John Graham identified three emerging trends impacting associations when I interviewed him at the inaugural gathering of CEOs focused on Association Transformation. 19 CEOs were in attendance to hear his remarks. Graham is President and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives.
1. Mobile technology is as big a game-changer as the introduction of the personal computer.
Graham: Mobile allows customers to create their own experience. Where once an association decided what their members’ (and other stakeholders’) experience would be, today the member decides which products and services they will use and how. Further, the member integrates them with products and services from other sources, including competitors. Information is virtually free, and therefore no longer the driver of value it once was.
The thing is, it takes customers time and energy to go find the information they want. But if I know what you want, when you want to receive it, and in what format you want to receive it, then I can provide that value in a compelling way, a way that is worth paying for.
Kahan: Frenemies comes to mind: competitors integrating your content with theirs. It seems to me that businesses must offer products and services that are modular as well as synergistic, capable of being integrated with those of other providers or members and other customers may not use them.
2. The long-term implications of the US economic landscape are not clear.
Graham: The availability of discretionary income among corporations and individuals is in decline. The economy may continue in a very slow recovery and as a consequence over the next decade our taxation system is likely to change. Under severe economic pressures it is possible that tax exemption as we know it today could change impacting the revenue streams we have come to rely on today. And it is possible that the US dollar may diminish in status as the global currency.
Kahan: Is there a parallel in leadership?
Graham: We are still the center for science and critical thinking, but I think as other people are trained here and then return to their home countries, other places will become centers for scientific and thought leadership.
Kahan: So we will experience a shift from leading the world to joining in with other world leaders, part of a larger constellation that may not have the US at its center. This means that businesses and associations will have to look beyond their traditional base for comprehensive knowledge resources and legitimacy. Whatever your industry or field, in terms of international activities, it’s time to change your perspective on global interaction.
3. Changing US demographics are bringing greater flux at accelerated speed.
Graham: The next generation workforce is smaller than today’s. The cohort that is following the Baby Boom is half its size. The implications are many. Younger people will be moving into leadership roles at younger ages. Recruiting will be much more competitive because the best and the brightest will be a smaller group. And if you sustain your current market penetration, your numbers will shrink.
Kahan: So, there will be changes in membership needs and profiles. Talent management will become more challenging. What other impacts do you see?
Graham: Whatever your industry, your market is shrinking. If you have 50 percent market penetration and a base of 1,000 customers today, ten years from now your 50 percent market penetration will mean 500 people, not 1,000.
Kahan: In other words, maintaining the status quo is not a sustainable strategy.
Graham: Plus, the demographic mix in the U.S. is shifting dramatically. Hispanic and Asian growth is rising while White and Black populations have flattened. What impact is that going to have on businesses and associations? What will customers or members, donors, and volunteers look like? What will they value? I don’t know the answers, but I believe those organizations that find out the answers are going to be the only ones that remain relevant going forward.
My conversation with John Graham left me more convinced than ever that bold innovation is required to uncover and capitalize on the inflection points we are facing. Market conditions are changing for businesses and whole industries, demanding new strategies of the associations that serve them. The AssociationTransformation.com initiative will keep an eye on experiments that succeed in riding the wave. Thanks to John Graham for contributing his insights.