Category Archives: analytics

Strategies to grow membership

At a recent board workshop we discussed different ways to look at the association’s membership in order to understand better how to grow it.

I proposed to look at the cumulative number of members over several years for a more complete evaluation. Typically, we look at the total number of members – or subscribers – as an annual figure and then we pay some attention to churn (non-renewing members). Growth occurs when this churn figure is lower than the number of new members acquired, i.e. more people join than drop out. Evaluating churn makes clear why the first task in an established organization is usually retention, keeping members/subscribers year after year. High rates of retention mean that growth can be achieved more readily (as long as you have not captured your entire market);  it also means that your marketing efforts should become more cost-effective as retention should cost less than acquisition.

When we look at a wider time span, for instance 5 years or 10 years, we gain a different understanding of the degree to which an organization has reached and engaged its market. Is the the cumulative 5-year figure very close to the annual figure or is it much larger?

If it is very close then you are basically stable. If you wish to grow in this scenario then you need to focus on acquisition strategies to accelerate growth.

If the 5-year cumulative figure is much larger, then you might need to think not only about acquisition but re-acquisition. Re-acquisition means re-engaging with people who have made up their mind already about the value you provide by rejecting it for some reason. Re-acquisition is quite a different task, requiring different strategies, tactics, messages and channels. Because these people are not a blank slate (they have developed firm beliefs about your organization and have perceptions founded in their personal experience) I think that re-acquisition is fundamentally more difficult than gaining a brand new member, subscriber, customer.

Strategically this dynamic has to be considering in light of your total market potential.

There are times when re-acquisition can be critical to ensure an organization’s sustainability in the long-run. Given the nature of re-acquisition, strategies designed to re-engage likely run their course over 3 to 4 years. The focus then has to shift to true acquisition because those you wish to re-engage either have done so or simply are not going to have their minds changed unless something important, and likely out of your control, changes for them.

In both scenarios, retention driven by creating value and a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship with members remains paramount.

The trouble with dynamic strategy canvases: Calgary Centre by-election

Calgary Centre is holding a by-election on November 26, 2012. A group of progressive citizens under the banner of 1CalgaryCentre (website and Facebook) has attempted what progressive political parties have been unable to do: create a process to select a consensus progressive candidate. It’s a grand experiment; it is idealistic and optimistic. It suggests doing something is better than doing nothing.

That process returned valuable insights but that’s not what this post is about really. (Yes, Chris Turner running for the Green party won – his campaign was way more effective at turning out the vote online).

Some people have been critical of the lack of “representativeness” of the 1CalgaryCentre process. Well, it wasn’t intended to be representative – or predict an election outcome based on a ‘snapshot-in-time’ poll. Rather it sought to crowdsource a consensus candidate among engaged progressive voters, i.e. people likely to actually cast a vote. That is a fundamentally different objective than the typical election polls reported on in the media as if they could predict the outcome on election day (Yes, horse races can be fun to watch. Yes, voters benefit from having access to non-partisan polling as it shows them a snapshot of what people in their riding are thinking).

1CalgaryCentre is another, a unique data point progressives in Calgary Centre can consider when they go vote.

A worthwhile point relating to random election poll is that, yes, they are based on the science of statistics and yet, they consistently and dramatically over-estimate voter turnout. So, the real question isn’t random polls and whether they are accurate: they usually are within the errors they measure at that moment in time (sampling error is measured by “margin of error”, all others usually ignored in reporting – such as people inaccurately reporting about actually going to vote; it’s human nature: voting is seen as socially desirable, so when Canadians are ask, they are prone to say they will vote.)

Actual voter participation comes in at about 60% on average in recent Canadian general elections; it was 55.6% in Calgary Centre in the 2011 federal election. The random polls published over-estimate turnout significantly. Return-on-Insight reported that 12% said they won’t vote (thanks for the honesty!) and 16% were undecided. Similarly the last Forum poll on November 17 surveyed 403 Calgary Centre residents and 374 indicated who they would vote for, resulting in only 8% indicating they aren’t voting. Matching the actual turnout in Calgary Centre in 2011, the true number of “won’t vote” should be closer to 45%.

In essence this means that  the strategy canvas on which this by-election is happening is highly dynamic: voter turnout alone determines the result. The reason for this is that the random phone surveys suggest that 2/3 of Calgary Centre voters support progressives. It’s actually mathematically possible for progressives to come in 1st and 2nd.

