I’ve dealt with the question of how to address consumers online with association web sites for much of my career. In this context consumers typically means the customers/clients/patients of the association’s members.
I’m going to provide a few thoughts below on how to approach it but there is an important question to be answered first.
Your senior leadership and Board must define what your association hopes to achieve overall with the consumers in your members’ market. Buy more products or services? Support legislative changes? Appreciate your members’ contribution to society? (That last one is a tough one if they don’t on their own!)
If that high level strategy isn’t clear than you are going to spin your wheels online until it is. I often recommend not to bother with anything significant if you don’t have a solid organizational strategy for that audience.
Some other key questions to consider:
What outcomes do you want to achieve with consumer visitors?
What specific actions can consumers take on your web site that will support your overall goals for them? This can include everything from learning via content to taking a specific next action such as contacting one of your members.
How will you know that you have achieved them?
Identify specific measures for success in these efforts. What will let you know you are achieving your goals? Demand creation and branding efforts are notoriously hard to measure but many outcomes can have hard numbers to back them up. The example above of helping consumers to contact one of your members is easily measurable via their path through your site.
What is the value of achieving those outcomes?
The value of the outcomes should determine the budget for your online efforts. Assessing the value will help to avoid over or under investing. A simple concept but rarely done, in my experience.
Should we have one site for members and consumers or two?
This is the last thing to consider although it is often the first question people start with. My patented consultant answer is: it depends.
A key question is which brand you want the consumers to pick up on, the association’s or the members’? If the effort should be closely associated with the organization’s identity, then going with a single site for all with the consumer content wrapped in the association’s look and feel. If the brand of the organization is irrelevant or harmful to the effort, then a separate site and design may best support your goals. The ‘Got Milk’ campaign is a great example of the latter.
Answering these key questions can be a challenging task for even highly focused organizations. A large part of the value I provide to my clients is helping (and forcing, sometimes!) them to answer these and then plan an approach aligned with those strategic goals. Drop me a note if you would like to discuss your specific situation.