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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How Does a Changing Market Shape Engagement?

It is important to understand that while employing organizations influence decisions (see Part 2 of our blog series), it is people that decide whether or not to engage with an association.

Association Laboratory's research has discovered several factors that shape personal expectations of engagement:

  • Generational expectations
  • Customer caution in reaction to the economy
  • Time crunch
  • Reduced influence by the Individual
  • Globalization of engagement

Generational Expectations

Different generations have different personal and professional experiences which create different expectations of engagement. Expectations are framed by experiences.

Many associations are currently structured to serve the professional and industry needs of the post-World War II Baby Boom generation. The experiences of this generation throughout their work life determined their expectations of why and how they engaged with an association.

However, individuals from subsequent generations seek different engagement paths; their expectations are shaped by their unique professional and business experiences. Differing expectations impact everything from information delivery to the development of communities.

Younger professionals, in particular, are more accustomed to online and virtual engagement paths because these forms of engagement have been prevalent during their early career stages.

These engagement channels do not necessarily signify less engagement, simply different engagement.

Understanding the different perceptions and expectations of engagement across generations is essential to developing successful membership engagement and membership models.

Customer Caution and Reaction to Economic Conditions

Customers are cautious about their economic circumstances and this impacts engagement.

When customers are confident, they are more likely to invest, take risks, and experiment. Confident customers are also more likely to accept secondary or tertiary expenditures.

Conversely, when customers are concerned about their employment or professional future, they are less likely to take risks or to invest.

If you are concerned about the financial situation facing your employer you are also concerned about your personal situation.

Time Crunch

Individuals have less time to engage and choose different paths of engagement because organizations are running "leaner and meaner" due to their ROI awareness.

Engagement requires time and financial resources. If time and money are limited, engagement, by definition, is limited. Consequently, engagement paths that take less time gain wider acceptance; for example, online engagement may be preferred to face-to-face engagement or local engagement at a chapter may be substituted for travel to a national convention.

The time crunch also influences volunteer leader engagement by reducing the willingness of individuals to participate in volunteer leadership or activities where member leadership is essential to success, such as government advocacy.

The time crunch influences engagement in some of the following ways:

  • Reducing the time spent on associations in general or eliminating secondary or tertiary associations
  • Changing to engagement paths that take less time, for example, online vs. face to face, or local instead of national meetings
  • Reducing the number of meetings attended or number of attendees

Organizations and activities that are considered most essential are more likely to engage members and other stakeholders.

Reduced Influence by the Individual

Decision making about association engagement is evolving from individual-based into a group or team process.

Historically, associations identified the prospective member, communicated the value proposition to this person, and encouraged him or her to join or otherwise engage with the association. For trade associations, a "primary contact" was identified who was considered to be the primary decision maker or primary influencer who would act as the champion when it came to association engagement.

Current research indicates that many individuals are not as involved, or not as substantially involved, in the membership decision as they were in the past. Instead, their association membership decisions are being heavily influenced by the organization's goals and made within the context of the organization's needs and budget.

The evaluation of trade association memberships, in particular, is more likely to be team-based.
Several individuals with different responsibilities compare notes before deciding with which associations to engage.

In other cases, the business is no longer contributing to the cost of association membership and the individual must decide whether to make the investment with his or her own funds.

Globalization of Engagement

Engagement will be affected both positively and negatively by the increased speed and volume of professional and commercial interaction across country boundaries.

As the following chart indicates, over half the association executives in the Looking Forward 2014 sample report their organization receives at least some revenue from outside the United States.

If associations become more active globally, it stands to reason that this globalization will begin to influence engagement strategy.

The odds are very high that activities or audiences outside their traditional geographic market will influence the association's members and, as a result, their potential engagement. The more members are influenced by these external global forces, the more it will impact their engagement.

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