Jack McGrath: Hi and welcome to another in our series Ask the Experts. My name is Jack McGrath. Today we’re going to be talking to Scott Oser, the president of Scott Oser Associates. Scott, you wrote for Association Now about how marketing requires different skills than it once did. How do you see associations positioning themselves for success in the coming years and how has that changed in the last ten years?
Scott Oser: Well, what I was really talking about in the article that I wrote was how marketers now need to have a lot more skills than just direct mail or just e-mail or just one thing. It’s about driving audience, it’s about showing what the value is. And so, if you want to translate that to associations I think the real key is that they’re going to have to know what their members’ needs are and be able to forecast a little bit what their members’ needs are going to be and then provide that unique set of education so that their members are always up with the times. It’s not just about- what I was really talking about was marketing in general. But, to put that onto associations, it’s really about how they can figure out what the needs of their members are. What kind of value can they provide to those unique segments that are going to need different skills going forward.
McGrath: What do you think, in terms of the state of associations today, where do you see the greatest opportunity for them?
Oser: Well, I think there’s- right now because we live in sort of this Amazon.com sort of world where everybody wants everything individualized most associations don’t have the technology, they don’t have the resources to get true one-to-one marketing. But I think the real opportunities where associations can succeed and have more success is really segmenting their audiences and talking to their different segments about what their unique needs are, as I mentioned earlier, and also providing different services that fit those unique needs. Making it a lot less “one size fits all” and more, “Alright, this group needs this, this group needs this” and then letting them know what those things are so they can provide it. And it’s not- I think the real key is you can’t just go with the Chinese menu effect anymore where “Here’s everything that we offer, and pick and choose what you want to do out of this big, long list” you’ve actually got to be able to say, “This is you and these are the types of things that you want.”
McGrath: Right, and that seems to be how you see the whole value proposition for associations being providing this sort of- these exact services, right?
Oser: Exactly, yeah.
McGrath: You know, some associations are seeing membership revenue decrease and others are seeing it grow. So, what are some other ways you see associations generating revenue as they go forward?
Oser: There’s always been, from my perspective and in my experience, there’s always been a hesitancy for associations to have “customers.” They don’t want customers, they want members. And so I think the real area of growth- first of all there’s one with their members, which is going to be providing these niche products and services to the different segments as we’ve been talking about. But I think the other side is getting more people that may not want to be members, or just aren’t perfect for members or just have decided not to become members, but they are customers. They go to meetings, they go to educational events, they do webinars, they buy books, they do all of these different things. So, typically associations have frowned on having “customers.” I mean, I’ve been doing a number of presentations and then whenever I say the word “customers” you kind of get this, “Oh… we don’t have customers. We have members.” But they do have customers. So, I think it’s really getting over that hump and saying, “Hey, you know what? It’s okay to have customers. And our members are going to buy this much, but if we really want to expand and generate more revenue we’ve got to have this customer group and we’ve got to know how to reach them too.”
McGrath: Right, that’s a great point. Seems like it’s getting more towards the business of associations, which is turning towards more focused, tailored products, offerings and some people are going to be customers and not be able to commit to the association.
Oser: Exactly. I mean, there’s a lot of theories out there now that certain age groups don’t join. I don’t think that’s true. We can talk about that for a long time. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but there are definitely some people, whether it’s because their company won’t pay for a membership, or because they’re just not a joiner they don’t get the whole “member value” proposition, they are going to be customers. And why not, to be blunt, why not take their money too?
McGrath: Right, that’s a great point. Thank you Scott, appreciate it. Thanks again for watching and look for others in this series Ask the Experts.