How to Experiment with New Ideas Using a Trial Program, Part I

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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?” It’s no question that value is top of mind for members and employers. They expect to see a regular return on their dues investment. So how do you continually demonstrate the membership value that your 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 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.

Using a trial 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. First, you need to evaluate how your target audience received it. Next, you should validate its benefits for both you and your audience before investing additional time and money. Another benefit is that test programs can 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. That way, you’ll learn what they really value instead of making inaccurate assumptions about their needs and preferences. This allows you to identify any hitches and refine the program before committing to a full-scale launch. Along the way, the conversations you have with participants will create closer, more trusting relationships.

Also, your members will appreciate how you are cultivating a culture that explores new ways of tackling old problems. However, it’s easier to make a business case for a pilot or trial program. Most decision-makers aren’t scared off by the words “pilot” or “trial.” They may view trials 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.

On the other hand, your trial program could benefit from a limited number of participants. That’s especially true if you need to consult each of them individually to learn more about their experience. If that’s the case, just make sure each participant 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 the 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. They are 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. Also, explain why the nature of a new experiment to solve an old problem is vital to maintaining a thriving association. You can talk about the following: 

  • Where the idea came from with bonus points if it came from a member.
  • Why you’re trying it out, such as what problems you hope to solve.
  • What value it will provide to participants and the association as a whole.

If you’re concerned about getting enough participants, you can make a persuasive case by appealing to each member’s social identity. Remind them of how they can help improve the group by participating. Talk about the potential benefits, too. For example, you can describe it as “an exclusive opportunity to shape a new member service.”

When inviting people to sign up for the trial program, 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, too. Creating 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 three-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. You’ll learn more about the next steps of your test trial, including how to roll out your trial program and solicit feedback. Find out how to make a case for the program to other key stakeholders and prepare 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.

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