by: James Young

The Art of Strategic Positioning for Striving Associations


“The only way to win is to learn faster than everyone else”.

Eric Ries

All associations desire growth: in revenue, membership, learners, or impact. It is a natural way to stay relevant, but also helps us expand our reach, and deepen our commitment to a shared cause. 

The product community® focuses on growth through new value development — new programs, new products, or new services — but also as a way to re-energize or create a vibrant, highly-engaged community. 

This way, new products serve growth in multiple ways: not only in diversifying and growing revenue, but also in embedding an association-wide growth mindset that fosters sustained engagement.

Below is an excerpt from my just released ebook Unlocking Growth: The Art of Strategic Positioning for Striving Associations.

Read and download the ebook for free today.

The Product Community is a product development learning community designed specifically for associations.

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About Unlocking Growth

“If you don’t invest in the future and don’t plant for the future, there won’t be one”.

George Buckley

My ebook provides an overview of positioning to help associations achieve differentiation, relevancy, and growth. 

My aim is to frame growth as multi-faceted yet practical, strategic yet accessible. In doing so, this book will guide your association to growth by focusing on: 

  • Positioning for relevance (product community)
  • Positioning for market focus (competition)
  • Positioning for differentiation (value proposition)
  • Positioning for vibrancy and revenue diversification (growth readiness).

The journey to balanced, healthy growth starts with positioning.

What is Positioning?

“Positioning decisions probably last longer than most marriages, so let’s get it right!”

David C. Baker

Positioning is not very common in the world of associations. We desire to grow, yet tend to take our markets for granted. We tend to serve professions (librarians, accountants, farmers, etc.), industries (trucking, software, jewelry, etc.), or problems (obesity, climate change, gun crime, etc.).  We will dig deeper into who we serve in Chapter Three: Competition

Positioning is the strategic process of defining how a product or organization is perceived by its target audience relative to its competitors. It involves creating a distinct and unique identity for the brand in the minds of consumers, highlighting its unique value proposition, thereby differentiating it from similar offerings in the market


Positioning is important for associations for several reasons:

  • Differentiation: In today’s competitive landscape, there are likely many associations catering to the same industry or field. Positioning can help set us apart by showcasing our unique benefits, offerings, and values. By establishing clear differentiation, we become more attractive to potential members and stakeholders.
  • Attracting Members: Positioning communicates the value that we offer to members. It helps potential members understand what they can gain from joining, such as access to networking, industry resources, professional development, or advocacy. Strong positioning can encourage professionals to become members and actively engage with the association.
  • Effective Communication: Well-defined positioning allows us to effectively communicate our mission, vision, and goals. It helps us craft clear and consistent messaging across channels, making it easier for the target audience to understand and connect with the association’s purpose, culture, and offerings.
  • Influence and Credibility: Strong positioning can enhance our reputation and credibility. When we’re perceived as an authority or a thought leader, we gain influence and can drive positive change within the profession or cause we represent.
  • Resource Allocation: Positioning guides the allocation of resources, including time, money, and effort. By understanding our unique strengths and advantages, we can focus on initiatives that align with our positioning, ultimately leading to impactful outcomes.
  • Member Engagement and Retention: When positioning resonates with members, it fosters belonging and loyalty. Engaged members are more likely to volunteer, participate in events, actively contribute, and enthusiastically renew their membership.
  • Adapting to Changes: Well-established positioning can serve as a compass during times of change or uncertainty. It provides a framework for decision-making and ensures we stay true to our core values, even as the external landscape continues to evolve.

Positioning is also a critical component of an association’s product strategy. It not only helps differentiate us from our competitors, but also drives member engagement, advocacy, and long-term success. 

Most importantly, great positioning ensures we have the choice to pivot. Not investing in growth, innovation, or positioning leaves us stuck in the status quo with few options to escape it. 

The Power of Community

“My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”

Andrew Mason

We can reach new heights through healthy, productive collaboration across the boundaries of membership, engagement, budget, operations, learning, marketing, and technology. 

The Product Community is a product development learning community designed specifically for associations. 

In doing so, the concept of growth becomes shared, more nuanced, and robust. Yes, it’s about new, diversified revenue, but it’s also about growing leaders in a high-impact, competency-based experience of culture, vision, customer, design + build, to market, and performance.   

It is these deeper forms of engagement that serve as the glue for creating a high-functioning community that focuses solely on the member and the member’s needs. In doing so, the community develops, continually shapes, and brings the best ideas to market. 

Over time, a powerful duality is formed: 

  1. Great products get to the people who need them the most and 
  2. An efficient and inclusive culture of co-creation emerges that energizes, excites, and connects members to each other and the core purpose of value-creation. 

Growth feeds bottom line while positioning the association for the future, culturally and strategically. We become united in ongoing, focused ‘growth practice’.  

This is important given the uniqueness of associations. We are wildly diverse, yet are similar in key ways:

  • We are anchored in purpose
  • We are volunteer-led
  • We celebrate community and believe in membership
  • We produce content and choreograph events 
  • We are also constrained and desire focused action 

Despite these similarities one of our greatest strategic challenges is to differentiate ourselves from the competition (other associations, but also the internet and for-profit options).

Growth Happens

“Nothing is a bigger buzz-kill than over-intellectualizing. Design is about rolling up your sleeves and making things.”


In the product community, growth happens when we invest in: strategy, people, and the future. It happens when we position for differentiation, unique value, and balanced growth; and it happens when we focus on relationships, member value, and value creation. 

We will now dig deeper into the product community to provide a platform for creating new value for associations seeking relevance, innovation, and engagement.

Download my new ebook for free — Unlocking Growth: The Art of Strategic Positioning for Striving Associations.

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.