Monday, November 3, 2008

Meaning Matters – Adapt or Die

In 2001, the American Society of Association Executives Foundation published a seminal book on Exploring the Future. In it, authors Olson and Dighe reported on fourteen trends facing non profits, especially associations. Those trends represented seven strategic conversations that any enterprise benefits from engaging.

Charles Darwin is often attributed with the phrase, “Adapt or Die.” He was referring to the survival of the species but his comment applies to all organizations that are facing relevancy issues. And with today’s troubling economic times, those who survive will be the ones who are most effective and efficient in creating meaning for their customer communities.

Meaning matters. In the marketing world we know these words as customer value. However, there is a much richer interpretation of the words when looked at from a non-profit’s perspective – and an application of them that could mean increased customer loyalty and competitive positioning.

The competitive company will create more than just the traditional supply of products and services laden with various feature sets that are an attempt to beat out the competition. From a meaning matters perspective, the competitive company will create an opportunity for belonging and identity on behalf of the customer. Social networking sites are attempting to do this, some with more success than others. But when the formula is right, they become the enduring qualities that drive customer loyalty and create brand evangelists.

Meaning matters suggests we stop looking at our customers as transaction channels. It demands from us a perspective that treats customers as members of a community. Their payments to us are an act of investment into the community, and we then serve as stewards of those dollars. We take their investment and strive to make the community, and it’s value, richer and more meaningful to the members.

It’s a different perspective, but one that has been working for non profits and associations for more than a century now. And if you think there’s no money to be made by thinking this way – just consider the tens of billions of dollars raised every year by non profits, and the seven-figure incomes of their senior staff.

Meaning matters.

-- David Kinard, PCM

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