Ready, FIRE, Aim…? Make that Ready, AIM Fire!


Calibrate Your Aim for Better Business Outcomes

As an association leader, your job is about keeping your members happy. Among other things that means managing industry-wide issues, being the industry’s spokesperson, and protecting its interests in the advocacy world. All of this work boils down to protecting members’ business outcomes, which is what they care about most.

Too often associations find themselves in the midst of crisis—a legislative matter, a competing industry taking market share, an image issue, or some other threat to your members’ businesses. In the urgency of that moment you spring into action, throwing money at tactical solutions to the immediate problem without the luxury of time to consider the larger business context, where the industry is headed in the long run, or what the industry’s overall positioning should be.

I call this phenomenon “Ready, Fire, Aim,” and after 35+ years as part of the association community, and serving the industry as a marketing research and management consultant, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. The problem with this approach is that, even if you manage to find the money to address the crisis, forty to sixty percent of it is either wasted, or has only limited impact. And sometimes, responding to immediate attacks or threats can inadvertently put the industry in a defensive position that’s inappropriate in the long term.

So consider this: you can use your members’ money much more efficiently if you take the time to “Aim” before you “Fire.” This means investing upfront to ensure your industry policy or marketing positioning, and communications, hit the mark—whether they’re in response to a threat, or to establish category leadership, stay relevant, and be a step ahead of market trends.

The key is to identify your industry’s essential value proposition and optimal position in the marketplace—and then let these elements inform both your long term strategies and your short-term tactical responses.

What I’ve found to be the Holy Grail in my work with over 35 associations (large and small) is applying a values framework to your overarching strategy. Why? Because in order to have a positive impact on business outcomes—whether that means growing your industry’s market, or stopping its decline—you need to change your customers’ behavior. And nothing motivates behavior change better than tapping into what your target audience values most.

Getting the positioning right means:
  1. Targeting the audience and business segments who will deliver the revenue outcomes your members desire;
  2. Focusing on the optimal positioning strategy that deals to your industry’s strength; and then—and only then;
  3. Aligning all communications and marketing programs with that strategic positioning.

Associations today are increasingly expected to do more with less, and members are increasingly interested in the return on their investments. Investing upfront to get the Aim, or strategy, right—before you Fire—is a smart way to accomplish both. By dealing to your industry’s strengths, your membership programs, communications plans and marketing efforts will flow organically toward better business outcomes.