Facing the monsters

Let’s do something scary.

What would just blow you out of the water – if it existed?

What I mean is, if you were going to create a competitor that would completely destroy you, take away your raison d’être, wipe out your sustainability – what would it consist of? How would it make money, what would it do, how would it innovate?

Take a minute and think about that. Shut your eyes, look up at the ceiling, and conjure it up.

So, what does this ogre look like?

Why – specifically – would it take you down? Which of your vulnerabilities would it exploit? It probably causes members or sponsors – or both – to defect in large numbers. Is it a private company, a competitive association?

Why doesn’t it exist already?

People are loyal to us! (But…)

Are you sure that isn’t just inertia? Many associations mistake habit for real loyalty. It’s not loyalty unless it’s been tested, and often that hasn’t happened for a while. Do people prioritize you over others? Do they use your services even if they are more expensive or more inconvenient? That’s real loyalty.

Also bear in mind that you may see a loyal group of members or sponsors or delegates. But what about those you can’t “see”?

A fairly good satisfaction rating isn’t loyalty and shouldn’t be mistaken for such.

It would be too expensive for someone else to create it. (But…)

Could others have a different cost structure than you do? (A larger association that decided to go after your membership base has an advantage.) Are there technologies that might overcome issues of economies of scale? Could others provide value that might generate revenues that you don’t or can’t?

Nobody would bother. (But…)

What could cause a few influential people to decide to make this happen? Or another association? Or a private sector company? What’s keeping them from doing it? Are those good reasons?

This one can be dangerous, because the fear of splinter groups or defection often causes concessions to, or special deals for, certain groups of members, sponsors, or others. And these aren’t always in the long-term best interests of the association.

It also causes associations to be complacent about how other associations might behave. Most associations are pretty conservative and not very entrepreneurial. Which makes them easy pickings should another association decide to go after their base.

Uh-oh. It’s here…

Now, what if you realize your worst nightmare already exists?

Then it’s time not to panic, but to take a serious strategic look at why you exist. Go back to first principles. What value do you create? For whom? How do you capture value (e.g. revenue for yourself)? Do you need to create more value, different value, do more to protect the value you capture?

Is your worse nightmare an amalgam of a few different things? (LinkedIn + a for-profit education provider + a regulatory change, perhaps?)

There are enough disruptive forces going on in the association world – some more evident already in certain industries – that this is worth contemplating, every so often. What is the space you’ve carved out for yourself? Why should you keep it?

Is there anything you aren’t doing that someone else might come along and use to take away the things you are doing?

How do you make the ogre go away? I’d argue that good strategies should anticipate these kinds of things, if only by helping you understand what your choices are about how to succeed, and what you base these choices on.

If you’d like to discuss how you can sleep easier, please get in touch. We can help you dispel these nightmares.

Photo of Teizô Toshimitsu finalizing the Godzilla design, in the public domain.

Contact us at meredith@meredithlow.com or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.