by: James Young

Connection Fosters Engagement

Even though we’re called the product community, our sole focus is on understanding, creating, and sustaining relationships with our customers and our community. 

Here, we use the word customer as a broader synonym for membership (or, in essence, your market). It’s about understanding, fostering connection, and elongating engagement.

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  1. Who are they? 
  2. What do they care about? 
  3. What problems are they struggling with? 
  4. How do they spend their time? 
  5. What do they want? 
  6. What do they need?

Customer is one of six association product competencies. The others are culturevision, design + build, go to market, and performance. 

Great products are highly in-tune with the rhythms of the customer needs and wants and attuned to a rapidly changing external environment. 

Continuous Discovery

The authentic way to grow or scale your association is to understand and empathize with your customers. 

This takes a clear, shared, and ongoing understanding of who your association serves and why. 

In fact, the best way to understand a customer (past, current, prospective), their communities, and their market is to invest in something called continuous discovery.

According to Teresa Torres“good product discovery includes the customer throughout the [product development] decision-making process.” 

She cites dozens of tactics and frameworks that are often associated with product discovery:

Understanding your customer helps you understand your market. 

A market analysis, or broader, understanding of customers in aggregate and customer segments embraces ethnographic, demographic, longitudinal approaches and strict attention to areas of potential growth. 

Good associations have thriving communities. They are connected and in tune with the wants and needs of their members. 

At the same time, most associations also have a limited or finite view of the market and may struggle to answer these questions:

  • What is growth? 
  • How will your association choose to grow? 
  • Who are your main competitors? 
  • How do you know? 
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What are their pain points?

In the product community, we start with two ways of thinking about this. 

Build Products Around Customer Needs

One is getting better at empathizing and walking the walk of the ideal customer; the other is building really cool, compelling products and experiences that attract these members and keep them coming back for more.

In turn, ideally, these members tell all their friends. 

This graphic is a high-level view on the traditional view of our membership and its wants and needs (left side of the model). 

It’s largely built on a staff-centric, departmental view in which events, publications, and learning each have different channels. 

The model is built on existing practice, entrenched business models, and clumsy governance structures (lots and lots and lots of committees).

The new model of engagement (on the right) puts the customer at the center of everything, including all experiences, service, and the entire product portfolio.

The customer desires longitudinal learning journeys and perennial connection.

Associations aren’t just a collection of volunteer committees designed to channel the wants of the membership. Associations can be engines of innovation focused exclusively on the customer experience. 

From this, we can evolve into thriving ecosystems of ideas in which membership becomes an outcome of an indispensable experience.

Members desire connection; value creation is a central driver of this connection.

Achieving this, takes deep investment in product development that stems from continuous discovery, sustained relationship-building, and deep empathy for understanding and solving a customer’s pain points. 

In doing so, your association will become indispensable and from this indispensability will come growth. 

Remember, product-led growth fuels connection.

Join the product community and flip your destiny.

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.