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Differentiation and Assimilation

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Recently I had the joy of the middle seat on a plane ride from Phoenix, Arizona to Washington, D.C. Fortunately, my flight was uneventful and my seatmates pleasant and on their own electronic devices. The individual on my right, had an iPad tablet, the individual to my left worked on a Surface Pro while I toggled between my iPhone and my HP laptop. I mention the specifics of each of these devices because they were all different and yet served a similar purpose for each of us on our flight and within our lives.

However, we live in a world where we are constantly trying to differentiate ourselves, our companies, our products and yet serve many of the same needs. So I wondered what made each of us choose the device we had in front of us, what needs were met and how did the company that produced each device close the deal. Was it the functionality, the look and feel of the device, was it the ease of use, or was it simply the price was right at the right time?

While associations are non-profits, make no mistake, they must think and act like businesses. Just like organizations in the for-profit space, associations must think about how to successfully differentiate themselves and provide services that many individuals need to work and thrive in their field. Long gone are the days where membership alone in an association is enough for one’s career or the reason to join and continuously renew. Associations must provide entry points and career paths with professional development, and credentialing that make membership and engagement critical to success. So what will help individuals interested in your association’s field, or perhaps already engaged in it, need to further differentiate themselves? How will it add credibility to what they are doing? And even more crucial, how will your organization reach them and ensure they choose your association’s offerings or ‘device’? Doing so means looking to your left, to your right to see not only what they need, but how, when and where they plan to engage with it.

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