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Friday, September 07, 2007

Trade associations -- different values for different businesses

Hundreds of people packed the banquet hall for the September meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association; the largest gathering for a regular meeting (not the annual Christmas extravaganza) I can recall since I started attending these events in 1990 or 1991. The reason for all the interest: The introduction of new Customer Service Awards, and the presence of J.D. Power in Ottawa.

I'll cover the J. D. Power story in a future blog entry. This time however, I am thinking about the remarks of a fencing contractor who has been a member of the association "off and on" as long as my business.

"Yes, we get real value from our membership, but the value is different than if we were a newly established business," the contractor said. A new business -- one without experience or connections in the marketplace -- can gain significant marketing position through association membership, especially in the home building community, with the association's motto: "Be a member, Do business with a member". For an established business, however, the company already knows who is who in the local marketplace; the direct marketing value is therefore less dramatic.

(The focus here is on supplier or affiliate memberships -- neither my business, nor the fencing company are home builders. We supply services to them, in my case, especially, we supply marketing/information services to the trade suppliers.)

Here, the advantages of association membership are more subtle; membership can in part provide a degree of protection from interlopers; active association membership (with executive committee or board membership roles) plugs you in closely within your community and helps you preserve market position or respond to competitive threats; and of course you still gain the market insights and intelligence -- and ability to use the association to voice concerns you couldn't otherwise express.

However, you will receive even more value -- and power -- from your association membership if you are new to the business, or marketplace. Here, you can immerse yourself in connections and relationship development and the potential for new market development is immense. Just beware, you won't necessarily crack the association 'code' right away -- I sense it takes between two and four years before you are connected enough for trust and acceptance to reach the stage where you will gain the hidden insights and gems of understanding (and marketing power) that a good association membership can provide you.

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