It is not uncommon to hear association leaders question the need for research. “We know our members,” I hear them say. “We understand what our members want and we don’t have the budget for research anyway.”
But at Marketing General we have found again and again that when research is done correctly, it often results in true insights, “ah-ha!” moments that association decision makers did not expect.
“We Know Our Members”
We have conducted quite a few studies where the association leadership shared their perceptions of what they think their members believe are the association’s strengths and weaknesses. Time and again, association leadership is really surprised—shocked, in fact—to find out that their perceptions of the association are really quite different than that of their members.
To a large extent, it’s a case of not knowing what you don’t know, and the only way to find out is to study it and analyze the results with quality, statistically valid research.
Understanding What Members Want
Finding out what members really want from their association is often at the core of the research we conduct. It is not just about understanding what members want, it’s uncovering much more … what they need from their association to achieve professional success … what challenges they face or expect to face in the near future and how their association can help them overcome these challenges … and giving members a voice in how well the association meets their needs.
We have discovered that a key to member retention is an association’s firm understanding about how it can truly benefit its members. This usually requires study and research. It informs association leaders about what members want, why they need it, and where the association can make improvements.
“We Don’t Have the Budget for Research”
In a downturned economy, research is often sacrificed for what are believed to be other more important priorities. However, this is precisely the time when research is most needed.
A struggling economy is both boon and bane for associations. Hard times hurt the pocketbooks that pay association dues, but they can also move members to take advantage of job boards, networking, continuing education, and other association-sponsored services.
But the key is understanding precisely what members really do want from these programs so the association can optimize its programs in ways that set them apart from others.