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Digital business designers

Six ingredients of digital-age success for professional membership organisations.

Do professional membership organisations have a place in the digital age? We say yes, but they need to overcome some critical challenges first.

Mark Wilson
Managing Partner & CEO

Professional membership is a sector in which we’ve helped organisations many, many times over the years and we’ve always been fascinated by the unique combination of challenges they often face. We pulled together some of our thoughts in a short whitepaper recently, which you can download in full here.

Here are six of the areas we identified as critical to the continued relevance of professional membership organisations in the digital economy.

1. A strategy of complements

While single-minded operational focus is regarded as an essential for success, diversity can be an asset, too — if used in the right way. A successful strategy will be digitally-centred, but more importantly, it will define a coherent approach to how each organisation’s diverse activities are used to complement each other. Holistic strategy, built from a member perspective, will demand the final dismantling of silos and internal fiefdoms.

2. Being digital, not using digital

Success in the digital age demands a transformation in mindset more than methods. It will depend upon thinking the right way, not by adopting methods from the world of startups and technology businesses. Being digital demands an organisation-wide digital-age mindset that is about capitalising on the dynamics of fast-moving markets, not delivering for channels or mimicking others.

3. Open-minded, confident leadership

That digital mindset needs most to be embedded in the people with most influence: the leadership team. Leaders need to build their own confidence and reset their own thinking if they are to have any chance of leading a successful digital-age organisation. It’s simple: open-minded leaders who are confident enough to embrace genuinely progressive opportunities will lead the most successful organisations.

4. A platform, not a place

Facebook, Uber, Google, Airbnb, Amazon — you name it, the world-changing digital organisations are all platforms. The platform question is one of the most important for membership organisations to consider: should you be an exclusionary club that protects the past, or a progressive platform for the future? Platforms enable anyone to create things to a common agenda:
the downside is a loss of absolute control, the upside is potential for genuine innovation.

5. Consumer-standard services

There’s no such thing as a ‘professional’ standard anymore, nor will there ever be again. Everyone carries the pinnacle of experience standards in their pocket every day, and their expectations start there. While there is still a degree of acceptance of ‘professional’ tools and services, we are rapidly reaching the end of the target audience’s tether. Don’t think you can do anything that isn’t to the standard of the things you use everyday.

6. Using legacy as an asset

A substantial history can seem like a relic, evidence of an organisation having been designed for another time. But with legacy comes several assets that start-up businesses would snap at the chance of getting themselves: customer relationships, reputation, partnerships, success stories. These can only be assets if they’re reimagined for the digital age and modern members, not sat on and protected. Again, this demands a shift in mindset: how can we use what no-one else has to our advantage in the modern marketplace?


Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Managing Partner & CEO at Wilson Fletcher, a business innovation consultancy that helps established companies design the strategies, services and experiences needed to succeed in the digital economy.

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