When Dan Stevens was a newly-minted entrepreneur, his father wrote him a letter that changed his life.
“My dad said that if I was doing things the same way next year as I did this year, I should be very nervous. That warning woke me up.
“Even in 1986, my dad was aware that to be successful you need to be a chameleon—constantly learning and changing with the environment to avoid irrelevance or disruption.”
In a recent Association 4.0™ podcast, Dan and I explored the skills you need to succeed in the digital marketplace. As President of WorkerBee.TV and Association TV, he helps associations develop transformational video content, multimedia strategies and online platforms. It’s now safe to say Dan relishes being in the crosshairs of change.
Our discussion included insights for readers who want to maximize content to win engagement and revenue across generations of members. And isn’t that what we’re all shooting for?
Dan’s recommendations have made me a more effective digital communicator. He’s helped me to leverage content so that, like Thanksgiving dinner, nothing gets left on the table. Now I’m excited to share his ideas with you.
Speak the Language of Growth
“The good news is, the next five years will offer extraordinary growth potential for associations,” Dan says. “Millennials and Gen Xers are old enough for membership and they are a bigger group than the baby boomers. There is a huge opportunity.” The downside is that they are not looking to belong to their parents’ organization. “You must speak their language,” Dan says. “Associations must be mobile and fluent with video, podcasting and microlearning.”
Although the fundamentals remain the same, audience expectations have changed.
Associations still exist to inform, educate, and inspire members. But Netflix, YouTube, and social media platforms have redesigned the way that people consume information.
“Associations, whose content looks like 2018, are going to struggle with retaining younger people,” Dan says. “That is the challenge of the digital environment. Everyone is a search engine away from everywhere. To attract followers, your content must be best in class.
“If you want to go out of business, don’t change,” Dan says. “So much of what associations do is analog. In the traditional association, all of the best content only reaches approximately 15 percent of the audience. Video and effective multimedia content allow you to engage your entire audience, whether they want expanded learning or micro-learning. They can read, watch, or listen.
“A 45-minute presentation can have many lives. The same content can be repurposed as a video-on-demand, a podcast, a three-minute microlearning session, or a 30-second social media promotion. With just one piece of content, you’ve created a sales funnel from social channels back to your accredited learning program. Then, by securing sponsors, you can monetize the same product twice.”
Helping clients evaluate trends and stay ahead of the curve is an important part of Dan’s business relationships. “We are always considering how to make it easier, more efficient and less costly,” he says. “Video is great because people get immediate and measurable feedback.”
Dan believes that by using communications strategically you can succeed on multiple fronts. With a little innovation, you can inform, educate, and inspire your audience, all at the same time. And, you have the potential to significantly increase engagement and revenue.”
But how do you get there? Especially, if there is an expectation that products should be free or if you have limited staff and resources.
“Begin with redefining success,” Dan says. “Before the pandemic, if the 15 percent of the membership who attended the annual conference rated that meeting as the highest-value content for the year, most associations thought they were on the right track. That metric needs to expand. What if the goal is to engage and educate 70 percent of your members with your best content? Which option offers greater sustainability? How might this goal change the way you look at events and member value?
“Netflix has a 93 percent retention rate. The average association in North America has 80 percent. With a $2 million association budget, that’s $260,000 of potential revenue that is wasted. What could you do with that extra money? There are so many tools, including sponsorship, pay-per-view, and subscriptions, to create a self-perpetuating business model.”
Dan recommends getting maximum value out of every initiative. “When the annual meeting is over, don’t leave that content on the table. Think of the conference like a webinar. Some people will attend live, another percentage will reserve a place just to get a recording to watch at their leisure. Then, ask yourself how your audience could grow if you also offered a podcast for the multitaskers who want their workout to do double duty as professional development. And how many more members could you engage if you summarized the information into a 3-to-4-minute video of highlights, lessons, and take-aways?
“By turning one piece of content into a multimedia feast, you give your audience the opportunity to choose the format they want. That’s how you grow participation from 15 to 70 percent. TikTok and YouTube have conditioned younger people to snack and go. If you’re looking to them as your future members, you’ve got to play that game.”
Shift Your Thinking
Dan advises revisiting pricing. “When you consider monetizing, remember that even without a price tag, products can deliver value. You might ask for an email address in return for a short video or offer a whitepaper as an enticement for participating in an event. If a magazine can bring in revenue, a video or a podcast can do better.”
“Abandon the event-driven mindset. How can content cost $1,000 to consume at a conference but only $10 to buy on a DVD? It’s the same company budget. We need to normalize our models and charge for value. I see the opportunity for a new position on the association team,” Dan says.
“A director of virtual content could make the decisions about how to promote, monetize, repackage, and expand the entire portfolio. We must stop offering the same flavors to different appetites. Baskin-Robbins would not exist with just vanilla. Explore each of your niches to determine the correct size, cost, and revenue structure. That information leads to a formula that will be, at the least, sustainable and, at best, profitable.”
Make It Simple
“You don’t have to spend $2 million and do a five-year study,” Dan says. “Start with a simple experiment. The beautiful thing about digital initiatives is they’re measurable. Our clients know what the top five courses are in their LMS or which microlearning videos are the most popular. We know which webinars are getting engagement and which are not.”
When I was looking to expand .orgCommunity’s use of content, I took a page from Dan’s playbook. I realized that our partner organizations were publishing information that could benefit .orgCommunity members. So, we began including some of those articles in our newsletter. We also feature our partners in a Solutions Center on our website.
Everyone benefits from that broader perspective. The biggest challenge is being agile enough to experiment with something new. But for our future success, we all have to be a little bolder. When you produce a feast like your annual conference, the sides, snacks, and desserts are far too valuable to leave sitting on the table.