Every year, when an association member (or their employer) looks at your renewal invoice, the question crossing their mind is: “What have you done for me lately?”

Value is top of mind for members and employers. They expect to see a regular return on their dues investment. How do you continually demonstrate the membership value that invoice represents?

You can’t rely on the episodic patterns of engagement provided by conferences and seminars. Only a percentage of your members participate in those events. Besides, even those attendees want to experience the value of membership far more frequently than that. If you can find a way for members to regularly experience and reap value from their membership, they won’t think twice about paying that invoice. Even more importantly, they’ll stay engaged so you’ll have more opportunities to serve them with other products and services.

How do you find new ways to deliver a better value to your members? You can tackle and solve even the most stubborn engagement problems with experimentation through testing out solutions with a trial or pilot program. Based on our work with association clients, we’ve rounded up several of our best practices for successful trials and ideas around the benefits of solving old problems with innovative and experimental ideas.

Benefits of using a trial or pilot program to experiment with new ideas

A trial or pilot program is the best way to experiment with a possible solution to a perennial problem. With a trial program, you practice rolling out a new product or service, evaluate how it was received, and validate its benefits (for both you and your audience) before investing additional time and money. What’s more, is that test programs like these foster a culture of experimentation throughout your community.

When you offer a trial program to a group of participants, you can watch how they use the program and learn what they really value—instead of making assumptions about their needs and preferences. You can identify any hitches and refine the program before committing to a full-scale launch. Along the way, the conversations you have with participants lead to closer and more trusting relationships, and your members grow to appreciate the fact that you are cultivating a culture that explores new ways of tackling old problems.

And it’s easier to make a business case for a pilot or trial program. Decision makers aren’t scared off by the words “pilot” or “trial.” Trials are seen as less risky since, by definition, they’re just an experiment.

Selecting trial participants

Depending on the nature of your program, you may want to limit trial participation or open it up to as many people as possible. For example, when we roll out a trial of rasa.io with an association, we encourage member participation so our Artificial Intelligence has as much data as possible to do its work. A large group also provides a healthy sample for post-trial feedback.

Your trial program might benefit more from a limited number of participants if you need to consult individually with each one of them about their experience. If that’s the case, ensure the participants will be able to provide extensive feedback at the conclusion of the program.

You can either select specific participants for your trial or invite any member to participate. If you decide to select participants, pick those who are representative of your overall target audience. For example, if your audience is made up of companies of different sizes and verticals, or individuals of different ages and specialties, the trial participants should represent that diversity.

If your association has chapters, you could select a few of them for the trial. Once again, choose chapters that reflect the entire chapter network. Pick “influencer” chapters—the ones other chapters look to as models for success. After the trial, they can help you sell the idea to other chapters.

You could also use the trial as an olive branch. Offer participation to a chapter with whom you’ve had a less than ideal relationship. They’ll become stronger partners if they see membership retention improve as a result.

Marketing your trial program

Whether you select or invite participants, tell them the story behind the experiment and why the nature of new experiments to solve old problems is vital to maintaining a thriving association. Communicate:

  • Where the idea came from—bonus points if it came from a member;
  • Why you’re trying it out, i.e., what problems you hope to solve; and
  • What value it will provide to participants.

If you’re concerned about getting enough participants, make a more persuasive case by appealing to members’ social identity. Remind them of the identity they aspire to: “people like us do stuff like this.” For example, talk about “this exclusive opportunity to shape a new member service.”

When inviting people to sign up for the trial, use language to convey exclusivity as well as urgency. If you’re limiting the number of participants, let them know. Set a deadline to apply or sign up—a sense of urgency prompts people to take action.

If you’re working with an outside partner, ask them for marketing assistance. When our association partners are introducing rasa.io to trial participants, we provide marketing copy and support so they have minimal work to do on their end.

This blog is part of a 3-part series on the value of experimentation in associations and how to execute a successful trial program. In the upcoming posts, we will continue to build on the importance of experimentation within your organization and the next steps of your test trial: rolling out the program; soliciting feedback; making a case for the program to other key stakeholders; and preparing for the launch of the wider implementation. In the meantime, let us know if you would like to understand how rasa.io could work for your community.