Product represents a broader, more inclusive way of developing and delivering value to your membership (and though outside your membership umbrella).

by: James Young

Bridging business and community

Associations tend not to use the word product. They more commonly use the word program or signify value through membership, events, or publications. Product represents a broader, more inclusive way of developing and delivering value to your membership (and though outside your membership umbrella). Joining the product community retains the community-based culture that your market has come to expect, while also focusing on healthy, diversified revenue. Though nearly all associations can be known as community-based, volunteer led organizations, they are also businesses. Here are some steps your association can take to create an integrative product strategy. 

Product strategy is the future of associations.
  • Describe with clarity your vision for the future. This should be crystal clear, created with wide input, owned broadly, repeatedly communicated, and ultimately, a key part of your culture. Vision describes your future so it should be tightly aligned with how you create value (products, programs, etc.) and the people who will buy or engage with these products (your market).
  • Assess your current portfolio. Do this by listing all the ways you deliver value to your customers. Design your portfolio so you can build logical connections across the portfolio to leverage capacities (effort expended by staff or volunteers) and delivery modalities (all the ways your customers consume your products, programs or services).
  • Identify who delivers value. List all the people in your organization who are – directly and indirectly – responsible for delivering value. This list may be long so you can list people by department, unit, or committee. You might also do this with two columns (direct value: membership, learning, publishing and indirect value: information technology, finance, marketing, etc.).
  • Develop and deploy a product strategy team to lead the development of product strategies that span the association and align to the integrated product strategy, stating purpose, targets, and success measures.
  • Identify and empower product leads to collaborate with the product strategy team on direction and to manage implementation of the product strategy.
  • Develop a product pipeline that gets new, high-quality products to
    market efficiently and in anticipation of growing and diverse market needs.
  • Outline a product lifecycle and develop a process to sunset products that are underperforming and no longer meeting user needs.

About the Author

James Young is founder and chief learning officer of the Product Community®. Jim is an engaging trainer and leading thinker in the worlds of associations, learning communities, and product development. Prior to starting the Product Community®, Jim served as Chief Learning Officer at both the American College of Chest Physicians and the Society of College and University Planning.