A robot looking in a mirror

Many associations struggle with communicating the value of membership. The staff know that membership is valuable, but they can't seem to put it into words in a way that potential members "get it." This is a symptom of what I call the Mirror Fallacy, where fixating on our perspective impairs our ability to communicate effectively with others.

These People Are Nuts

Have you ever noticed someone else's behavior and thought, "That's crazy, I would never do that."

  • I would never take a vacation on a cruise.
  • I would never spend my Saturday volunteering.
  • I would never spend $500 on a bottle of scotch.

It's not that other people's behavior is irrational. They have reasons for making those choices. It's just that they have different values than you (shocking!)

The Mirror

Intellectually, we know that others have different values. But for some reason we have a hard time making the leap to their perspective. Instead, we project our values onto things. It's like we're looking into a mirror and talking to ourselves, rather than to them.

As it relates to associations, when you think about how to pitch membership, you start from the position of, "What makes membership valuable?" But because of this tendency to speak to ourselves, there are some implicit words added to this question. What we actually answer is, "What makes membership valuable to someone just like me?"

The good news is that if members are paying, they're getting value. You just have to figure out what that value is.

A Sneaky Trick

Understanding the Mirror Fallacy provides an avenue for a sneaky trick. We all have this tendency to project our own value onto things. You can leverage that tendency to your benefit by prompting members to engage in their own projection.

You could ask them, "What makes membership valuable?" This is an okay question. It's not terrible, it's not good. The member is going to filter their real answer into a more watered down version that you'll find amenable. Many will instead answer, "What could possibly make membership valuable to somebody."

Instead ask, "What would you tell someone exactly like you about why they should sign up and what they'll get out of it?" 

The responses to this question will be specific and focused on where the value really is. This prompt gives them full license to look in their own mirror and tell you what they see.

Intelligence to Grow

Understanding and avoiding the Mirror Fallacy will give you key information: 

  • How you should describe membership to prospective members. 
  • Who the different kinds of people in your membership are. Because even among the ranks and file you're going to find differences in perspective.

This intelligence is vital in charting a path to growth by improving offers and by better serving members. But you have to see their perspective clearly first.

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.