organization, they stay with it for a long period of time, sometimes forever.

marketing associations is urgentWith so many organizations, associations, clubs, and groups people have to choose from, the hard truth is that if these organizations do not wish to whither on the vine and die, they must attract and retain new members – members that may otherwise choose another group or no group at all.

Given that there is a giant pool to choose from, it is time that associations, clubs, civic organizations, and the like realize they are in an extremely competitive “marketplace” and that they must alter their approach to attract new members, that is, they must learn to “steal” them from other like groups. If you do not believe this, look no further than political parties who are constantly looking for new ways to “steal” members from their counterparts.

“Stealing” Is Not Always Bad

The word “steal” has some pretty negative connotations, granted; but let’s start calling it as it is. Let’s look at the following example: A young businessman with a wife and a young child decides that he wants to become more active in the community. He decides that he “wants to make a difference in his community” and “network” at the same time – two common reasons for joining a civic group, church group, or association.

marketing associations means stealing share

He has a number of choices: Rotary, Lions Club, his local chapter of the Ad Club, any number of church groups, and numerous unmentioned local groups like the Jaycees or Chamber of Commerce. As is the case with most groups, each organization want their membership to be as devoted and active as possible in the group, effectively precluding most members from joining and being active in other groups, especially after one factors, work and family into the equation.

There just isn’t time left for them to be involved in anything else. Therefore, if the individual chooses the Lion’s Club, for example, the Lion’s club takes or “steals” a potential member from the other organizations. Stealing, in this case, is in no way underhanded or unsavory. Rather it describes, rather succinctly, the dynamic that is in play. One may substitute the word “win” or “take” but the meaning is the same. As Roy Williams, “The Wizard of Ads” says, “the price of clarity is the risk of offense.”

The Strategic Point Is

So what does all of this mean for you? The incredibly competitive marketspace that associations, groups, and civic organizations of today commands that these groups begin to think and act like any other “business” in a competitive industry. No more can groups like these rest on their laurels, and rely on people with similar interests (i.e mountain biking) or a similar “functional” area (i.e. local American Marketing Association chapter). Groups must move from only satisfying a “need” or “want” (the typical place where most marketing stops) to aligning themselves with the core values or precepts of those they wish to influence in the exact same manner as businesses do.

Competitive Positions

Organizations and associationsFigure 1 shows an axis that shows potential competitive positions of players within the general category of “associations, organizations, and groups.” The right of the horizontal axis is labeled “process (it has/is). This position signifies groups that position themselves based on a specific offering such as AAA offering towing or road maps to its members. Groups that fall on this side of the axis answer the question, “It has” or “It is.” Conversely, the left side signifies groups that position themselves based on a consumer “want” or “need” also called a purpose.

In AAA’s case this may be, “I need assistance while I am on the road.” All processes are designed to serve a purpose and all groups regardless of their subject content fall somewhere on this axis – in some cases the purpose may be stronger than the process and in others the process may be stronger.

The lower part of the horizontal axis represents “category descriptor.” Here is where the vast majority of groups have positioned themselves. This is only a description of the category the group is part of (i.e. mountain biking, marketing, or charitable organization) and serves only as a “first step” in the selection process. The upper portion of the axis shows “beliefs (precept).” This describes the core value and belief systems the group has aligned themselves with to make them more relevant in the marketplace. It is at this end of the axis were group have the most potential to “steal” market share.

Chart for marketing associationsThe higher a group can position themselves on this axis the better. Generally, if a group can position themselves anywhere north of the xy intersect they will have a profound competitive advantage (as has already been stated, most groups are currently below the xy axis). Ideally, if a group can position themselves north of the xy intersect and to the left of horizontal axis, the competitive advantage effect will even be more profound. This is by far the best position to attract the most members who hold the closest set of beliefs.

Resounding Success

AARP wins in marketing associationsThere are a number of groups that do this and do it well. However, most of these groups were created only out of a value system. Groups like the Christian Coalition, many church groups, some political parties, and even the KKK were founded based on a value system. Conversely, AARP, or the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, is a group that was formed to satisfy a need but has also developed itself out of the core beliefs and value system of its target. Contained in their mission statement are the words, “AARP is dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age.” So where is the value system in that?

In a brand based on values or “precepts” the value is not stated as such, it is inferred. In this case, the precept that guides AARP is the belief that people over 50 deserve it. This is what we would call a ruling precept because it is the foundation of many other precepts or beliefs, like “I believe that I sometimes need help to be heard,” “I believe hard work gets results,” or “I believe that things get better with age.” Each of these beliefs or precepts fall neatly under the umbrella of, “I believe that I am deserving.”

Using this as the foundation of the brand of AARP, with its 37 million members, gives it permission to do all of the things it does: discount programs, advocacy, political work, and even believe to be important and relevant for those who are not even retired – even though the word “retired” is in the organizations name. For many, NOT being a member of AARP is like chopping off their arm; AARP represents who their members believe they are. Figure 3 shows AARP’s relative position compared to other groups.

A Second Filter

more-of-the-same in marketing associationsAligning the brand with a ruling precept is only one of the filters that any good brand must have. Another element that needs to be present in good branding is in the telling of whom you are for, and conversely who you are not for.

While the idea of saying who you are not for may seem counterintuitive, when a brand says who it is for it is also saying who it is not for. In AARP’s case their mission statement clearly says, “AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over.”

By saying they are for folks that are 50 and over they are also saying they are not for people under 50. Why is this so important? Remember, the price of clarity is the risk of offence. Clear, cohesive, and consistent messaging both internally and externally are any brands best friend. To be clear, we must tell our target both who we are and are not for.

Be a successful and grow

So many brands, especially those that fall into the general categories of associations, organizations, and groups, forget that first of all that they are in fact a brand and a business and secondly that they exist in a world where people are being pulled in more and more directions. These groups need to focus on a belief system or precept rather than function (mountain biking, marketing, etc). Associations, organizations, and groups that do this will not wither and die like many of their counterparts, but thrive and prosper, producing fruit for many years to come.       Here is a case study on managing a public policy issue for Philadelphia as it transitioned to the new rules of social welfare.Click Here