We have been involved with ASAE, the "association of association executives," for over 12 years. During this period, we have come across countless resources that inform and shape our approach to online communities.
Their latest publications are no exception. ASAE Press recently published The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside In by Anna Caraveli, PhD.
The book investigates the deficit that exists within a lot of associations when it comes to membership management. Caraveli interviewed over 40 association leaders that were struggling to define their association's role in constantly evolving, and often unforgiving, markets. Every association had the same goals and questions.
"How could they count for something in their members' lives and careers at a time when consumer choices
abound and new ones seem to sprout every day from everywhere?" - Anna Caraveli, PhD
Most every association knew that something had to change from within the organization. They had to try something new, but what?
This book was written "out of frustration," says Anna. "I have been frustrated watching associations and other membership organizations I've worked with and for, run in circles. Association leaders invest tremendous effort in innovation, in fixing what I see, as the surface."
Anna recently joined me to discuss how associations can align their value with the things that matter most to their members.
A Problematic Approach to Running an Association
There are two approaches—inside-out and outside-in. Caraveli found in her research that the majority of organizations operate around an inside-out model.
In this model, executives focus on the company first. Decisions are made through the lens of the products and benefits that the organization can offer to its members (inside). Membership becomes a product of inside thinking and resources are allocated to chasing membership trends.
Organizations built on this model tend to be slower to adapt and they often fall behind in their struggle to compete for members' attention. These companies churn out products and services in the marketplace based on a narrowed customer perspective and are largely based on making their product fit an ever-changing customer base.
These organizations are the first to fall behind in turbulent markets.
In summary: "They invest tremendous effort in innovation and in fixing what I see as the surface. It is sort of like the chairs on top of the Titanic, while they allow the Titanic to sink. The whole focus of my book is the ship itself. It's riding the ship, rather than decorating the staterooms or fixing the chairs," states Anna.
A Better Approach to Creating Value For Your Association Members
The outside-in model focuses relentlessly on creating value for your customers. A premium is placed on your customers or members (outside), before the organization (inside). This results in more innovative product solutions and offerings that are shaped by members' needs.
Laid out simply—put your customers or members at the center of your organization.
In The Demand Perspective, Anna lays out a framework for creating the type of value that your members will be willing to pay for year after year. Her advice includes:
- Approach any questions from members' perspective.
- Let members' needs prioritize innovation.
- Build a product roadmap that solves members' biggest challenges.
- Design your entire organization around one objective, serving members better and faster.
- This means that you have to invest a lot of time and effort learning about their thoughts and decisions.
Lastly, do whatever it takes to constantly solve members' problems. Spend all of your time on solutions that exceed their needs as they evolve.
The Role of Private Online Member Communities in High-Value Associations
The goal of the "Outside In" model is to continually increase the value to your consumer. Our society is fast-paced and you need continuous innovation in different ways to maintain relevance and grow. Consider the capability for constant connectivity that we have today through social media and other channels. Today, value is moment by moment rather than consumed once a year or every few months.
"The most innovative membership organizations have a model that is based on community" - Anna Caraveli, PhD
According to Anna, at high-performing associations, the value of membership is not a package of static benefits. The value of membership is a structured member community where members can collaborate with each other, access information in real time, and answer questions to help other members.
She goes on the explain that many associations and membership organizations have forgotten the true meaning of community over the years. When most people think of community, they immediately think in terms of technology like, "What technology should I use?" or "What is my social media strategy?" However, building community is actually a very human strategy, as discussed by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, in the book Humanize.
The Demand Perspective explores why people bother to communicate in the first place. Members want to learn, derive meaning, collaborate, and get speedy answers to their questions. They want access to the entire world as a participant, taker, and creator.
Member value lies in the network of peers rather than a linear product-based structure. In her research, community managers and CEOs of membership organizations shared their biggest breakthrough—the community itself is more valuable to members than the products of the association. Many associations are changing their whole model to make community their main value proposition.
For associations looking to identify and generate value, Anna advises that association executives "look to the community, look to not just what you can do for your members, but what they can do for each other and what kind of relationships you can help facilitate and structure and direct in a way that they provide value."
The premise behind The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside is more than just a well-researched theory; it's the key to creating a real sustainable business model for associations. Major organizations are adopting this model to achieve long-term results.
Meet Anna Caraveli
The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside In is available for purchase on Amazon.