Robert Rich (@rrich) tweeted. Jamie Notter wrote a blog post and I keep thinking about their words.

I suppose it is sticking with me because my firm’s work in content/inbound marketing has me concerned with just how very desirable association audiences are to for-profit companies. ‘So targeted, so narrowly-focused,’ drools the marketer in me.

Being that desirable makes associations a target. Businesses that were previously not considered competitors now pose serious threat to engagement, member retention and profit.

Years ago, for-profit Edu*cata trumped APTA and became the leader in providing online continuing education to physical therapists. That never should have happened and I observed one thing that made it possible: APTA hesitated.

They hesitated to charge into the leadership position for that service. Are Hesitaters one of the groups in the colocated meeting scenario that Rich observed and Notter pondered a bit more? With the swift pace of change we all have recognized in business and the hypercompetition every company, association and individual faces, can we afford to hesitate?

Jamie is gentle in his questioning on his blog about whether both groups at ASAE have blind spots. Of course it’s true that they do. And in the comments Patrick Jones posits that there were likely many colocated meeting within ASAE13. If ‘Hesitaters’ are one group, is that where you’d look for your next colleague, employee or service provider?

In a recent keynote (really worth watching to the end), Arianna Huffington said that ‘you don’t plan creativity, you plan for it.’ Competing in business these days demands creativity. Are the Hesitaters planning for creativity?

Confession: I sometimes hesitate

It’s easy to hesitate. It can feel cautiously smart, it can seem benign. I am on high alert for that fine line between pausing to adjust vs hesitating and, truthfully, in the moment I find it hard to tell the difference. But that doesn’t change what I believe to be true; that associations on whole and we as professionals are either reaching or we’re hesitating.

I get that some things work better than others, so you keep at it and you get more efficient. I just don’t believe that today’s business world will let you get away with that for long as an approach that goes untested. I think this is the likely outcome of that: what works keeps working until it just suddenly doesn’t.

So there are those who keep perfecting their processes for doing the same thing. Perhaps they are the ones who go to conferences and look for their own kind and seek new ideas for doing the same thing better. But it’s useless to be able to produce with unspeakable efficiency something that is no longer wanted by anybody.

How do we identify hesitation in real-time?

So what’s the antidote to hesitation or even what is a surefire way to identify it in real-time?

Some heads of companies religiously start their day by looking at the results to one big question, “Would you recommend our company?”  And focusing on the results to that question changes these leaders to focus on their value and nurturing to their organization’s culture.

What is the right question for associations?  A good question that can change the lens through which a person or org sees? What is the department-level question to push the challenge to the individual? What if it was: “what is the very latest game changer in the space I focus on?”

For example, HR can then talk about how the very name of its space is being rejected by it’s newest thought leaders. “Human Resources.” It is quite gross. So what does that mean for HR professionals? Well, certainly a paradigm shift in the thinking about the relationship between a business and its people. But it also means that there’s a least one department that is consistently asking a big question that may expand their thinking and perhaps prevent them from hesitating.

Stop the hesitating

Associations are historically quite successful at serving their narrow niche. Engagement on a personal and emotional level, real relationships, is the status quo now and for-profit companies are using content to get to your members, E.g., blogs, useful information, videos, webinars, research data, educational materials. And it is working so as more businesses are identifying new spaces, the association market is looking more and more desirable. So, the history of how well associations have served their audience starts to become irrelevant to the future. That’s the past. And to focus on doing the same thing really well is one way of hestitating.

I recently spoke with an association about their magazine. They are solvent, growing, no big fires to put out. Their magazine is consistently advertising-filled and, surveys indicate, well read. Should the association keep on the same course of action? Hard to answer with just that information, but those alone are poor metrics upon which to base decisions about a publication. And we hear those metrics all the time as reasons for taking or not taking action. Advertiser dollars acquired in the same way as in the 1990s is not a forward thinking approach to revenue for associations and it is nothing more than an addiction to bad profit. I think it’s also hesitating.

Unless you can definitively establish the ROI of your content efforts and fully leverage your content to achieve and support business goals, you’re hesitating to move into a more contemporary model of content marketing or hesitating to evolve your content team. We see it with websites too: a brand new site is launched that doesn’t perform. (In 2013, a website that performs means that it delivers leads.)

We all know that we are each charged with evolution. A big challenge. But perhaps part of evolving is identifying and stopping the hesitations. Seemingly benign, but definitely not.

o o o o o o

If you didn’t get a chance to attend our #ASAE13 session on content strategy, you might be interested in our guest post on the Socialfish blog: What #ASAE13 Wanted to Know About Content Strategy.