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Convert Your Competitors into Distribution Channels

We see it frequently, that is, associations being threatened by new, innovative and well-funded competitors of all shapes and sizes. Indeed, it’s daunting to witness new players encroaching in our territory, challenging the relevancy of our once well-insulated industry. This is especially true for those of us who, for many years, were the only source of continuing education programs and resources for our members. Nowadays, our members have access to a virtually limitless tap of learning materials from a myriad of content sources.

Depending on your outlook, you can view this as a dire situation, or an opportunity for growth. In our opinion, negativity never seems to work to anyone’s advantage, so let’s continue on a positive—and realistic—train of thought. What sets you apart from those competitors also targeting your community for professional learning programs? We asked that very question to several folks and the following themes surfaced:

  • “Associations are specifically charged with developing and disseminating late-breaking content and professional learning opportunities. This is one of our core missions, and a primary reason we exist. Given this focus, we invest significantly in developing our members through meaningful and outcome oriented continuing education programs.”
  • “Associations have the clout to attract the most respected thought-leaders and change-makers to facilitate their professional learning programs. This provides members with exclusive opportunities to learn from and engage with industry titans.”
  • Associations have a duty to offer vetted, peer-reviewed and accurate professional learning programs and resources. Even if we charge for our continuing education offerings (as a way to generate non-dues revenue), we won’t skimp and compromise content quality just to generate more income.” 

Folks, these are some impressive competitive advantages! The rigor that goes into your education is your inimitable edge and what places you above your competitors. You have the upper hand; instead of trying to work against these competing forces, what about aligning with them? At first, this might sound off-putting, but hear us out and consider your options.

Content Licensing
Think about those competitors who offer free or cheap professional learning programs as a marketing tactic. You know what I’m referring to…companies that have their core suite of products/services and use free education as a way to raise brand awareness, build a following, gain loyalty and increase revenue. Another example are companies that provide free or subsidized continuing education programs to their staff as an employee benefit. There are a number of other scenarios, but you get the gist. In general, designing and building quality professional learning programs is not their forte.

 Have they approached you about licensing your content? Have you engaged them to see if they’re interested in licensing your content? You might consider having these conversations, even if it’s purely explorative to discuss possibilities. This relationship arrangement has the potential to be a win-win for everyone.

A New Way of Expanding Your Association’s Reach
Now, being the futurist you are, envision a great possibility that lies before you. For the purpose of this example, congrats, you’ve aligned with a former competitor and are now in the process of establishing a partnership. This happens to be an organization that offers professional learning opportunities to their staff as part of their benefits package. They admit they’re not content experts and understand it’s more cost effective and efficient for them to license your learning portfolio rather than create their own. Plus, you have top-notch programs and they can’t compete with you in terms of content quality and speaker prestige. 

A Unique Proposition

They love your learning management system (LMS) and education portfolio within. In fact, they want to replicate your entire LMS (including content and resources) and offer a co-branded version exclusive to their community. In terms of content licensing, they desire an arrangement in which their learners have a credit of $250 already populated in their LMS profiles, as well as full access to your entire education portfolio. This setup would empower their learners with the latitude to customize a learning path tailored to their specific professional goals. 

The Value behind This Proposition

What’s in it for them?

  • The organization can focus on their core mission and provide this employee benefit (at a higher quality) in a more cost effective/efficient manner.
  • Staff will be impressed their employer aligned with a high-profile association that specializes in professional learning related to their field/trade.
  • New content is always being introduced, which will incentivize staff to remain connected to their ever-evolving learning community.
  • The organization can monitor the learning progress of their employees to see who is excelling and who needs additional support and mentoring.
  • Staff satisfaction is likely to increase with this one-of-a-kind opportunity, which equates to higher retention rates.

What’s in it for you?

  • Your organization will expand its reach through key influencers who each have their own loyal community of followers.
  • You will advance the industry at large as a result of more people accessing your learning portfolio and keeping current with best practices and new skill-sets.
  • For years, you’ve accepted that certain people in your industry will never engage with your association…this arrangement has the potential to mitigate that dilemma.
  • You will grow your non-dues revenue stream by using these alliances as new distribution channels.
  • You’ll gain visibility and exposure, as well as the opportunity to demonstrate the value of membership to non-members.

From Concept to Reality
We understand this scenario doesn’t work for all associations. But, for those of you seeking the next big “Ah-Ha” moment, this might just be it. It’s a paradigm shift that holds exciting potential to reinvent your landscape.

We have the wonderful opportunity of collaborating with hundreds of innovative organizations, both non-profits and for-profits. In this position, we get to see and participate in (first-hand) a variety of pilot programs. Of course, some are more successful than others, but the important point here is we can share these ideas, key takeaways and lessons learned with our entire community. It’s especially fun to infuse ideas from our creative counterparts in the for-profit world and apply their ingenuity to the association community. In fact, that’s where we first observed the huge value potential of licensed content.

Truth be told, we’ve been noodling on this concept for a few months and wanted to come up with an easy way for associations to license their content. If the process was cumbersome, clunky or tedious, the concept would fall flat, regardless of the potential. So, behind the scenes, we calibrated our Elevate LMS in such a way that it’s now easy for you to license your content. In fact, the example mentioned earlier is 100% achievable.

With our recent Elevate enhancements, you have the ability to partner with fellow organizations (aka former competitors) and easily create co-branded knowledge communities. What is more, you have flexible options to establish the right partnership with each alliance. For example, in addition to co-branding opportunities, it’s up to you to decide how to populate your partner’s LMS (i.e. your entire learning catalog, or just select courses). And, you can also install parameters to limit user consumption based on the terms of your licensing agreement.

Strategy above Technology

As with any new venture, strategy trumps technology, and a well-conceived business plan is the first step. Should you move forward in considering this initiative, keep in mind it demands enterprise-wide support and buy-in. Collaborate with key stakeholders to figure out if/how this model makes sense for your organization, discuss the pros and cons, and identify desired outcomes.

In closing, at the very least, it doesn’t hurt to have these conversations in the near future, regardless of your ultimate decision. It’s better to proactively weigh your options now, then miss the opportunity completely. And, that’s where we can help. We understand the business of education and can support your conversations and vision with a fresh perspective and complementary solutions.

To learn how we can assist in converting your competitors into colleagues, contact Meghan Gowen at mgowen@commpartners.com or 443.539.4851.

Aubrey MellosConvert Your Competitors into Distribution Channels
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