Ruth Doyle, Senior Consultant
I had an interesting conversation with a neighbour recently: in response to a village storm-in-a teacup, they said “but we communicated with everyone; we told them what we were doing”. But of course, telling is not communicating. It’s easy to forget, but in my neighbour’s case, it could have saved quite a lot of grief.
So it is with product development. In marketing, we know that it’s no longer a case of “if you build it, they will come”. Social media has given members, our customers, a voice in everything we do and produce. Telling is definitely not enough if you want new services to engage members and be successful commercially.
Value is a perception
The idea that customers should have a voice in how products are developed is not new. Marketing has moved a long way from the 4Ps (product, place, promotion and price) to strategies that more accurately reflect the value of goods and services. This has led to a different way of thinking about how consumers consume, and a product-oriented view of marketing where products only have value once they are being used: your new pair of trainers only gives you benefit when you wear them running (something I do way too infrequently!). This view says that companies can only make value propositions – value is only achieved if and when the customer perceives it.
Value is co-created with the customer
The ways in which new products and services are developed is heavily impacted by customers’ perceived value. In 2009, the London School of Economics summarised a myriad of emerging academic theories and models around co-creation in consumer markets. They could see an irreversible shift from passive buyers of standardised goods to informed consumers, who are active agents in their choices. The resulting effect on product development is a shift from producer-led standardised products, to consumer-driven development, where consumers are engaged to create something new through dialogue and collaboration.
The LSE report documents how consumer involvement was creating both new:
What this means for membership bodies
We know that members are not just consumers of their membership body’s products and services. They’re an integral part of the organisation with highly valuable knowledge and experience.
We were fascinated by how co-creation blurs the boundaries between a company and its consumers and we wanted to see how this might be taking place within membership bodies. Were organisations mostly requesting member feedback, or were they doing something more ambitious: collaborating to create new offers, services and value propositions?
MGI’s Global Engagement Index, which surveys around 8,500 members of associations globally every year, found that being member-focused matters more to members than any other aspect of an organisation’s brand or service offer. It makes commercial sense too – increasing the likelihood of creating products and services that are attuned to members’ needs, more likely to be accepted and successful.
Are UK membership bodies co-creating value with members?
Well yes, and no. The findings of our 2017 Member Engagement Survey show that membership bodies are asking for members’ opinions and feedback, mostly by using member surveys as you might expect (72% of our sample). They’re also using a mixture of online and face-to-face methods including meetings, personal emails, social polling, phone calls and focus groups to engage with members to test and inform the development of products and services.
And they’re asking good questions, not just the standard reasons for lapsing, services used and satisfaction questions. A small group are getting under the skin of members’ wants and needs: what are their daily aspirations, barriers and concerns, and how could their membership body help them?
Of the 43 participating organisations, 26 gave examples of live or recent projects that were actively engaging members in co-creating new services. Much of this is about tapping members’ knowledge and skills to help other members.
Putting members at the heart of the organisation
From our survey, we see that there is a focus on members within most organisations: 84% of our survey participants agreed that all staff have opportunities to interact directly with members and 65% agreed that a focus on member experience is part of everyone’s job.
However, just under half indicate that they have a thorough understanding of members’ needs. And for many of the organisations, staff don’t have the technology and tools they need to meet members’ needs.
Hence, there is an apparent gap between the organisations’ perceived focus on members and the infrastructure available to successfully maintain and deliver that focus.
What inspired us in consumer markets - that blurring of boundaries between producer and consumer to create something new - is happening in membership bodies, to some extent.
Membership bodies are seeing that co-creation can be a way to create greater engagement and they are taking a number of different approaches to working with members, to increase the perceived value of products, offers and services. It’s an exciting evolution, which will deliver outcomes that benefit both the organisation and its members.