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Declutter Your Communications with Members in Mind

Declutter Your Communications with Members in Mind
When you decide it’s time to declutter your desk, your basement, or your project archives, there’s a basic principle at work: Keep what’s useful, and trash the rest.

The same applies, with a slight shift in focus, if you’re trying to keep association members engaged: to capture readers’ interest and build a loyal following, decluttering means relentlessly purging any content that isn’t useful to them.

This useful metaphor comes to us courtesy of Naylor LLC and the Association Adviser, producers of an Association Communication Benchmarking Survey that reached 395 respondents from across the United States. A key problem, they report, is that associations are forgetting to ask what’s in it for their customers when they plan their communications campaigns.

“While most associations are pre-occupied with ‘cutting through the clutter,’ very few are clear about their strategy for how they’re going to break through,” Naylor writes. “If clutter is your biggest concern, you have to know what members and advertisers are expecting. And the only way you can really know is by asking them directly, either on the phone or face-to-face.”

The Cost of Not Listening

There was a time when associations could survive, even thrive, by treating members as a single, homogeneous audience, making broad assumptions about the information or education they needed, and setting out to deliver it.

There were few other sources of the education, certification, or business networking members needed, so a one-size-fits-all strategy was successful enough.

Those days are gone, and they aren’t likely to return. There are more generations in the workplace, each with its own needs and expectations. Knowledge and networking are a few keystrokes away for anyone with an Internet connection.

Associations can still make themselves indispensible by understanding their various audiences, then aggregating and organizing a huge volume of incoming information to meet their members’ specific needs.

But that takes us back to the small matter of cutting through the clutter. If an organization doesn’t get this right, no one benefits:

  • Members get tired of settling for content that is unoriginal, uninspiring, or too generic to reflect their needs and experience.
  • Decision-makers in members’ own organizations are less likely to pay for the next activity—whether it’s a luncheon, a conference, or a membership renewal—if they don’t see the benefit.
  • Sponsors get impatient if they see fewer participants at events, slower response to their advertising, or less overall enthusiasm across the membership.
  • The association loses dollars, momentum, and credibility at every step, so that a failure to declutter eventually becomes a serious threat to the organization as a whole.

Just Ask the Audience

The good news is that this is an easy problem to solve. The great thing about asking members what they want is that they’re often eager to tell you.

Many of our clients conduct annual or biennial member surveys to gather feedback, test new ideas, make sure their programming is on the right track, and adjust as needed. Timing is all-important: nobody likes the feeling of being surveyed to death, and your survey will fail if you ask too many questions, or if it looks like some of the questions have no purpose.

But with the right survey design, you can gather valuable intelligence, segmented by target audience, and translate members’ responses into creative, effective programs.

It’s important to keep faith with the people who took the time to complete your survey by reporting the findings—in a research report or white paper, probably with a series of supporting blog posts, and almost certainly in one or more infographics. If you’re having trouble with the survey itself, you shouldn’t hesitate to call in the professionals to advise on design or boost your members’ response rate.

And speaking of surveys…if you haven’t yet completed Greenfield’s 2013 Pulse Report questionnaire, you still have a few days to respond. Click here to get started!