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July 11, 2005

Book Review: Retention Wars

I read the new book by Mark Levin, CAE Saturday afternoon.

Yep. I read it in about 2-3 hours. And I'm no speed reader. It's just that the font face in this book looks like 13 point arial. It's the old trick I learned in college: larger font, increase the margins, and voila! What was just seven pages is now a ten page term paper!

The brevity of this book, Retention Wars: The New Rules of Engagement, shouldn't dissuade you from reading it, though. Levin, who is widely recognized as one of the gurus of membership issues, provides 13 valuable rules to help associations increase their retention figures.

I always enjoy reading Levin's works because he makes every point actionable. I took away at least three tactics I'm going to put to use. At a price of just $26 for the book, that's less than $9 per tactic.

The other thing I like about Levin is that he's a practicing association professional, CAE and consultant/speaker. The combination of these sources of training and experience makes his depth of knowledge -- from both a strategic and tactical level -- virtually unparalleled. I imagine nearly every serious membership director has at least one Mark Levin book on his/her shelf.

Finally, I appreciate Levin's point of view on membership. He strikes me as being firmly in the member relations camp, as opposed to member services. That is, that an association's membership program is best evaluated on the basis of its relationships with its members. He also seems to ascribe to a more traditional view of association management, which I'm beginning to feel is an important thing for association professionals -- especially newer ones, like myself -- to appreciate and integrate into their work.

On the downside (and some may actually see this as a benefit), Retention Wars doesn't wade deeply into some of the bigger issues. There is a cursory look into the differences between generations. A peek at Levin's take on branding. The chapter on using technology to engage and communicate with members is woefully narrow. Perhaps he's only giving you a taste so that you'll consider taking one of his in-person seminars.

I also never quite figured out the title.

Retention Wars: The New Rules of Engagement

Does engagement refer to the battle in which associations are engaged against their competitors, which is mentioned in chapter nine? Or is it a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the concept of member engagement, which is addressed in chapter two? Or is it cleverly both? Either way, more could be done to connect the powerful title with the book's content.

I also wouldn't necessarily consider the rules all that "new." In fact, Levin admits learning one of the rules in the mid 1960's. And I was having serious deja vu reading this book. I'm pretty sure some of the paragraphs were lifted from Levin's earlier books, Millennium Membership or Membership Development: 101 Ways to Get and Keep Your Members.

Even if membership directors don't find Levin's rules new, they are true nonetheless, and it will serve as a necessary reminder of associations' raison d’ĂȘtre. Regardless of function, association professionals everywhere will benefit from Levin's perspective on valuing every member, delivering great customer service, having empathy for members, and on and on.

Bottom line: Read this book, it won't take long.

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