My daughter is passionate about books. My husband and I also love to read, but she is the true bookworm in our family, devouring whatever she can get her hands on. Whenever we go to bookstores or libraries, she will leave with a stack of books that gets added to the piles and piles she’s already acquired at home. I always wonder whether she will read all of them, and inevitably, she does. 

When working with associations, I often liken the stacks of books my daughter balances on those outings to their “target market.” A target market is an audience that an association is trying to reach and serve. In this metaphor, each additional target market that an organization adds to its repertoire makes it more difficult to manage and do its job effectively.  

Years ago, I worked with an association struggling with membership growth and engagement. When I asked their leader to define their target market, he listed ten – yes, ten – groups of people they were trying to serve. Members and stakeholders alike felt overwhelmed, confused and were leaving the organization at an unprecedented rate. Similar to a pile of books, the more markets your association carries, the heavier the burden.  A target market is about honing in on a very specific audience and focusing on quality over quantity. Rather than being “everything to everyone,” they focus on attracting a specific demographic that will extend the organization’s lifespan.  

Throughout my career, I’ve seen two common mistakes made in how associations approach and define their target market: 

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They cast too wide of a net.

I’ve worked with several associations that believe that growing membership means contacting as many people as possible in hopes that they will join. When your target market is too broad, you risk diluting your deliverables. Narrowing your focus allows you to better serve your members. They, in turn, will feel they are getting a valuable return on their investment. They will subsequently be more likely to share information about your organization and recruit new members.

They focus only on their current membership base.

Your target market is NOT the bulk of your members. Let’s say your organization is thriving, consisting of individuals between the ages of 50-65. If your association’s attention is focused solely on that group, it fails to look at the horizon. Failing to plan is planning to fail. In this scenario, the association’s target market should be the next generation of members (i.e., those between the ages of 35-50) since they will be the ones carrying your organization into the future. I urge you to gather as much information as possible about that demographic, including but not limited to their career stage, interests, and other organizations they are likely to be involved with. Use this data to establish your target market – the clearer your definition, the easier it will be to create a valuable membership experience. 
In today’s era of disruption and change, there is no better time to reevaluate your target market. Is it clearly defined and focused – or is your burden becoming too heavy to carry? By narrowing your audience (and your approach!), I guarantee your association will be one for the books! 

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Consider getting in touch with us if your organization needs a helping hand to identify and reach its target market.