And then 2007 hit. As the economy came crashing down, many of us lost jobs, houses and much more. Stocks and investments plummeted. Luxuries fell by the wayside.
Fast forward seven years, and the U.S. is slowly coming back, experts say. But consumers are cautiously optimistic and their spending reflects hesitation.
And that’s affecting nearly all industries and associations, according to a new Association Laboratory whitepaper released last month, which discusses the future of association engagement.
Simply defined, engagement is the relationship between a person or a business and an association. It considers touch points, interaction and influence. Measuring it is important for success, but doing so has become much more complicated since 2007.
“The recent economic downturn provided evidence that as the economic situation deteriorated, membership engagement, as measured by anticipated membership revenue, decreased,” according to the whitepaper.
For the purposes of the whitepaper, economy was divided into public and private sectors. In a recent study conducted by Association Laboratory, association executives revealed only minimal hopes for more engagement, mainly because of budget constraints of state and federal governments. The public sector has been hit especially hard by the recession, and professional development – which often includes association memberships – has fallen victim to budget cuts.
The three biggest factors affecting engagement, as reported by association leaders: reduced investment by federal and state governments; business mergers/consolidation; and nontraditional competitors entering the market.
In addition, as companies operate with leaner staffs, people have less time to commit to professional development. Return on investment has become increasingly important as some companies justify their existence in an uncertain economic climate. Also as a result of restructuring, decision-making is becoming more team-focused, and, quite frankly, things like association memberships and dues don’t take precedence.
As a result of tough economic times, government agencies – and the public sector in general – are facing more scrutiny.
So what does all this mean for associations?
Associations should understand the needs and expectations of their industries, especially as some companies contend with new market strategies and trends. They need to concentrate only on essential services and needs, which means legacy programs may have to be cut.
In addition, fostering professional networks will be key to improving association engagement. And relationships will need to become more intimate, which includes developing brand ambassadors.
“The decision-making environment facing associations will be complex and dynamic,” according to the whitepaper. “It will challenge many of the assumptions associations have used to guide membership and engagement strategy. Associations that invest in understanding their market more fully and aligning their strategic initiatives and organizational structure more closely with market needs will have a much higher likelihood of developing and sustaining membership engagement.”
Association Laboratory provides suggestions on how to use the data and recommendations.
Key questions for discussion:
- Who are the primary, secondary and tertiary audiences essential to the mission and market success of the association?
- What are the leading economic and business or professional influences facing the association’s members and what are the implications of these forces on their attitudes and behaviors relative to engagement?
- What is the historical culture of engagement within the industry and profession and what are the implications?
- What benefits and goals of engagement do key audiences seek and how are those benefits reflected in choices relative to the association?
- How should we define and measure engagement and modify our strategies based on performance?
How would you answer these questions? Has your association been affected by the sluggish economy?