What Business Are Associations Really In?
We all know that Tesla’s not in the car business; it’s in the energy business. Amazon was never really in the book business; think trust, data and convenience. And, yes, McDonald’s is in the real estate business.
So what is the business model of the twenty-first-century trade association, professional society, institute and academy?
Almost every element of the current value proposition resembles the foundation of a media enterprise. Let me explain. Media is defined as a medium of conveyance. Conveying learning (think textbooks and online learning), conveying issues, ideas and influencing policy (think Huffington Post and Fox) and aggregating people around a common interest and purpose (all media exists to group like-minded people, in an effort to sell and influence).
1. Take your annual conference for example—isn’t it really a live branded media platform designed to educate, connect and do business?
2. Advocacy is a concerted and integrated media effort to advance the best interests of your members.
3. Education, training and professional development is designed and delivered through a media platform, whether online, live, broadcast or otherwise.
4. You already use all four of the traditional media platforms—paid (advertising), earned (public/media relations), shared (social media) and owned (e.g. websites, magazines).
This new look at the business you’re really in is just the tip of the iceberg. When you begin to see your organization through the lens of a media enterprise—your members as customers, your content as targeted programming, your events as live branded platforms that compete with SXSW, TED and commercial media events… then, and only then, you can unlock new sources of non-dues revenue, new levels of member engagement and new levels of operational performance.