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November 07, 2007

Key DTJ finding questioned

Tony Rossell's got a bone to pick with DTJ. In part, he says:

However, one finding that I do not agree with is DTJ’s contention that prospects “more important” reason for joining an association is to support the “community of interest”. I think that this conclusion can lead membership marketers in the wrong direction when it comes to asking new members to make a decision to join. Here is what DTJ says: “the decision to join an association reflects an expanded understanding of what constitutes a benefit. It goes beyond the self-oriented assessment of the value received by the individual making the decision to incorporate a more other-oriented assessment of value generated for the community of interest.” Based on a comparison of two separate questions where personal benefits of joining received a mean score of 3.4 and benefits to the field received a mean score of 3.6, the study concludes “that the benefits for the good of the order are more important than personal benefits” (page 6).
One of the weaknesses of a study like DTJ is that it asks the subjects to describe what they do, rather than observe what they actually do. And we all know that the difference between what we say we do, and what we really do, are very often wildly different things. Observational research, like Tony's, is more authoritative than question-based research. This is why drug companies observe the effects of their products on research subjects before releasing them to the general public.

However, DTJ's findings that the differential between personal benefits and benefits to the field cited above is significant! You can't just ignore it. It means something. Tony also says:
In addition to what DTJ reported, my experience in testing messages in new member solicitations also supports the value based membership appeal. Regularly – typically at a board’s direction – we create messaging around joining an association for the good of the profession. And regularly this message loses in head to head tests to a benefits oriented theme focused on “here is how membership can benefit you in your career.”
I can't argue with Tony's experience. There are very few people in the association biz who have as many membership marketing experiences as Tony. If he says personal value based messages out-pull good of the order messages, I'll go along with it. But I hope Tony will give us a peek behind the MGI curtain and tell us what "regularly" means.

If good of the order messages sometimes out-pull personal benefits messages, then it bears investigating why this happened. Was it the type of association (i.e. trade vs. professional or academic vs. medical)? Was it based on segment? Did the good of the order message come as a four page letter as opposed to a two pager for the personal benefits?

I'll have to agree with Greg Fine's comment:
...the DTJ finding isn't about ignoring the cost benefit equation, it is about NOT ignoring the ego/heart appeal.
One of the things that makes a career in associations so maddening for some, and so exciting for others, is that there are very few absolute truths. I'm thankful for people like Tony who will challenge the orthodoxy of studies like DTJ. We need thoughtful people on both extremes of the spectrum to allow association executives to find the middle ground that works for them.

Tagged: ; ; ;


Tony Rossell said...

Ben -- Thanks for the post. I will check with my client to see if I can share the test results from our last good of the order versus good for me membership test. Tony

Greg said...

Ben..I couldn't agree more with your last statement! There is no magic fix or single answer. I know from my own direct mail experience that different appeals need to be tested and adjusted. I think my greatest concern is that over time, many association execs have all but ignored the heart appeal. As we look at what corp America is doing, it is targeted, customized appeals and we need to do the same thing.

Great dialouge! Thanks to both you and Tony for getting it started.