Adapt or Die

Brian Solis, in his post, The Importance of Brand in an Era of Digital Darwinism, talks about tone-deaf brands like Netflix that didn’t engage with customers and didn’t monitor social network conversations, consequently screwing up and losing their customers’ trust:

“Brands that fail to instill this level of confidence in consumers run the risk of falling to digital Darwinism. The brands that survive this era of economic disruption, will be the ones that are best able to evolve because they recognize the need and opportunity to do so, before their competitors.”

I wonder how many associations still think it’s business as usual. Many of the large national associations get it, but what about the smaller ones or state associations? They’re not reading the industry blogs. Just what are they reading? Anything? Many of them don’t belong to ASAE, and even if they do, are they paying attention?

Their boards don’t know any better. Why would they? They’re not association professionals.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mourning a patient that doesn’t even know it’s dying. It’s sad. A stupid loss.

The state SAEs, heck, everyone who cares about associations, can’t reinforce this message enough:

“What separates brands that fall to digital evolution from those that excel is the ability to recognize the need for change and the vision to blaze a path toward renewed relevance among a new generation of consumers.”

It’s no different for associations. As Solis says, #adaptordie.

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer for companies serving the association market, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life as a ghostblogger and content marketing writer. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, going to shows, journaling, cooking, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of something tasty in hand.

9 thoughts on “Adapt or Die”

  1. Great post. An interesting discussion at the ANEX Idea Swap in Columbia, MD about figuring how to adapt. Many don’t know what questions to ask or how to evaluate the answers. It is hard to self-diagnose (that’s why doctors are their own worst patients). I’m sure most association executives would say they were adapting – perhaps not to the right things. Rearranging the deck chairs?


    1. I say “adapt or die” like it’s so simple, but, ay yay yi, what a challenge. I could see the process getting so complicated it would kill everyone off before they ended up anywhere. I think you need the right attitude and culture before you tackle the future, otherwise you will get bogged down in process. Another tough question: Whom to listen to? Leadership? Regular members (and all their segments)? Future members?

      How about an exchange program where CEOs of unrelated associations diagnose each other’s associations. Geez, they’d deserve a few extra weeks of vacation for that.


  2. I have to say, I don’t like adapt or die. Adapt sounds like a pure accommodation to some external force as opposed to evolving … which to me, is the next iteration of an organization’s core purpose in a manner that is consistent with what is happening in the external environment. Associations need to be more of who we are (community, content, communication) not strictly appropriate what organizations in other arenas may have to do to remain competitive. Too many groups are still paying too steep a price for jumping on the products bandwagon and shifting to view members almost exclusively as customers, a major mistake in many cases since it turns us into product critics instead of involved citizens with a stake in what our community produces.


    1. Adapt or die is harsh, that’s Solis’ tagline, but it certainly gets attention. I like your version, evolve or die. “Evolve” is a better word, it allows for baby steps and is more in line with the text I bolded above, which, although aimed at brands, is a good direction for associations too.

      I agree, members should not be treated like customers — maybe that was a phase in the professionalization of associations? The member experience is richer and deeper, touches us in more places and can be transformative. I can’t think of a brand that offers an experience AND community like that, although I’m sure there are some Lego nuts who would argue otherwise.

      I do pay attention to what brands (biz, media, organizations) do because they’re part of the world that members live in, and influence expectations for user experiences — websites, mobile, customer service response time, learning on demand. Exciting times!


  3. Good piece Deirdre.

    I have been ringing the alarm bells in the chamber of commerce industry. The industry talks a good talk about evolving (thanks Jeffrey) but their actions are the opposite. I am skeptical that the people who have done things one way for 25 years will be the ones to help our industry to adapt. Their are exceptions but for the majority of established people in our industry, change is a threat, not an opportunity.



    1. And that’s exactly what makes me so sad. Head in the sand. I don’t envy CEOs in those organizations, change can be scary, especially when you’re all alone out front. But how can you feel good about yourself when you know that instead of leading your organization, you chose to just maintain the status quo until you retire. Yeah, easy for me to say, I’m not the one out there doing it.


  4. Sometimes with small associations it’s hard to hear your organization has a problem — there’s no chatter online because the niche is narrow, board members don’t speak up and members don’t recognize the association’s problems as their own. As an executive you more or less have to anticipate it and push change, focus on your mission, then relentlessly and meticulously measure effectiveness on specific goals. Never easy. We have to adapt. Die may not be the correct verb for failure to adapt, but loss of relevance accurate.


    1. It must be very challenging to lead a board into the future when no one knows what that future really looks like. I just had the image of someone like Lief Ericson, sailing into the unknown, with a crew that’s maybe half-convinced you know what you’re doing. You just have to be nimble, ready to adjust, screw up, try again, and hope the boat doesn’t sink.


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