Relevant, engaging, and interactive, Ron Tite exceeds expectations each and every time he takes the stage. Named one of the “Top 10 Creative Canadians” by Marketing magazine, the award-winning advertising writer, chief executive officer, and creative director addresses a variety of topics surrounding branding, corporate strategy, creativity and social media. Boasting training from Second City, Tite’s presentations are not only information-packed, they’re also infused with his unique humour–guaranteed to have you laughing while you learn. Ron recently spoke at the CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Tête-à-Tête conference, and shared some tips on how to stay relevant and meaningful to association members in an ever-more distracting world:
Professional associations are pretty darn important, but they often have to play second string to their member’s other important professional matters. Sure, members know that reading industry news, investing in professional development, networking, attending social events, and even volunteering for the good of their sector are all important things to do, but this stuff, the stuff that complements their business frequently has to take a passenger seat (if not the third row of the minivan) to actual business itself.
Nevertheless, associations play a vital role in creating and championing industries, and for many, professional groups are the difference between success and failure. To stay top of mind, associations have to create and communicate their value, it’s just that it’s getting tougher and tougher to do it.
Members used to vote with their wallets. Now they vote with their time.
When the low cost of production and the instantaneous global distribution offered by the internet are combined, what emerges is a desire to consume and create niche content. In one way, that’s a good thing. Your association can create very specific, compelling content that is focused exclusively on your members. In another way, it’s…well…not a good thing. Members now have a wide array of available content that is related to their true passions, and is often more important or interesting than “work.” Are your materials as interesting as “Charlie Bit My Finger”? They better be.
The private sector is all up in your grill.
Associations have always stood for something greater. Most have one mission: “protect and promote the interests of members and the industry they represent.” It’s a very noble pursuit, and members would never doubt their intentions. Because of that, the give associations their time without the fear of being “pitch slapped.” Sadly, it’s such a good strategy that the private sector is copying it. Banks, telcos, airlines, and others are taking over the soft, gushy space that used to be owned by associations, not-for-profits, and others who didn’t define themselves by shareholder value.
Because they’re competing for attention just as much as you are. Whether it’s WestJet’s Christmas Miracle, TD’s donations, Molson Canadian’s Passport Fridge, Pepsi’s Refresh Project, Red Bull’s content, Whole Foods’ Dark Rye, or others, private sector organizations have quickly realized that one way to win the battle for eyes is to put passions before profits, to speak to what people care about instead of what the organization cares about.
They’re not just all up in your grill, they can outspend you there, too. You spent years making the lunch. Now, they’re eating it. Enjoy those crumbs while you can, and don’t let the door hit you in your annual golf tournament on the way out.
So what do you do? Who can compete in such a difficult time?
You can. It’s the wild west out there, and the rules are being re-written on a daily basis.
Here’s how you can re-write them in your favour:
Save your members time and they’ll be forever grateful and loyal. Make their jobs easier. Make their lives simpler. Don’t add to the noise—shelter them from it. Bonus points if you can save them money while you’re at it.
Your stories are more important than your data. And with members who share the similar challenges and fears, your stories can be more relevant to your association than any cracker or beverage company. Hook them with the stories, convince them with the data that inspired the stories.
Show some personality.
You know what doesn’t cut through? Communications that suck. Far too many of us lose all hint of a personality and default to jargon and professional speak that gets lost in a series of buzzwords and expressions. Write how you speak. Make it honest. Make it real. Make it colourful. Don’t forget: make sure it’s honest. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Know what you’re good at.
You can’t be all things to all people. Stop trying to do stuff that is outside your wheelhouse. Be laser focused, relentless in your pursuit and disciplined in your destination.
It’s tough out there. Focus on winning the battle for time and the rest will follow. Be good. Be brave. Be interesting. Be valuable. Be real. Do it, and members will not only have time, they’ll make time.