Personalization, or customization, of member experience should not be done in a vacuum. Successful member customization of association offerings requires a shift in culture to embrace personalization in all areas.
Personalization of experience continues to be a hot trend in association meetings. However, if your idea of personalization is an email with a first name in it, you’re missing the point. Personalization of experience is more than just using an attendee’s name in conference communications. It’s a means to reinvent your association and how it relates to its members.
What is Personalization and What Does It Do for Members?
Effective personalization is going to take a number of forms within your association conference. However, the two spots where it will be the most evident are in your communications and your offerings.
Personalization in communications often uses fields to insert specific information such as a name or an event attended. This helps members feel more valued as it seems like there are people on your staff who remember exactly what they’ve done and who they are.
Customizing offerings can be done through polling your members or introducing something more sophisticated based on past actions. The companies that have embraced customization of offerings in order to increase sales are influencing our members’ expectations as well. Smart Furniture created an online tool that analyses a potential customer’s tastes and then presents them with pieces that fit their style. This maximizes their chance of getting a sale by showing customers only what they like. It also increases the likelihood the customer will be happy with the eventual purchase since it falls into their style range and not something they decided to try on a whim.
Thanks to companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Redbox we expect offerings to be personalized. The simple offering “suggestions for you,” drives our browsing. Even though retail and conferences have little in common, our attendees don’t check their life experiences at the door when they register. What they see elsewhere influences what they expect from their association, even if only in a subconscious way.
Customization Empowers Members
It’s the ultimate irony that as our human interactions are becoming more and more based in the electronic world, this has driven our need to connect and be recognized as a person. Customization, or personalization, accomplishes that and fills the need.
There’s also an appreciation that comes with personalization. The attendees feel like you know them when you provide things they enjoy. If someone gives you a gift card to Starbucks for instance, but you don’t really like coffee, it’s still nice – get a Danish or something – but it’s not nearly as delightful as when someone gets you a gift card to your favorite store or restaurant, knowing it’s your favorite one. Maybe your whole office received Starbucks cards but your boss knew you weren’t big on coffee and gave you something different. This personalization makes you feel like the most special person in the room.
In a study out of the University of Texas, the researchers decided people crave personalization for two reasons:
- Desire for control
- Information overload
Personalization feels powerful to the audience because the association is giving them what they want. The attendee perceives they are in control of programming. By feeling like they “created” the programming, members often feel more invested in it.
Customization of content also means your attendees get what they want and thus (in theory) they will always be interested in what you are presenting. This builds your reputation as a worthwhile content creator/provider. They needn’t sift through your offerings for good content, it’s all good because it’s information they are interested in.
Personalization without Reinvention is Like Ordering a Diet Soda with a Big Mac
Personalizing your association’s approach to its members and conference attendees must be an all-encompassing change in how you view your relationship. Personalization is a very powerful tool but it will send a mixed message and seem disingenuous if you don’t tackle the larger picture.
When you go to a fast food restaurant do you ever order some calorie-laden junk food, supersize it, and then order a diet drink? At that point what is the extra 200 calories? It seems contradictory. The same is true if you try and personalize your conference offerings by asking attendees what they want and analyzing data from past conferences to derive preferences, and then not providing them personalization throughout other association offerings. You are sabotaging and killing any progress you are making from the meeting customization engagement efforts.
In order for customization to be effective it must color your entire association and its culture. You are switching from a board-driven association to a member driven one. In the past what was offered was dictated by the board or the executive management of the association. True customization gives members’ preferences a much larger voice in how the entire association operates.
Personalization is an extremely effective engagement tool but if the association event manager is the only one using it, a large disconnect will form between members and the association. Customization requires a change in culture for most associations and that’s a good thing.