What associations need to do to stay relevant

Every now and then I read an article that sends a shiver down my spine. That’s what happened when a colleague sent me a recent article in Politico magazine about how huge corporations are bailing out of an industry association — their industry’s most powerful lobbying group in Washington. While this isn’t a Freeman client, we’d be foolish to not understand the implications to the work we do on behalf of many trade associations. In this case, some of the dissatisfaction has been caused by policy disagreements between the industry association members — which has them lining up on different sides of legislative issues. Even more troubling is that some of the industry’s giants longer see the association membership as a good value; they feel there are more effective places to spend their marketing/influence dollars.

All of us in the brand experience channel would do well to take heed from the lessons surfaced in this article. Corporate CMOs have little tolerance for budget items that don’t deliver ROI. We need to think strategically about what brand experiences can offer and ensure that everything we do adds value in a unique way. And we need to demonstrate that value.

Here are a few insights from the article that speak to the important work we do:

  • As data gets better — as it is more keenly analyzed and sharply focused — it heightens transparency. This is awesome if we learn from and apply the data. But it also can expose flaws, weaknesses and complacency.
  • The failure to remain relevant brings a death spiral. Experiential events must answer to the rigors of any solid marketing plan; we must ensure that we are continuously working to reflect input from our clients’ end-users.
  • Traditional models have shifted and legacy brands are competing with upstarts — the disruptors who run lean and won’t pay for what they perceive as bloated or outmoded thinking. These established brands are taking a cue from the disruptors.
  • We need to proactively respond to splintering within the associations we represent.  What are we doing to reflect the interests of all association members? If reconciliation is not possible, where are the grounds for compromise, so that all are served?

As stewards of the brand experience, we can initiate the conversation with our clients and with other growth officers regarding the potential of face-to-face engagements to do more than “sell.” We can show them how meaningful experiences have the power to evolve brands, to build relationships, and to inspire action. But we can’t wait too long. The best time to bolster a business relationship is months before a disruption occurs. Next best is today.