A unique robot in a line of robots to show differentiation

"They're not the only game in town anymore," a peer recently told me, "I bet they're having to learn how to compete like most private companies do."

We were discussing associations and the challenges of pitching membership. We live in a time of great abundance. The people that you'd like to become members have more options than ever. To pitch membership effectively, you must not only address their desires with a relevant offer, but you must also differentiate your association from every other alternative. Because of this, it's critical that your membership offer displays an element of uniqueness.

Why Uniqueness Matters

Consider buying a car. In 1908, if you wanted a car, the Model T was the only option available. In 2023, you can buy from a wide variety of cars and trucks. They all fulfill the purpose of transporting you and your cargo from point A to point B.

So why did you buy the car sitting in your driveway?

You might: 

  • Have a van to transport a family.
  • An electric sedan because you value our environment.
  • A truck that supports your woodcraft hobby.

Because we have lots of options, cars are sold on what makes them unique from each other.

Membership is the same. Possible members have lots of options to connect, network, learn and get many of the other benefits you offer from other sources. 

Because of this, your membership offer must address how the value you provide is unique.

Two Tests

There are two tests to determine if you're membership offer differentiates effectively.

  1. (Tiny) Monopoly. You're the only type of solution that provides this kind of value. There aren't other competitors emphasizing the exact same thing. For example, if you believe that networking is highly relevant to a certain kind of potential member, it's not enough to say, "Become a member and get networking opportunities." There are lots of networking opportunities on LinkedIn, Meetup, and that popular private online community. You have to dive deeper and get more specific with something like, "Network with the most experienced and knowledgeable members in your industry."
  2. How You're Different Matters. It's not enough just to be distinct. You have to be different in a way that a potential member cares about. You may be the only organization that sets standards or does legislative work. But if that's not valuable to who you're trying to get to join, then you'll have to differentiate on something they do care about. Being unique is always grounded by being relevant first.

Integrating Into Offer

The benefits in your membership offer must be relevant to who you're targeting. Relevance does the lion's share of the work. But to win out over other relevant competitors for a potential member's attention, you'll need to differentiate using uniqueness. To make a cooking analogy, relevance is the dish and uniqueness is the seasoning.

Relevance and uniqueness are the two bottom layers of Steward's, "Member Magnet Framework." The final layer is to address risk and I'll cover that in the next article.

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.