So here’s some math for you:
Scenario 1

2011 voters Nov 17 Forum poll breakout 2012 by-election votes differential to leader
49235 35% 17,232 CPC
49235 30% 14,771 -2,462 Liberal
49235 25% 12,309 -4,924 Green
49235 10% 4,924 NDP
100%
Scenario 2
2011 voters (minus 10%)
44312 35% 15,509  CPC
44312 30% 13,293 -2,216 Liberal
44312 25% 11,078 -4,431 Green
44312 10% 4,431  NDP
100%
Scenario 3
2011 voters (minus 20%)
39388 35% 13,786  CPC
39388 30% 11,816 -1,969 Liberal
39388 25% 9,847 -3,939 Green
39388 10% 3,939 NDP
100%

You see how the lower the turnout, the more important the progressive vote becomes, ie the victory of the poll-leading party becomes ever thinner in terms of number of votes difference.

In essence, the strategy canvas is dynamic and not set (this is not a zero-sum game), so here is another calculation:
Imagine Green party supporters identified by the Forum polls, turn out to vote at 75%, while the other parties deliver on the high end of a by-election turnout:
2012 Forum poll eligible voters 2012 votes
Chris Turner (Green Party) – 75% of his 25% support 25% 88520 16597
CPC (based on votes from scenario 2) 15509
Liberal  (based on votes from scenario 2). 13293
NDP  (based on votes from scenario 2) 4431
New base 55363

That’s right. This would boost the overall voter participation rate quite a bit. Note, this calculation uses two different base numbers. And why not? This is a dynamic field, where variables move based on actual behaviour. It’s within the Turner team’s grasp to win. Needless to say, it’s also within the Liberal party’s grasp to win. Deeper analysis by others suggests that the chances of the Liberal Party campaign team boosting up support is less likely. Still, if both Turner and Locke were to mobilize their vote at high enough rates, Calgary Centre could return the most unexpected: a 1st and 2nd place for progressive candidates.

Confidence is a key to the scenario. People do like to vote for winners. That means, Turner voters have to feel confident they can win and then they might vote for him. That’s the whole secret to momentum and translating momentum into votes.

Those voting for Chris Turner must turn out at high rates; if they do they can secure a seat in Ottawa. Amazingly, that doesn’t just mean people under 40 who would make the difference, but people of all ages. Random polls are reporting strong support for CPC among 18-34 which is plausible enough.

If we accept that Conservative voters are split by the political leaning of their particular candidate toward the far-right leaving the so-called Red Tories out, so that they either will not vote or vote Green (James Harris was a Red Tory who became leader of the Green Party), then Canada has the makings of a truly historic moment today, driven by citizens who are both engaged politically and fed up with being discounted.

Pathways to House of Commons for progressives

Calgary Centre progressives have a beautiful process here (despite its many limitations; most notable no cooperation by progressive parties) that says Turner has the greatest momentum and looks to be able to turn out the vote most effectively. The math says: show up and vote and a progressive will win.

If you were part of the 45% who didn’t vote in 2011 – that’s 39,000 people – realize it’s up to you. The relatively small but critical number of NDP supporters also have it in their hands to elect a progressive by voting for Turner or Locke. The Greens can do it by themselves if they turn out in unprecedented numbers for Chris Turner. These are the three main pathways on a fluid strategy canvas. As you can see, turnout, which truly is a measure of enthusiasm, is everything.

With this I await the returns from tomorrow’s vote to find out whether Calgary Centre isn’t just progressive in spirit, but filled with enough progressive voters to send a progressive to Ottawa to represent them.

And I applaud the 1CalgaryCentre team on persevering throughout this first-of-its-kind citizen experiment. It has made this by-election worth watching from afar.

(Full disclosure: as a tax-paying, long-time permanent resident in Canada I cannot and do not vote in any Canadian elections. I grew up in West-Germany, a democratic country with a proportional and representative voting system – one vote for a candidate in the riding, one vote for a party, which are combined to create German parliaments. Half the parliamentarians are elected directly, the other half via the party lists, which usually take geography into account. It’s a purposefully designed multi-party system that more often than not results in coalition governments, with coalition contracts forged during coalition negotiations following elections.)

Making information accessible

Long, comprehensive reports, however enthralling, are, at best, read by a minority. That’s why I have been preparing smaller, focused supplementary reports for the Value of Presenting study.

A report on Francophone minorities in Canada: La diffusion des arts vivants dans la francophonie canadienne (PDF)

Special Report Rural Northern Presenting (PDF)

And the presentation in Powerpoint format I used for a couple of webinars to discuss this information with rural and Northern presenters earlier this month:
Presentation Rural Northern Presenting Highlights (PDF)

A special report on Dance Attendance Supplementary Analysis (PDF)

These reports go beyond the Interim Report that spawns them by deepening the specific information from our survey of the Canadian public.

