Technology planning

Is your association ready to meet the expectations of Generation N? 

You, me, and every other reader of this blog are part of Generation N – Generation Novel, named after the novel Coronavirus, which is not defined by age. Gen N is a cross-generational consumer segment defined by similar digital behaviors, preferences, and expectations.

The author of the Gen N concept, Brian Solis, global innovation evangelist for Salesforce, talked about it during his ASAE TEC 2021 keynote. His presentation kindled many questions: 

  • What does the emergence of Gen N mean for associations? 
  • How have member and customer expectations changed? 
  • How should associations think differently about value and engagement?

The emergence of Generation N 

According to McKinsey research, 75% of consumers tried different stores, websites, or brands during the pandemic. Sixty percent of those consumers expect to bring these new experiences into their post-pandemic lives and routines. 

Why would your members and customers be any different? It’s likely they’ve been experimenting with new ways to get what they’ve traditionally sought from your association: education, information, connections, and community. 

Expectations are changing—or already have. Salesforce’s annual State of the Connected Customer research found that 88% of business customers and consumers expect companies to accelerate their digital initiatives. Seventy percent expect new ways to get existing products and services, like digital versions of traditional in-person experiences.

To paraphrase Solis: Your member isn’t the member you used to know. “You, me, our customers, we all had to learn how to work from home, you had to learn, stay connected, shop differently, everything from home, and it accelerated this digital transformation of…you.” 

How associations can meet the expectations of Generation N

Gen N’s personal digital transformation affects how members see your organization. They expect more from your association: to know them, respect their time, and make their membership, learning, networking, and online experience easy. As they digitally transform, they expect to benefit from your digital transformation.

Reimagine engagement

Solis rings the alarm: “Brands are falling into a trap of digitizing dated processes and touchpoints, rather than reimagining engagement to deliver experiences not possible before the pandemic.”

Associations can no longer create new digital experiences using old mindsets and methods. You can’t expect sustainable innovation or success from old processes and ways of doing business. You got away with replicating your in-person conference on a virtual platform only because attendees were desperate for human contact, and that won’t fly now.

It’s time to go back to the drawing board and reimagine these experiences. Find out what kind of experience your attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors seek. Talk to them. What do they hope to get out of your conference? Or, better yet, out of their relationship with your association?

You may learn that, yes, attendees want to hear new ideas, find out what they need to know to stay on top of their profession and earn CE credits. They expect that. But maybe they don’t want to spend the whole day in front of a screen, adding to their Zoom fatigue. They want to talk shop with their peers, develop new relationships, find their people, and feel like part of a community.

Sponsors and exhibitors want to spread awareness about what they offer and what differentiates them from competitors. They want to establish a reputation as a resource for the professional community to attract attention, gain respect, and develop relationships that lead to referrals, leads, and sales.

How can you offer these experiences in a more enjoyable, effective way? 

Cultivate digital empathy

Salesforce learned that 80% of consumers believe a company’s digital experience is as important as its products or services. How much focus do you put on the member, customer, attendee, or website visitor experience? 

You can make assumptions, but it’s better to ask. What does it feel like to interact with your association? Don’t be afraid to bring up touchy subjects. You need to know if they feel like they’re constantly being sold something or if you act as if you know what’s important to them—when you don’t. Solis calls this a “ctrl-alt-del moment.” People reassess “what really matters to them in terms of time, experiences, and relationships.” 

Digital empathy means treating others how they want to be treated. You need to know how people and their values, expectations, and aspirations have changed in the last two years. Who are your members (and non-members) becoming? How do they want to interact with your association and with their professional community? You can find some of these answers in your existing data or do some targeted user research. 

Become truly data-centric

Data is more critical than ever. Not last year’s data, but recent data. How have people been behaving in the last few months? What are they interested in? How are they spending their time with you? What elements of your digital experience elicit the most engagement?

Experiment with new ways of requesting and receiving feedback. Watch real-time data to spot behavioral and interest trends. ASAE analyzes online community text to identify topics for future webinars. You can use this tactic with virtual conference chat boxes, email clicks, and website page visits.  

Members and customers want you to know them, and they want you to know their interests and preferences, so you can personalize their experience as a member or customer. Technology like Salesforce’s Tableau CRM helps you develop digital, data-informed responses. You can ‘magically’ know what they might like using its predictive capabilities, and you can understand who they’re becoming.

Demographic data is not sufficient for this understanding. You need a 360-degree view that includes your CRM/AMS data and data from other sources, like your website, community, email marketing platform, and learning management system. However, having that unified view is only helpful if your staff knows how to access the data, understands it, and can apply those insights. Reaching this state may require additional investment by your organization in training and professional development for your staff.

Solis says when you place members and who they’re becoming at the center of every decision, you give purpose and direction to your organization’s digital transformation. With the help of feedback and data, you can meet the changing expectations and needs of your Generation N members and market.

Interested in the Salesforce tools and training that can help your staff engage more successfully with Generation N? Fíonta can help!