In preparation for my SURGE Co-creation session this past May, I posed this question to registered attendees about Netflix: “What keeps you coming back? Do you view your subscriptions as memberships?”

One response from Elizabeth Graham caught my eye: “It’s a small price to pay for a service that makes me laugh, relax, reflect, and explore from the comfort of wherever I am.” And I’ve never worked at Netflix or know anyone from the company, but I assume Netflix knows what they are selling. Their value proposition isn’t just a collection of movies and television shows, but as Elizabeth said, it’s laughter, convenience and comfort. And they must know this is what keeps millions of subscribers loyal. Netflix kept a close watch on trends in technology and consumer behavior, and they identified the increasing desire of consumers to be as lazy as possible and comfortable. This meant more walking to the mailbox to get the movies AND ensuring they made it back safe and sound. I’m curious how Netflix figured that out. More importantly, though, I wonder how associations can learn what members want and how they want it delivered. 

BREAKING DOWN THE NEED

I think there’s this urgency to move forward when a member or a customer says, “This is what I want.” But, we need to take the time to draw out additional information and understand the motivation and ideas behind their words. We shouldn’t make assumptions that we understand the need they’re describing. “Okay, why? Why do you want that? Tell me a little bit more about how this will help you in your work or personal life.” Often, they appreciate the opportunity to expand on their thoughts and opinions. 

One easy and obvious way of identifying members’ needs is by asking them. The problem with this is members don’t always know what they want, and so we might identify it, but not quite understand it. That’s why we need to get more details and gain a better understanding of the shape and form the solution that need should take. Within my association, for example, we had been told, “Members want X.” And so we implemented X, but it turned out what they wanted was a version of X that we didn’t ask them about. We didn’t say, “Tell me more of what you mean about this. Do you want a cursive X? Do you want the straight line X? What is it about this that really resonates with you?” 

Asking “why” is so important because each step gets you closer to the bottom of the need and helps follow their thought process. 

For example, members might say they want an online community. But it shouldn’t stop there. How do you know what to build for them if you don’t ask, “Why?” Although asking “Why?” can sometimes seem challenging or confrontational, you can gently say, “I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate the insight you’re offering, but we need to dig a little deeper and understand your needs before we can move forward.”

TAKING ACTION

Let’s revisit Netflix. You may recall their first value proposition: Using a subscription model, they gave customers access to a nearly unlimited catalog of DVDs that could be mailed to them and sent back. Netflix likely hadn’t seen this done successfully before, so there were no templates to use in developing a business plan. But, their customers wanted convenience. They knew that because not only it is an increasing societal trend, but they asked. And then they asked their customers, “What does that mean to you?”

In the late 90s and early 2000s, convenience for movie watchers and entertainment meant not having to drive to the local Blockbuster. We could articulate the idea to send the DVDs directly to our homes, but until the invention of streaming devices, we didn’t know we wanted them at the click of a button. We were satisfied until streaming came along. 

Netflix has remained relevant by understanding their customers’ desires, behaviors and needs as well as paying attention to trends that affect their customers. Associations can apply the same formula to create a customer-centric approach:

Listen to Understand + Analyze Industry Trends = Creating Value Proposition

Understanding members’ needs can be a tricky business, but if we ask the right questions and investigate more, we might just get somewhere.

Director of Advancement & Communications at Kappa Delta Pi

Chris Beaman is the Director of Advancement & Communications for Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, with experience in fundraising, membership, marketing, component relations, strategic planning, and event planning. Chris believes that education is the path to a better future—both for the individual learner and our global society—and that our teachers are responsible for creating the future. In his free time, Chris serves his alma mater, Butler University, on the Young Alumni Board of Directors as Vice President, and he enjoys running, exploring new cities, and eating. Most of all, Chris is a fan of Reba McEntire and has seen her in concert more times than he will admit.

Chris Beaman is the Director of Advancement & Communications for Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, with experience in fundraising, membership, marketing, component relations, strategic planning, and event planning. Chris believes that education is the path to a better future—both for the individual learner and our global society—and that our teachers are responsible for creating the future. In his free time, Chris serves his alma mater, Butler University, on the Young Alumni Board of Directors as Vice President, and he enjoys running, exploring new cities, and eating. Most of all, Chris is a fan of Reba McEntire and has seen her in concert more times than he will admit.

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