Hack Your Way to Better Association Value

By • December 8, 2020

Bonin Bough
Bonin Bough

Most associations strive to continuously create better membership value. Sometimes the approach is small tweaks that streamline a process or experience. Sometimes, it’s a rebranding or program overhaul. But most of the time, these attempts at reinvention are small. Bonin Bough, host of CNBC’s “Cleveland Hustles,” author of “Txt Me,” and former chief media and ecommerce officer for Mondelez International, advises that organizations create value by breaking things: your processes, your association, and even yourself to create better value.

Why Break Your Association?

Why? For starters, there must be a fundamental shift in how we think about members. Do you know how your members use their membership? When Bough worked for PepsiCo, company executives believed consumer feedback that their main Gatorade product had too much sugar. But upon closer examination, those who complained about the sugar content were older athletes who simply weren’t as active as the 18-year-old athletes they once were. They didn’t need the sugars their favorite sports drink contained. To hang on to those customers, PepsiCo debuted Gatorade G2, a product with half the sugar but otherwise the same nutritional benefits and taste.

Thus, research can be a hack itself. Bough’s marketing team spent hours observing Gatorade drinkers’ posts and talking with them about their beverage habits within a social media situation room, at a time when social media was just taking off among the general population. Intense research like this can yield important discoveries that result in an improved product – or an entirely new one.

Have your members outgrown your association’s offerings? How can you customize older programs or ways of communicating to keep things fresh no matter the membership stage?

Personalized product offerings are one North Star that many organizations point to because personalization is powerful at generating interest and revenue. Bough worked with Mondelez to produce and market personalized packages of Oreo cookies and individualized 3D-printed Oreos at SXSW. Although the personalized packages didn’t take off in the United States, they sold well in other parts of the world, and SXSW attendees waited up to two hours to create their own (single) Oreo cookie.

How could your association replicate this success? Think of an event or program that is a member favorite – your North Star. What could you do to reinvent it in a way that makes members want to remain fiercely loyal? Imagine what you want to accomplish, and then imagine the best-case scenario to come out of it. That’s your goal.

The Importance of Personalization

One-to-one communication that is personalized to the member is one goal many organizations have, Bough stated. The importance of personalized communication became especially obvious during the pandemic of 2020 when meeting in person often wasn’t an option and when hundreds of thousands of employees were shifting to remote work and were away, even if just temporarily, from their main office phones, email and snail mail. You couldn’t reach someone at their office, but you could reach them at their cellphone. (Bough noted that 5.1 billion people worldwide own a cellphone, but only 4.2 billion own a toothbrush. Furthermore, 96% of Generation Z own a cellphone, but only 90% own deodorant!) Mobile phones and texting in particular have changed our media consumption habits, which have changed the way we interact with each other.

Associations must take that change into account when planning how to reinvent. It’s time to invest in texting if you haven’t already: People spend more time texting than any other form of communication. Sure, millions of people use social media, but those are broadcast media – not personal media. Having a list of mobile phone numbers is now just as valuable, if not more valuable, than email addresses. This is the moment for personalized media.

Want to experience the personalized power of texting? Text Bough at (646) 759-1837. He tries to reply to as many people as possible with answers to whatever questions they ask about his work and ideas!

How Can You Hack Your Association?

How can you hack your association’s brand into something new? Try these steps, which Bough shared at ASAE’s 2020 Technology Exploration Conference (TEC):

Explore new approaches one communication type at a time.

Bough’s Mondelez marketing team posted iconoclastic images of Oreo cookies on Facebook every day for 100 days in an effort to reinvent the imagery and culture surrounding the Oreo brand. Facebook posts were all that senior marketing leadership would allow at the beginning, but by the end of the run, during which the brand saw more engagement online than ever before, they were convinced that Bough and his team were guiding the cookie in the right direction.

Think on your feet so you can take advantage of hacking opportunities.

Four minutes after the lights at Super Bowl XLVII went out, Oreo posted an ad that riffed on the blackout. Such a speedy response was possible because Bough’s team had built the muscle memory needed for the stunt from posting every day on Facebook for the previous seven months. How can your association’s marketing or membership team train to take advantage of sudden opportunities for promotion and member outreach?

Change your association culture to change the world.

To create a mindset that will change the world and unlock growth at your association, take a close look at your culture. What does it allow? What is implicitly taboo, and why? Are any of those taboos preventing your association from moving in the direction it needs to? If so, try immersing your staff in another culture. You might do this by holding a retreat with facilitators, offering sabbaticals or extended planning times, or even swapping workplaces with another organization for a week to see how other teams get things done.

Rethink your association’s resources.

A team of six created personalized Oreos. They didn’t go over well in the U.S., but they did go over well in China, Brazil and many other countries, and the process of creating the product resulted in new printing and manufacturing technologies. There’s always a way to get to your end game regardless of your resources.

What if your leadership is risk-averse? Bough recommends sticking to these three guidelines to get hacking permission from risk-averse leaders:

  1. Don’t focus on just one experiment. Conduct a bunch of small experiments so that risk-averse leaders can’t squash every new, potentially good idea at once.
  2. Make it simple for leadership to say yes. If you don’t have enough budget, value your assets differently. Remove all barriers so the only option is to let the idea happen.
  3. Build up small experiments that truly matter to your board and their goals, so that innovation becomes something they welcome, not something they are afraid of. What are their core objectives, and how can you lean into those? Drive innovation within the means to reaching those goals.

If you truly think about how you break an organization and a process, you can change that organization.  It’s possible to come out of this pandemic better than we were before, because associations have been forced to know members and their needs better. We’ve been forced to customize our processes and offerings. Many of us are building the mindset that allows us to unlock possibilities. Your association can overcome your challenges and predict your future – if you hack it.

About The Author

Kelly Clark is the manager for online marketing at Naylor Association Solutions.