What’s in a number? For the associations that participated in MCI Group’s initial Global Engagement Index (GEI), quite a bit.
It’s an indicator of where they stand in the global association community in terms of connecting with members and customers.
It’s a signal of where to fine-tune their value propositions in the countries where they work.
And it’s an important benchmark that will help them measure the impact of their global efforts for years to come, both in terms of their own associations and in the context of the larger global association community.
We spoke with representatives from five associations that participated in the GEI—and in the Global Engagement Summit held in Washington, D.C., in June—to hear their responses to the index in general, their own findings, and how they plan to respond to lessons from the Index.
Certification and accreditation programs are consistently strong-performing products according to the GEI, and some participants found validation of their own efforts through the index. “Certification has been a very valuable part of our operating to an international audience,” says Sue Reimbold, Senior VP, Marketing and Communications, at the American College of Chest Physicians. “Being able to listen in [at the Summit] and hear that that’s what we’re doing well was good to hear, in our individual report. But it was also good to hear what level of importance there was, specifically for global members across all the associations.”
However, participants also found opportunities to better present and market those certifications. Jennifer R. Young, Director, International Operations at the American Society for Clinical Pathology, says the GEI recommended a more individualized focus on marketing its certification based on where it was presenting it. “We have sort of a template advertisement,” she says. “I think in the future, we will be pushing more of a communications campaign now, especially in target markets. It was good timing.” Young points out that ASCP is currently working on a pre-certification curriculum that will be delivered locally, and that the GEI served as a prompt to think about localizing the delivery—an essential step in building loyalty among members and customers.
Strategies and Squeaky Wheels
For Nate Lavigne, Senior Manager, Information Technology at NACE International, the GEI provided an opportunity to steer its global efforts more strategically, rather than responding to member concerns on a case-by-case basis.
“We had had a squeaky wheel scenario,” he says. “We had a lot of our members say, ‘We need things translated, we want things in our local language, we want this, we want this.’ And the survey was actually able to disprove [the necessity of translations in every situation]. That lets us allocate resources accordingly because translations are very costly. There are still some key things we want to translate, but it shifts that focus away and we have the data to back it up now.”
For Renata L. Lerch, Deputy Managing Director of ASQ Global, the GEI was a reminder that engagement is a critical part of a product. Though ASQ performed very well in the Index, with a Relationship Index of 93, she still sees an opportunity to deepen relationships.
“I see with ASQ we are still lacking so much with delivering engagement to the global audience,” she says. “It’s in marketing, it’s in sales, it’s in strategic thinking, it’s in integration of all pieces. We work with B2B, with B2C, with pretty much all segments that you can imagine. There is really so much that we can do in terms of strategizing, having more focused interactions and more focus on the user experience, rather than so much on the product than we do right now. I think there’s really a lot to do.”
The Power of the Customer
One key lesson from the GEI is that customers typically have a deeper engagement with an association than members do. Sometimes this is a function of the relative disinterest in (if not aversion to) the membership model in some countries. But higher engagement can also be product-specific—customers feel loyal and willing to support an association for the products and tools that are useful to them, not the suite of additional services that aren’t. Ken Klarich, Hospital Relations Manager at the Society of Critical Care Medicine, for instance, points to the eagerness of some customers for tools that assist in career advancement. “It might be a younger physician that’s looking to take his boards or get through medical school,” he says. “They’re really motivated that way, and those materials will help them.”
Participants in the GEI are now looking at ways to intensify that deep customer focus. CHEST’s Reimbold, for instance, says the society is considering international gatherings that are more intimate 200-300-person events, rather than larger, 2,000-person ones. “We think there’s an opportunity to show greater member/customer through a more intimate regional approach to those conferences and have them travel so we can do several in a given year, versus putting all our effort into one big thing in one location,” Reimbold says.
Similarly, ASCP’s Young saw that the GEI findings revealed a strong interest among customers in journals and newsletters rather than in education, which has prompted rethinking how those products are highlighted. “I think our conversations to date have been really, ‘We need to be making sure we’re pushing our online content, because that’s already there and available,’” she says “We might have done better seeing what we could do, getting our journals in their hands instead.”
That distinction between remote delivering and intimate relationships matters because, as the GEI shows, more successful associations focus on in-person and customized experiences. NACE International is looking at ways to improve its customer service, for instance. “We need to work on stronger customer service in those regions, more local [presence] in the time zone, things like that,” Lavigne says. “Most of our call centers are based out of the US, but we want to make sure that we address that and make sure that as we grow those customers there we can meet their needs and serve them accordingly.”