Trade Association Re-invention Opportunities
Many associations that represent manufacturers, reps or distributors in mature, physical goods channels are weathering significant membership and income/dues consolidation effects. And, a host of competitive alternatives are nibbling away at the perceived value of their other traditional offerings - meetings, shows, publications and education. Will pressured associations find new needs to fill or continue to shrink, perhaps merge or dissolve?
The biggest, new need to address over the next few years will be facilitating the birth of e-channels. Every manufacturer that sells through independent channel partners is concerned about how to be the first to identify and capitalize on a high-impact, e-business application(s) that will ideally re-intermediate partners on an integrated basis. An anxious, usually imperfect assumption that producers have is that they must either "be like Dell or get Dellíed" like the manufacturers that have been selling through two-step PC distribution channel over the past 2+ years.
Large end-users of channel goods are equally anxious about developing breakthrough, e-procurement applications, and many dotcom exchanges have started up to help them. And, although independent factory reps, distributors and dealers can't lead new channel paradigms, they are extremely anxious not to be left out of any new one(s).
Billions of dollars of venture capital and IPO proceeds have funded thousands of new companies that are hustling traditional channel players with e-business solutions. Who will help association members to evaluate both the technology offerings and the new business model strategies that accompany them? Most of these solutions are transitional cures at best. Who will stage shows at which solution providers can meet channel players to discuss channel specific solutions? Why not traditional trade associations?
E-standards for product data flow over the net are another imminent channel need. Significant e-business volume can't happen anywhere within a given channel until such standards emerge. Who will be the catalysts, educators and referees for birthing these vertical, e-channel standards? Creating new standards with potentially enormous impact on all players is apt to be an opportunistic, messy and political process that could use some trust brokering from credible institutions. Who will channel members trust the most to steer the standards creation process -one big channel player's proprietary system, Microsoft, or a consortium endorsed by associations that have served a given vertical for decades?
E-business developments are moving too fast for associations to set up committees to address these new emerging needs, especially when a majority of an associationís members are not yet sufficiently that e-fluent. To produce an annual meeting that is all in geek-speak with an effective theme of "letís learn together and keep making it up as we go" would not sell well to the majority of the members within a trade group at this time. But, a handful of technically progressive manufacturers, reps, distributors and/or dealers from a given vertical channel might self-select themselves to attend a conference on "making e-channels happen".
EC4business.com is creating a set of association e-solutions to be co-promoted and co-branded with and for associations to attract the leading edge members from each step in the channel. These solutions include - a resource guide on thousands of e-commerce solution providers, an initial conference on "Creating Digital Channels" and other follow-up services. A key operating assumption for EC4Business.com is that the sooner and broader the educational awareness and buy-in amongst key channel players for e-standards happens, the sooner, smoother, more inclusively and less expensively the final digital channel paradigm will arrive.
There are already too many e-business conferences that have no focus. EC4Business.com thinks that there is a need for one that is focused on how digital networked channels will evolve that includes a role for traditional associations in facilitating the creation of channel-specific, product e-standards. What do you think? Please let me know.
Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc. Article # 8.13