by Ryan Graham | May 01, 2017

With so many organizations and companies requiring mandatory certification nowadays, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the online learning market is saturated with competition for these services as entrepreneurs jostle to take their own slice of the online learning pie.

Luckily, there is good news: Your association doesn’t have to compete! Are you breathing a sigh of relief? In fact, I’ll take it one step further and suggest that there really is no competition at all. Your association’s brand is all about the value it offers, and if you bend to the pressure of the downward-pricing trend, you’ll ultimately devalue everything you’ve worked so hard to build.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t an opportunity to offer some eye-catching membership perks here and there. After all, everyone loves words like “free” or “discount.” But there is an approach that will keep you from sending your association down the proverbial discount rabbit hole.

See a Need, Fill a Need. Most of the time, your members turn to you when they need something you can provide. They need CEs (continuing education credits) or they need to meet their credentialing requirements for licensure or they just need some quick information that will help complete a work task. Your responsibility, as an association, is to recognize these needs and build membership offerings around them.

A great service you can offer is a short, how-to video section on your website. And this next step is the hook that gets one foot in the door: Offer a few of these videos for free. Once non-members have begun to utilize your online learning library for free, they’re probably going to want more, which is where you bring their other foot through the door and offer them membership. If you can draw interest with these two simple steps, you’ve branded your association as a center for quick, searchable knowledge that helps members maintain their professional CE requirements.

Embrace the Old and the New. Okay, we all get it: Times are changing, and technology and the workforce are changing with it. In order to stay current and relevant, we all need to change, too. And part of that entails seeing and embracing new technology and new members of the workforce as opportunities that will make your association that much better.

You have to acknowledge that there are four (maybe even five) different generations in your market and each has its own preferred ways of consuming content. This is where you start to blend together the old and the new: webinars, webcasts, eBooks, short videos, social media posts, mobile learning features, podcasts. That’s right—you have to do it. If you don’t, your members will find another association (or free online resource) that will.

Choosing Excellence First. Massive Open Online Courses (known as MOOCs) and free online content may sound exciting for a fleeting moment but what will appeal more to members is a commitment to excellence. Your members are far more likely to view your association as a resource for industry expertise that they can trust and will continue to do so as long as you always offer content that is meaningful and serves to advance them in their profession.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative. Consider offering high-quality content that works together with new technology and learning trends, such as gamification.

Remember, competition is really a myth that free online providers want you to believe exists. But stay true to your brand and your mission. Your value is in the quality of your content, not its price. By committing to this, you’re taking the power out of free content providers’ hands and devaluing their offerings. In doing so, you’ve won the competition without even playing the game.