Moving beyond what your constituents want into giving them what they can't live without
Now anyone who knows me would say I am not the biggest fan of Steve Jobs on a personal level (a friend of mine worked closely with him for 24 years), but giving credit where credit is due, you have to respect his vision and innovation for building brand loyalty and giving the world items we never knew we wanted. As he stated in 1997, "You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around." This before the Ipod, Ipad and a decent cell phone were in existence. You may be saying, "Well sure--Innovation in the technology field is easy-its what 'they do!'" But don't be fooled.
The same is true for all areas of business, even though, to those Organizations or Associations providing niche content or serving a niche demographic, innovation may seem like an arcane concept. But indeed, those institutions that can not only keep abreast of the times but even get out in front and lead are those that will prosper, thus expanding their own potential and influence and doing the best work for their members and benefactors.
In the Niche Circulation, Association and Non-Profit world, relationships are everything. Without good relationships with your donors, members, and subscribers... you sink. The way in which your organization maintains these relationships is as important as the bond itself; the way you make contact is the determining factor of the strength of that connection. Good relations requires initially good research: What type of person or group makes up your core? What is the age group, the socioeconomic status, the many background factors such as geography, education, etc.? Knowing with whom you are talking dictates how you will both frame your conversation and on what platform that conversation will best be held. Certain people may not use email and may still respond to mailers, while some may loathe them as a waste of time, money and resources. Most folks hate phone calls appealing for donations or requests to attend a seminar, but there are some who may appreciate the direct contact and information. Do your homework! These people are your lifeline and why you exist!
Now, to innovation. In the broadest sense, innovation is about two things: Better and cheaper. You already know your organization’s mission and its core model. Now, where can you trim the fat? Where can you use newer technology to speed processes up and implement new systems? Where can you, essentially, watch the bottom line? This is an important path to walk, but one that must be traversed with caution. If you plan to save money by outsourcing certain aspects of your organization, great, as long as you choose who you use with great care. It is rarely worth the savings you will reap if you use an outside company that does shoddy work – it lowers not only the quality of your output, but also can damage the image and prestige of your organization.
Study what other companies or groups have done. Research technologies that could be beneficial to your organization and its constituents. But above all, make sure that when you make changes you are making them not because they may have worked for someone else, but because they are the right move for you. Replication of what another organization has done isn't innovation, its mindless duplication...and it can be deadly. You need to find what has been successful for a multitude of org's and see how you could tweak it to suit your member base. How to do this?
Think like your constituents. What do your subscribers, members or donors want? What do they need? What would make them more loyal to you and your brand? True innovation is thinking of things they didn't even know they want--but will eventually find they can't live without. New initiatives are not to be feared. Diversification is a good thing, as long as you follow your founding principles and move forward with vision. One of the greatest things I find one can to get a fresh perspective on things is to look at your Org as if you either just purchased it or just became the Board President. What would keep? What would ditch? Would you restructure? Many times looking at things through this new view clears the cobwebs of too many projects, too many ideas and releases the dam of stagnation to innovation. Taking your organization to the next level may involve outsourcing, technological innovation or even just a re-imagining of the resources you already have at your disposal. What it never involves is sitting still, for even a moment.
On a final note:
"We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make "me too" products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream." -- Apple Executives, on the release of the Macintosh computer, 1984