it easier to get the job done. What does
this mean to associations, which often
feel responsible for leading their members through environmental change?
When in competition with industry
for traditional association features like
education and publications, two major
types of customers appear to lead to
disruptive innovation: undershot and
overshot customers. Undershot customers are those for whom the association’s
existing products are not good enough.
These members express frustration,
make negative comments about the
association, ask another source for key
information/services and volunteer to
pay more for upgraded service, although
the association is not prepared or capable of offering it.
Overshot customers are those for
whom existing products are more than
good enough. Overshooting is the driver
behind commoditization — the process that results in organizations being
unable to profitably differentiate their
products and services. Overshot customers pay decreasing premiums for
improvements they used to value. Adding extra features that never get used
will eventually lead to products and services that members perceive to be too
complicated and too expensive.
Companies that threaten typical
association products are taking advantage of the modular way in which these
association products were developed.
Displacements take place at these
points of modularity. Because these
modular programs and services are
usable without “membership,” they are
attractive to competitors. It is precisely
the attractiveness of generating “
non-dues revenue” that associations have
counted on that allows competitors to
enter the field.
sacrifice margin for value: While there
are tradeoffs from a fiscal standpoint,
there are advantages in positioning as a
trusted resource. The challenge will be
to deliver value that is perceived to be
significant enough to prevent migration
to other providers.
A third option suggests associations
consider increased focus on items that
serve their members’ customers, and on
delivering services that provide direct
economic benefit to their members. It
may be that by careful review and anal-
ysis of their education and knowledge
programs, associations may be able to
better serve their customers’ customers,
and realize a greater economic benefit
in the process.
Eileen M. Murray, CFRE, CAE, is deputy executive
director, American Academy of Dermatology. She
may be reached at
In considering association offerings
through the PEST and “five forces”
lens, the value propositions that associations offer are credibility, brand, reputation and resource vetting. This value
proposition can be reasonably applied to
the high-threat areas of education and
Associations often are willing to
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