by Ryan Graham | February 01, 2016

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the online learning market is saturated with competition, filled as it is with entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to capture their own slice of the online learning pie. Because mandatory requirements for continuing education credits inspire greater demand, many discount providers simply can’t resist the appeal of getting in the game.

However, I’m going to give you a good piece of advice, one that will mean you can take a long, deep sigh of relief: You don’t have to compete. In fact, I’ll take it one step further and suggest that there really is no competition at all. The trick is to realize that your association’s brand is all about the value of what you offer, and if you bend to the pressure of the downward pricing trend, you’ll ultimately devalue everything your group has 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 help you avoid sending your association down the proverbial discount rabbit hole.

A Foot in the Door. Most of the time, members gravitate toward your association because they need something from it. They need their continuing education credits or to meet credentialing requirements for their licensure, or they just need some quick information to help them with a work task. What’s important is that you recognize these needs and build your membership offerings around them.

A great technique is to offer a short, how-to video section on your association website; in other words, build a just-in-time learning library. And, dare I say it? Offer a few of these videos for free. Once non-members begin utilizing the free parts of this section, they’re probably going to want more, which is when you bring their other foot through the door and offer them membership. By effectuating these two simple steps, you’ve branded your association as a center for quick, searchable knowledge and a reliable resource that helps members maintain their professional CE requirements.

Embrace the Old and the Newbies. We’ve all heard it, and we get it. Times are changing. Technology is changing. The workforce is changing. So, now we all need to change, too, right? Sad, but true. Your group must view the new technology and emerging workforce (i.e., the generational gaps) as opportunities to make your association that much better.

Acknowledge that there are four (and maybe even five) different generations in your market that all have their own unique ways of consuming content. This is where you’ll need to start blending together the old and the new—with webinars, webcasts, e-books, short videos, social media, mobile learning, podcasts. That’s right. You have to do it all or your members will find another association (or free online resource) that will.

The First and Only Choice. While Massive Open Online Courses and free online content may sound exciting for a fleeting moment, what is even more exciting is a commitment to excellence. Members are far more likely to view your association as a resource for industry expertise that they can trust, as long as you continue to offer content that is meaningful and helps them advance in their profession. Consider incorporating new trends like personalized learning or gamified e-learning. Offer high-quality content that morphs with new technology and learning trends.

And, remember, the competition is really a myth that free providers want you to believe. Stay true to your brand and your mission. Your association’s value is in the quality of its content, not its price. By committing to this standard, you’re taking the power out of the free content-provider’s hands and devaluing their offerings. And that’s how you win the competition without even playing the game.