Author: Tim Chalklen. Tim is Managing Director of Unified Solutions, a leading Digital Media Agency based in the Thames Valley. Alongside his business partner and Technical Director Peter Johnson, Tim has navigated the company through interesting and challenging times over the past 20 years. Having worked extensively with many membership organisations over the years including CMI, Ramblers, EEMUA, RPS and the RCGP to name but a few, Tim has gained a wealth of knowledge as to the digital challenges faced in recruiting, converting, engaging and retaining members.

Are you living and breathing digital?

In today’s world every membership organisation must be digital if they are to succeed.

It’s a bold statement isn’t it and one that perhaps your local corner shop would disagree with, but they would be the exception. A recent study carried out by Brunel University and Applegate into the way digitisation is driving business in the UK discovered that 98% of all companies now have a website with 63% expecting further digitisation to improve the overall customer experience.

As a digital media agency, we’ve seen first-hand the impact digital technology has had on membership organisations over the 20 years we’ve been in business. We’ve also had to adapt quickly to these changes so we continue to offer our clients the latest technology available. This means always learning and always being on top of the digital challenges our clients face.

But what is it that membership organisations need to do in order to succeed in digital?

We believe the term ‘digital transformation’ has become a bit of a buzz word among the industry but, for many, its meaning is still unclear. For some it means a whole scale change of an organisations’ digital functionality encompassing people, processes and technology; for others it simply means identifying the gap between where they are now and where they want to be in terms of maximising their use of digital.

If you thought digital transformation was just about investing in new technology you’d be wrong. You have to live and breathe digital; everyone in the business has to embrace it and conform to the new working culture. And with more and more devices being embedded with electronics, software and sensors we’re moving into a new realm of digitisation which is again changing the way we do business and exchange data.

The ‘Internet of Things’ is the term for devices (of all shapes and sizes) being connected to the internet. This evolution brings opportunities for new digital relationships to develop between customers, users, suppliers, partners, device manufacturers, data handlers and platform developers.
Nest (owned by Google) is a great example of this; not only does the Nest 3rd Generation smart thermostat create personalised schedules for your heating after a few days of learning your habits, it also turns itself down when you leave the house and allows you to manage it remotely via your mobile app. In January this year, Nest added another layer by way of integrated support for Automatics Connected Car Adapter.  This partnership enables users of both devices to program the climate of their home based on the location of their vehicle – so no going home to a freezing cold house.

It all sounds incredulous but this is the way digital is heading; we’re moving on from simply a network of computers that allow us to broadcast our products and services to our potential and existing customers, to a vast network of interconnected systems that put the end-user at the centre of the digital experience. In our opinion, delivering these truly personalised member experiences requires investment not only in digital platforms that are scalable enough to incorporate this new wave of digital interaction, but also in supporting the creation of digital champions who can help everyone within your organisation seize the opportunities that using digital to the full presents.

So, given that we’ve been designing and building websites and Intranets for 20 years we naturally had to ask the question: What impact will this have on website development?

Today, we access websites via a multitude of devices; the important point to note is that tone and content of websites across all devices will need to adapt at every single stage of the member journey in order to add real value.

With the increase in use of wearable technology such as smartwatches or even virtual or augmented reality devices, relevant content becomes even more important. We can’t just assume these devices will be used purely for games playing or social content and flat web pages will give way to 3 dimensional ones. We therefore have moved from simply designing and building a website for our customers and enabling them to easily manage and publish content to providing the means to publish and deliver content to a whole range of devices, in context with member needs to hit the nirvana of the delivering the right content at the right time to those who are most receptive.

Some trends end up as merely fads that fade away – but others don’t. Ultimately whatever digital advancements are ahead, we must think like our members, communicate and deliver the content they want, in the right way and at just the right time no matter what type of device they use to access it.

So what does this mean, specifically, for membership organisations?

Could I generalise and predict, given how diverse this sector is? Well, yes, I think that this means that organisations should take a very long, hard look at their current infrastructure. In my experience, it is highly likely that the result of this gazing at the navel will be a list of disparate systems that operate in silos, support the function of a particular team but actually don’t relate to, nor support the vision of making the most of all that digital has to offer.

Whilst it is of course possible to streamline the underlying technology that drives your organisation, this is a momentous, expensive and disruptive exercise that may in fact only make certain aspects more efficient and assist in your efforts to engage with new members, retain existing members and bring both cost savings and increased revenue. If, as is the case with many of our customers, you are under the scrutiny of a board of trustees, senior management team and/or external auditors it is going to be hard to build up the business case to move forwards.

If this continues to be the case, I predict that technology which can readily assimilate all the data that can be used to deliver more customer-centric, engaging digital communications will win out at the end of the day – membership organisations will continue to live with their existing systems and find that they can achieve their goals through this type of data mining, “assimilation” platform which can genuinely deliver insights into every individual contact and hence provide you with actions to take that assist in meeting your strategic & marketing objectives.

Contact for Tim: [email protected]

Having worked extensively with membership organisations over the past 20 years, Unified Solutions understand the digital challenges faced when it comes to providing an excellent online member experience. Unified Solutions offer a broad range of services including website and intranet design, build, host and support, CMS and system integration, mobile design and apps, marketing automation and personalisation, email marketing, digital marketing services and data analytics. Unified Solutions are a MemberWise Recognised Provider and you can meet Unified Solutions at exhibition stand 24 at the MemberWise conference “Harnessing the Web 2015” on 4th November in London.

 You are invited…

The Road to Digital Maturity’ Workshop. 8th October 8.30am – 11.30am Sitecore HQ, London
If you would like to learn more about developing your digital capabilities, Unified Solutions will be running a workshop on the 8th October at Sitecore HQ,London specifically designed for membership organisations.

About the workshop:
– A guest speaker from a leading UK membership organisations will give an insight on the lessons learned during the course of their digital journey.
– A demo of Sitecore’s Customer Experience Platform (CMS) in action
– This is a free event for association and membership professionals
– Book your place here…

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