A compelling & unique value proposition is the key to attracting and retaining members.

A few years ago, I discovered a small boutique in Denver called Nora’s Retro. Nora’s carries beautiful, well-made clothes that I can wear to work or out to dinner. Although you can find most– if not all–of their clothes online or at a big department store, they offer something that I can’t find elsewhere: After my first visit, they took the time to get to know me, what I like, my size, and which brands looked best on me. When something new arrives that they think I might want to purchase, I receive a text asking if I’d like them to set it aside for me. Their unique value proposition was their very customized service.

While Nora’s products (clothing) may seem unrelated to the world of associations, I share this story because for many organizations, their products (continuing education, networking, information, and advocacy) can also be accessed or purchased from other sources, similar to how Nora’s clothes can be found elsewhere. Therefore, it’s essential to figure out what your organization can do to provide a unique experience.

Agility and adaptability are lifeline traits for associations, which have historically favored caution over innovation. However, ongoing evolution is vital for success. What sets an association apart—what members can get from an organization they can’t get anywhere else—is crucial.

Many associations are already working toward setting themselves apart from others. According to an early-May Avenue M poll, 71 percent of association executives said that their association offered a unique and highly valued program, product, or service that is only available through them, and only 29 percent said that they did not.

Offering unique, standout, and valued programs, products, or services is key. It gives associations an edge in the market, drawing in and retaining members who want something special. This isn’t just good for business, it’s a great way to amp up engagement and revenue. Additionally, it helps the association stand out as a top player in its field, boosting its reputation and credibility.

However, identifying these offerings can’t happen in a vacuum. Talking to members and getting their feedback will help ensure the offerings resonate with their needs, interests, and ambitions—and are relevant and compelling for the long haul.

Tapping into what people want makes all the difference. For example, Levi Strauss, the 170-year-old brand, is in the process of reinventing itself by shifting its focus directly to consumers instead of wholesalers with its standalone stores.

This gives the company better insights into exactly what shoppers are looking for—and sets them apart as the exclusive place where they can find it. The strategy has helped the brand reach younger customers as well as women, who now account for a third of the brand’s global shoppers.

Just as Levi Strauss aims to understand consumer preferences to meet their needs better, associations must prioritize gaining a deeper understanding of their members’ changing preferences to create products, services, and programs they actually want. It’s all about embracing diversification and innovation.

Want to participate in future text polls? You can sign up HERE.

For more insights on how your association can set itself apart, read Avenue M’s quick summaries of the following resources, and click the links below.

16 Strategies to Set Your Small Business Apart From Larger Competitors

In the competitive landscape dominated by large organizations, smaller groups can sometimes have a hard time setting themselves apart. However, with strategic approaches, they can carve out a distinctive niche. Here are some tips from Forbes Business Council members:

  • Communicate Your Value Proposition: Clearly articulate what sets your business apart and why clients should choose you over larger competitors.
  • Personalize Your Services: Offer tailored solutions that cater to individual customer needs, leveraging your flexibility and customer-centric approach.
  • Fill a Need in the Market: Identify gaps in the market and provide innovative solutions that add unique value to customers.
  • Focus on Your Expertise and Be Agile: Leverage your expertise, experience, and agility to provide unique and effective solutions tailored to your audience’s needs.

Products and Purpose

The CEO of Insurance Agents & Brokers gathered his team a couple of years ago to rethink their offerings. Concerned about losing revenue and members to industry changes, he pushed for new income ideas.

Many associations brainstorm but often without a clear plan, risking wasted resources. Associations need to review their offerings regularly, considering what members need and what makes financial sense. By aligning plans with growth goals and member feedback, they can create new ideas that not only make money but also keep members engaged and support industry growth.

A New Look for Non-Dues Revenue

During the pandemic, associations became bolder, embracing entrepreneurship. For instance, the Advanced Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology created the APSHO Seal of Acceptance program, leveraging members’ unique skills to generate revenue while benefiting the association’s status and bottom line.

This shift towards entrepreneurial thinking has led associations to explore new revenue streams, such as endorsement programs and market research opportunities, attracting corporate partners eager to access niche membership insights and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

What Is Personalization?

Personalized marketing offers big advantages, from cutting costs to boosting revenues and loyalty. Yet, getting it right is tricky, as customers increasingly expect tailored experiences. To excel, organizations need to invest in data, build agile teams, and prioritize customer privacy.

For example, Sephora’s success demonstrates the power of personalization, focusing on loyal customers and offering perks like early access to products. Their approach has paid off, with loyal members driving most transactions. In today’s market, personalized experiences are key to staying competitive and meeting customer expectations.

To deliver value while maintaining trust, consider infusing empathy into customer analytics and communications, focusing on customer attitudes and overall journey satisfaction. Listen closely for feedback on customer acceptance through continuous testing and learning, analyzing both upstream and downstream engagement metrics, and leveraging qualitative listening tools like feedback panels and ethnographic research.

 Want to be the first to be notified about articles like this? You can learn more about Avenue M’s texting poll service HERE.

Contributors: Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE & Lisa Boylan
Image: Nora’s Retro