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Unlocking the Value of Your Data to Enhance the Member Experience

By Geoff Thacker, Executive Partner, Research & Strategy and Carol-Anne Moutinho, Principal, Strategy and Organization Design, The Portage Group

How does Facebook know to show you ads about last-minute deals to Maui? Or that you’ve been price-shopping for a set of AirPods for your teen? How did that gym you joined a couple of months ago know to call you because you’ve been thinking about cancelling your membership?

Some say data is the new oil. Others the new gold. Certainly, it is a driving force of our time. Those who have access to good data – and know how to use it – increasingly find themselves at an advantage over those who don’t.

The explosion in recent years of technology innovation has exponentially increased our computing power. This has given rise to “big data.” The term is nebulous and intimidating to some, but really just refers to the massive amounts of information that is now collected and that can be stored and analyzed in more robust ways than ever before to understand – and increasingly to predict – patterns, behaviours and outcomes.

The Portage Group’s research on association trends revealed that topics related to data and information, for example, using the right metrics to measure progress, and customizing the membership experience are top-of-mind for Canadian associations.

From the association management system (AMS) and transactional information for product purchases and event attendance, to member survey data and web analytics, most associations have a virtual treasure trove of data at their fingertips. So why aren’t more of these organizations unlocking the value that data can provide to their members, and to the industries and professions they represent? A couple of reasons tend to top the list.

First, many associations simply don’t know what data they have, or how it could be used to their advantage.

Second, concerns over resource constraints are also common. Because associations often lack the financial and human resources to do it all, prioritization is necessary. When it comes to data analytics, the focus tends to be on the front-end cost of the tools, applications and expertise needed to collect the data instead of on the longer-term potential return on investment to be realized.

The good news is that making your data work for you doesn’t need to be complex or resource intensive.

The following are a few ways in which associations are using research and data to raise the bar in delivering value in a way that is meaningful, tangible and that allows them to be more proactive in addressing the needs and priorities of members and other stakeholders.

Data-Driven Strategy

In addition to robust secondary research and analysis to evaluate the internal (operating) and external environments inside which associations operate, leveraging member data and insights to drive strategic and operational planning is the most common way in which associations use data.

Data is used to both inform an association’s strategic direction and priorities, as well as to support the development and measurement of key performance indicators or other measures to help the organization understand how it is performing relative to its goals in an ongoing way.

In addition to standard member interviews and member surveys, other sources of data that can be used to inform your association’s strategic and operational planning include some of the following:

•   Additional feedback gained before and throughout the strategic planning process (to validate, refine and provide feedback on “draft” strategic direction). This can be achieved in several ways, for example town halls or open meetings, in-person or virtual focus groups and discussion boards, as well as polling, etc.

•   AMS data can provide data and insights in areas such as event registration history, past purchases of products and services and timing of purchases, which can drive program and service development and communications activities.

•   E-marketing data such as email open rates, click-throughs on articles and other content can provide insight into important member topics and interests.

•   Benchmarking and better practices data can help association leaders to understand how similar organizations have addressed key strategic issues, as well as to glean insights into ideas and opportunities to consider and pitfalls to avoid.

•   Sectoral data and data related to things like public perception can help associations to understand and communicate the broad impact they have on society and/or the industry/profession they represent.

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Industry Data and Benchmarking

Providing members and other stakeholders with timely industry data and insights is increasingly common for associations striving to be the go-to for their sector. Whether it is quarterly reporting on industry sales, economic outlook and forecasting, or analytical studies in areas like compensation and benefits, consumer trends, or operations benchmarking, providing access to information that helps members do their jobs and run their businesses more effectively and efficiently not only adds value to the member experience, but in many cases can serve as an additional revenue stream for associations.

Customizing the Membership Experience

Technology innovation has created a consumer culture that demands customization. Associations are not immune – they are increasingly pressured to walk the line between delivering value that appeals to their broad membership with programs, services and communications that make members feel that the offering was designed just for them.

Association members are also more diverse than ever before, underscoring the need for greater customization. In addition to member groups that vary based on age and career stage, interests and needs vary based on professional/business areas of focus, geography and so on. Socioeconomic and cultural groupings are also common, seen through content and programming targeted at, for example, women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ members, among others.

More associations are investing more heavily in robust AMS with customization capabilities to inform opportunities to deliver unique value and customized communications to target member and stakeholder groups.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics is the ability to use past behaviour, market tendencies and profiles to predict future behaviour, preferences and interests. One need look no further than market leaders like Amazon and Netflix for examples of how companies are able to know what their end-users want, need and like, even before they know it themselves.

Many associations have available data that can be leveraged to carry out predictive analytics that will enable them to be more proactive in addressing the needs of members and stakeholders.

Unlocking Your Association’s Data: Where to Begin?

If your association is looking to better leverage data and information to support strategy, deepen member value and increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency, a first next step to consider is to conduct a data audit. This involves getting a handle on what data sources you already have on hand, and to start thinking about the current and potential insights each one can provide, either on its own or when combined with data from other sources. A few examples of common data sources available to associations include the following:

•   Member demographic and profile information, for example career stage, business/professional focus, length of membership, volunteerism/engagement history, etc.

•   Program and event registration, participation and feedback.

•   Product and service purchase history.

•   Survey data (member surveys,  non-member surveys,  communications surveys etc.).

•   E-Marketing data (email open rates, use of members-only website content, click-throughs, likes, comments, web analytics, etc.).

The message? You probably have a lot more data at your disposal than you think! Taking a look at your data sources and how they can be used to unlock insights is a great first step in helping you raise the bar in 2020 – and beyond!

Carol-Anne Moutinho is a principal consultant, strategy and organizational development for The Portage Group, bringing over twelve years’ experience working with member-based organizations to position themselves to thrive in an environment that is increasingly complex and volatile. Her sector leadership is based on hands-on experience, research, analysis and consulting for many dozens of associations in areas that include organizational development, governance, member and revenue models, member needs and engagement, and strategic planning.
Geoffrey Thacker is executive partner of The Portage Group and is a market research professional with unparalleled experience conducting research designed specifically for the needs of associations and not-for-profit organizations. Geoff has focused the last 18 years of his career developing quality research and analysis to support associations, having worked with over 100 member-based organizations in areas such as member satisfaction, needs and engagement, industry or sector profiling and sizing, benchmarking sector metrics (i.e. compensation and operations), segmentation, best practice and more. 

The Portage Group is the official research partner for the Canadian Society of Association Executives and a leader in Canadian association sector trends. CSAE members are welcome to download a free copy of The Portage Group’s 2019 Association Trends Report in CSAE’s bookstore www.csae.com/Resources/Bookstore/Item-Detail/productcd/1112.

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