Additional segment reports will be published over the spring to help Canadian presenters and anyone interested see themselves more clearly in this sector-wide study.

Media coverage in articles and interviews is summarized in this post.

Strategic move lies at heart of value innovation

In Blue Ocean Strategy W. ChanKim and Renee Mauborgne posit that, “the strategic move, and not the company or the industry, is the right unit of analysis for explaining the creation of blue oceans and sustained high performance.” They then define a strategic move as “a set of managerial actions and decisions involved in making a major market-creating business offering.”

I have started an exploration in the performing arts on this blog this month. I have begun to contemplate the landscape, or as they say the “strategy canvas”,  to learn about the skills, expertise, assets of the performing arts that can be leveraged to create new wide-open spaces for high performance. And to explore what elements might need to be added or increased in order to create a new kind of success.

In the face of uncertainty what’s your strategy?

The economic, financial, political and social pressures playing out the world over (Arab Spring, summer and fall, EU sovereign debt, US Congress debt failure) do not mean we all disappear from the face of the earth any time soon.

These massive disruptions simply have become normal.

You do not need to act globally to feel the effects of uncertainty on your business. This is the time for organizations and individuals to re-evaluate their specific situations and build new contingencies, develop new strategies, uncover opportunities for value innovation. Your capacity to analyze, understand and adapt will shape your outcomes.

This is the time for the kind of iterative 360 degree research and strategy process I use in my practice, and others use in theirs. It is by examining internal and external factors and helping people evaluate various dimensions rigorously that together we can shape a powerful direction forward. More than hope it provides pathways for decisive action, grounded in fact and using built-in measures to recognize when course corrections may be necessary.

A few questions

Are your customers particularly stressed due to the financial market turmoil? Which customer segments are more affected and how?

If you are in the B2B sector, are you aware of your business customers current concerns and how you can enhance their opportunities?

As a for-profit or not-for-profit corporation how are you taking account of changes in your environment, in your customer base, among stakeholders? Have you re-examined the assumptions in your 1-, 3- or 5-year business plans, yet?

Are you part of an industry / a sector that has been struggling already to maintain a resilient customer base? Have you accounted for and created strategic responses to the alternatives challenging your products or services in the market today? Have you examined how your products and services are essential – or hard to replace – to your customers?

How are you perceived in your community? How have you been managing your brand in order to create value and trust? How are you evaluating your impact on your community?

How have you responded to the massive changes in consumer behaviour due to the internet and now mobile technology? How have you leveraged the new opportunities that come with online and mobile communications and what are the next opportunities?

These are a few of the questions worth considering. It’s in part the impetus for the series of thought pieces I have been sharing on value innovation in the performing arts, a sector I care deeply about. The process is the same no matter the sector.

Election Polling Examined Intelligently

Last May, 12 polling companies were active during the federal election, using more methods to gauge the election intentions of Canadians than ever before. The poll closest to the actual election is the one that determines which pollster is the most accurate. Turns out, those who issued a final poll the weekend before the election were within the margin of error for most if not all parties: basically a tie.

The MRIA Ottawa Chapter organized a unique, intelligent post mortem for September 22 at the National Arts Centre: 8 pollsters are coming together to discuss lessons learned, from methodology questions relating to data gathering to question construction.  This is an important discussion the industry and Canadians need to have: only when election polling is done to the highest standards can it serve the public good. The May election was an awesome social research lab with the seismic shift (Orange Crush anyone?) taking place on the political landscape. Learning from these real-life events, and how researchers fared providing insight for citizens, is crucial in a democracy.

3 days ago, with the Ontario election on – and polling back in the spotlight, too – two staffers at IPSOS Reid,  the largest and most powerful research firm in Canada decided to lash out at everyone else in the entire industry; while it makes for fine pundit fodder the motivations haven’t been explained. Luckily, MRIA has issued a lucid response outlining the validity of various methods in polling and marketing research in general and affirming the integrity of Canadian marketing researchers.

MRIA Ottawa stands for intelligent discussion, insightful analysis and open discourse.

October 11, 2011 Update: View the panelists’ presentations.

Understanding something about finance

Have you read your organization’s financial statements lately? Chances are they tell you more about the business your organization is in, ie what its success depends on, than its mission and vision statements.  Ask yourself: what’s the biggest asset my organization has? And what are its biggest costs? Where does its profit come from?

You might just be amazed.