The time is right for positive and effective change. But not all associations say they have a demonstrable edge. The good news is, it’s never too late to show what you’ve got.

The beginning of the new year is an exciting time to dust off the cobwebs and embrace change. Promising economic news is painting a brighter forecast for 2024, which means organizations have reason to be optimistic about making strategic plans a reality.

When crafting strategic plans, however, one essential component doesn’t always make the cut, and that is demonstrating how the association stands out from its competition. Having a strong competitive edge not only draws in new members with unique benefits but also keeps existing members engaged by consistently delivering on those special offerings.

While many associations say they have what it takes to stand out, many do not. An early-January Avenue M text poll reveals associations are split. Forty-five percent of associations said they have a well-defined competitive edge, 45 percent said they do not, and 10 percent said they are unsure.

When asked for more information about why they have an edge, one participant said, “We serve a well-defined and unique membership” and other professional societies closely aligned with theirs recognize that and frequently collaborate with them because they bring specialized expertise that reflects their unique membership.

Another credited a “laser-focus on policy success” and understanding their members and how regulatory proposals affect them. They also have a clear process for involving members and ensuring everyone agrees on policy positions. One leader pointed to certification as “the core of our competitive advantage.”

A panelist who said their group lacks a competitive advantage said they need to exhibit “unique value” to better define it. Another said they need a study to “reveal what members and prospects want from the association.” One panelist emphasized identifying two areas where they outperform competitors that will directly contribute to revenue generation.

In addition to the positive economic outlook, after years of uncertainty, a commitment to action is evident among board leaders. This is highlighted in a recent National Association of Corporate Directors’ 2024 Governance Outlook Report, where 80 percent of respondents emphasized the crucial role of overseeing strategy execution and development.

The environment is ripe for positive change and a good place to start is by focusing on a well-defined competitive edge that emphasizes how your association is different from everyone else. That’s why members join, and why they stay. It also helps associations use resources wisely, roll with changes, and communicate more effectively—which all adds to staying successful for the long haul.

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For more insights on effective planning for 2024, read Avenue M’s quick summaries of the following resources, and click the links below.

The Three Most Common Mistakes CEOs Make With Strategic Planning

An anticipated economic growth surge in 2025 underscores the heightened importance of strategic planning. Currently, 72 percent of CEOs use their own planning processes, showing widespread room for improvement in how they plan for the future. Research pinpoints key areas for CEOs to enhance strategic planning.

  • Mission, vision, and purpose. A company’s mission defines its actions, vision charts its course, and purpose explains the “why.” Research reveals a gap: 59 percent of CEOs believe their plan aligns with these values, but only 15 percent of experts agree. CEOs must ensure everyone—from interns to executives—grasps and connects with the organization’s core values.
  • Find a distinctive edge. Only 36 percent of CEOs think their plan defines their competitive edge, but only 8 percent of experts agree. CEOs need to clearly understand why customers should choose them by regularly reviewing and aligning with customer needs.
  • Metrics and KPIs. Differentiating between past data and predictive analytics is vital. While 48 percent of CEOs feel confident in their metrics, only 15 percent of experts agree. CEOs should regularly measure key performance indicators (KPIs) to adapt quickly and avoid relying on past successes to make critical decisions for the future.

CEOs feel confident in their plans, but third-party evaluations reveal gaps. Regular reflection and improvement in strategic planning are crucial for seizing opportunities and maximizing impact.

Gaining Competitive Edge: Strategies for Small Businesses

Setting a business apart helps attract and retain customers, ensuring both short- and long-term success. Understanding the unique competitive edge brings customers and highlights an organization’s unique value for sustained success.

Tips for finding a competitive edge.

  • Conduct a competitive analysis. Study competitors’ strategies, learn from their successes and mistakes, understand current trends, and evaluate their marketing to create an effective competitive analysis. Use the information to build a competitive edge for your organization.
  • Assess value. Identify your organization’s unique value compared to competitors, leveraging insights from the analysis to excel in areas that set you apart, while considering how to effectively reach your primary demographic.
  • Pinpoint business trends. Outpace your competition by adopting innovative business strategies, especially in marketing. Stay updated on digital and social trends and develop distinctive approaches to introduce your product or service to new markets.

Discovering a competitive edge through analysis and planning is key to enhancing profitability and increasing market share.

What Matters Most? Eight CEO Priorities for 2024

CEOs have faced challenges like the pandemic, supply chain issues, war, and inflation. It’s a lot. Here are a few top priorities for CEOs in 2024 as they continue to guide their organizations to success amid many obstacles.

Gen AI. Globally organizations are using a straightforward AI interface to transform various business activities. CEOs should quickly figure out how their business can benefit, scale the technology, and understand its impact on their industry.

What’s your superpower? Successful companies like Toyota and Disney are known for their efficient production and creative customer experiences. Their unique strengths set them apart, but it’s crucial to implement them well for success.

Appreciate middle managers. Waffle House is famous for staying open all the time and has a unique management philosophy. Grill operators, the stars of the show, reach the peak as the “Elvis of the grill” without further promotions. Unlike other companies, Waffle House values middle managers, seeing them as the core of the company.

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Contributors: Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE & Lisa Boylan
Image: Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE