There was a lot to love about the recent Abila User and Developer Conference (AUDC) in Nashville, Tennessee: sharing what’s new in our business, celebrating our customers’ successes, discovering Goo Goo Clusters (yummy Nashville candy). But my favorite part was getting the chance to interact with our customers.

Sure, it sounds clichéd. “I like talking to customers!” But in this instance, it’s really true.

Most questions from customers are around challenges I hear all the time: Millennial members, diversification of revenue, alternative membership models, database segmentation. But it was a conversation with one client, in particular, that caught my attention and got my marketing brain buzzing. This client was struggling with developing a value proposition.

In hindsight, it makes sense. Our Member Engagement Study is filled with examples where members and the organizations to which they belong have different views on what’s important.  Only 63 percent of members feel they’re getting a good value for the membership fee, while 81 percent of organizations believe they’re providing good value. 

Many traditional definitions of a value proposition describe it as a short statement, a promise of the value you – as an association – can deliver. I prefer to think of a value proposition as a believable collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and take the action you’re asking them to take. It offers members clear rationale for joining, belonging, contributing, and taking advantage of what your association offers – starting with what they think is valuable. It differentiates why a member chooses to belong to your association, a competing organization, or none at all.

Sounds easy, right? It’s not as simple as it seems. Developing a value proposition is more than just a staff member in a cube or a marketing agency coming in and showing you a selection of options. Creating the right value proposition for your organization is a multi-step process. It’s written from the inside out, and should involve not only members of your senior leadership – including your board – but, most importantly, your members.

There is no shortage of models and templates with proven formulas for putting together the actual copy, but more important is the insight and information you’re using to craft your message.  The following five steps are important before you ever pick up a pen (or start typing):

  1. Distill Your Brand Value: What’s your elevator pitch? If you had to describe your organization to a prospective member you’ve just met at a cocktail party or luncheon, what would you say? Zero in on the most important advantages you offer to your members. To do so, you can utilize data and insight you’ve collected through surveys, market research, and member relationship management tools.
  1. Prove It: How can you validate your brand’s value, and do it in the context of what matters to your members? Think outside the box. It may be number of opportunities for ongoing education you provide over the course of a year, the savings you offer members through benefits and discounting, or the number of members you provide for networking. The number of proof points is less important than ensuring that each statement is meaningful and measurable. 
  1. Put on Your Member Hat: You’re using your value proposition to drive action (acquisition, engagement, renewal). It’s only natural that you’d want it to be self-promotional! But using statements like “innovative” or “industry-leading” won’t mean much to your membership.  Your value proposition needs to be in the language of the member, joining the conversation that’s already going on in the member’s mind. Remember, the way YOU speak about your programs and benefits is often very different from how your members describe them.
  1. Reach Different Audiences: More than one value proposition can be tricky, even for the most sophisticated organization, risking diluting your messages (and confusing staff!). But we’re huge proponents of segmentation at Abila, and personalizing your organization’s unique experience based on segmented needs as much as possible. If your organization has undertaken the work to segment your audience, do the values you’ve documented resonate across all groups? How can you contextualize your value proposition so it speaks uniquely to the members you’re trying hardest to reach? 
  1. Test Your Assumptions: Before going big with a value proposition, why not see if it hits the mark with a subset? Engage a small focus group of members or test messaging by tracking response rates to different communications that include key messages.

A clear, concise value proposition can change the way your association approaches membership, its strategic goals, and its daily operations. A credible value proposition forces you to evaluate your benefits, programs, and services against a benchmark that is set by members, and pushes you to make internal decisions from their point of view. Done right, your value proposition will lead to stronger programs and higher member satisfaction.