“Digital transformation” is leaving no stone unturned. Its effects aren’t limited just to big consumer brands like Amazon, Netflix Uber. Technology has changed how people travel down the path toward membership at your association, and how they engage with your association if or when they join.
A member’s experience with your association or nonprofit used to look different. They might hear about you through a direct mail flyer, send in a check to join, and attend a conference once a year. That was association membership. Their journey to joining your association was linear and sequential.
Now, they come to your association at various stages of the funnel, or the member/buyer’s journey. And along the way, they expect a different experience from what was the norm 20 years ago.
Membership recruitment and retention aren’t isolated processes. Your prospective members expect that your organization has transformed digitally just like all the other companies and brands they interact with. And what do they expect? An engaging experience with digital, personal touchpoints along the way.
This change in the member’s journey requires a proactive, responsive, data-driven strategy so that you can engage each member at various levels of the funnel.
Many definitions of digital transformation focus exclusively on technology and can be confusingly complex. I define and see the impact of digital transformation for associations using three main pillars.
The 3 Pillars in the Digital Transformation of the Member Journey
1. Changing Role of Technology
Up until now, technology has been applied to increase our productivity and efficiency, helping us to do our jobs better, faster, and cheaper. Technology played more of a supporting role than a lead for an organization’s overall strategy.
Productivity will always be important, but what we’re seeing now is that technology is not only a supporting tool, but part and parcel of the strategy itself. Technology enables us to do things we could never do before and engage in ways we couldn’t have imagined. And members’ use of technology becomes part of how they experience your organization and membership itself. You’ve experienced this engagement with tech itself when using apps on your phone or clicking through a website. And you understand how it impacts your view of companies and organizations.
Technology also plays an increasingly important role to enable our organizations to better understand our members, and personalize marketing, communications, and member services. Big data coupled with AI (artificial intelligence) and advanced/predictive analytics will help increase effectiveness in this, improving membership value.
The role of technology is changing, and with it, organizations need to change. When you’re doing strategic planning, tech needs to have a seat at the table. It’s the key to enhancing and increasing the value your organization offers to members.
You know the popular phrase: “Content is king.” Content’s still terrifically important, but there’s a new leader: Experience is now king.
Content plays a role in generating an experience, just like people, environment, and physical events do.
And you need content with context in order to define those digital experiences in the way you want. What information do your members need at a specific time? What problems are they trying to solve? Can you get that information to them in real-time?
On top of providing this personalized experience, your members’ experience needs to be the same across all channels. If they switch channels to continue a conversation or transaction with you, they expect to have the same experience. Are you talking about how you can provide this personalized, unified, omnichannel engagement to your members? If not, you need to work towards providing that.
Technology disruption has and will continue to occur, but it isn’t the primary source of disruption. It’s the application of the technology to disrupt customer/member value chains. Think about Uber, Netflix, Airbnb, and so on. It’s not the technology itself that made a huge difference, but it’s the application of technology to disrupt the customer decision, buying, and consumption process. Technology is the enabling element. Nonprofits, like businesses, are highly vulnerable to this type of disruption.
How to Adapt Your Digital Strategy for the New Member Journey
As you begin thinking about how to adapt your association’s approach to the member journey, consider how you can give technology a seat at the table.
All three of these pillars play into your association tech stack. Your members need and want a personalized, relevant experience no matter what part of the journey they’re on. It’s essential that updated personal information is shared across systems, but it’s not enough. Members expect that the needs and interests they convey through behavior as they respond to email or participate in your online community will be incorporated in other communications and services they receive from you.
It’s challenging, but starting is important. Even small changes can take your member experience to the next level and make your value proposition sleek and modern.
Principal, Lehman Associates
Tom is president and founder of Lehman Associates, LLC, an Alexandria, VA-based research and consulting firm that helps companies and nonprofit organizations make effective use of online and interactive technology to advance marketing and business goals. He frequently works with emerging technologies and new business models, and he has a strong ability to see the broader picture and translate new tools into tangible benefits for organizations and their customers and members. Tom is the publisher of the Lehman ReportsTM series of annual market studies on the use of technology by nonprofits and their satisfaction with those products and services. He is a frequent presenter at industry conferences and webinars.
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