Should we continue to offer our weaker association benefits?

It seems that almost every association offers at least some member benefits that could be called “weak.” “Weak” could be defined as:

– Not part of the core mission of the association.
– Available from a broad variety of associations.
– Not significantly more valuable than something that could be found without an association membership.

What are examples of benefits that seem to fit these criteria?  Simple examples would include car rental discounts, credit card offers, and online book stores via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

You might ask, “What is the harm of offering these benefits?”  They do seem to be innocuous. However, offering benefits like this can hurt your association in four ways:

1) They can make your association seem too much like a commodity.  Everyone offers these things, so your association offering them doesn’t make you unique.

2) They can dilute your brand equity.  Does your association stand for “cheap car rentals” or “shopping discounts”?  There are shopping clubs for people who are interested in joining an organization like that.  Surely, your association stands for something far more important and unique.  But every time you focus on commodity-like discounts, you dilute your primary message.

3) They can dilute your media presence.  If you send out an association member benefits brochure, every inch of space you dedicate to car rentals and the like takes away from another inch of copy you could have used to reinforce your key member benefit and advantages versus the competition.

4) Most troubling, these benefits can fool an association into thinking that it is offering real benefits when it is not. If you were to count the number of benefits your association offers, how many of them would be of the car rental discount type?  If you can say that your association offers 10 member benefits, but 7 of them are discounts of this nature, then it’s really much more likely that you offer only three member benefits.  Even worse, by thinking that the association offers 10 benefits, you may be less worried about ensuring that the three “real” benefits are as strong as they need to be to create a compelling reason to join and continue membership in your association.

A counter argument can be made that it is important to have these discount-type association member benefits because your competition offers them.  That’s a fair argument.  However, if your association feels that it necessary to offer these benefits, it is important that they be relegated to a very minor role, and that the association put its focus on the real member benefits that support the mission and provide a compelling reason for membership in the association.

Does your association offer these simple discount-type member benefits?  How do you balance them with your real member benefits?

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