Disintermediation: Friend or Foe?
The middle man. Who really wants to deal with a middle man? Well, it turns out most of us do, or at least did, either by choice or necessity. Think of all of the valuable middle men and women we’ve worked with over the years: real estate agents, travel agents, bank tellers, taxi dispatchers, retailers, stock brokers, insurance agents, car dealers—the list is very long.
Along comes pricing transparency, the online buying of everything, delivery services, Uber, Peapod, Expedia, Zillow, E-Trade and, well, you get the picture.
Which leads me to disintermediation and you, the association executive. Disintermediation is the elimination of the middle person (man, woman and, yes, association). Associations are the consummate intermediary, brokering relationships, commerce, education, the collective forward movement of favorable policy and legislation on behalf of the larger good of the industry.
Don’t get me wrong, middle men and women can be very valuable, necessary and indispensable. But, you must add value in ways that can’t be copied, commoditized; or done cheaper, better or faster—in a word, that can’t be disintermediated.
Many associations have succeeded because they have momentum, critical mass and 25, 50 or 100 years of delivering value. I don’t have to tell you how many ways your members are getting value from other resources that used to be the sweet spot of your value proposition. How many places can your members get breaking news on your industry, state-of-the-art education, events and conferences that are niche, specialized and very cool?
Take the medical industry, for example. Continuing medical education (CME) was a primary driver of many medical association events—until it wasn’t. Now there are over 2,400 options for a physician to get top-quality, free and convenient CME. So why rely on a medical conference to get what I can now get better, faster and cheaper elsewhere?
Who is gunning to disintermediate your value proposition? Who is doing what you do but better—with less friction and less cost? Who is making it more accessible, more personal and more engaging with a really great app, website or event? Just ask the educational community what Sal Khan has done for their business model.
It’s better to disrupt yourself, do it early, do it before you have to, do it before the disintermediation are at the gate. It’s more fun, you’re in control, the future gets here faster and you do what your members hired you to do: lead from the front.
Welcome to the future of the new middle men and women. There is value in the middle if you know how to get there faster and, ideally, first.