The Digital Association

Article
Published on 11 September 2019

What is evident when you speak to Alex Skinner, Managing Director at Pixl8, is that his agency has the energy of a start-up, with the experience of an established business. What’s more, Alex has a vision of how associations can manage their digital footprints.

Having founded the business with friend and business partner, Neil Rosewarn in 2001, Pixl8 is now a seasoned and critical player in the dedicated digital services sector. The agency specialises in the membership, loyalty and educational spaces, delivering award-winning websites and digital solutions for their clients. To date, the team has created over 100 membership association websites including trade associations, regulators and charities.

To gain an insight into their vision for the digital presence of member organisations, the AAE spoke with Alex and began by asking whether it was a conscious decision to provide dedicated membership services and products.

When Neil and I set-up Pixl8 straight out of university, we did work for large brands offering the usual creative digital services and gained so much from these early, exploratory days,” said Alex. “We were very good at solving what were often complex problems that large businesses were having with their digital channels. Our first membership client was the British Psychological Society.

Back then, there weren’t the plethora of systems and platforms we have today, so we saw that we could solve those problems, but more importantly, once you have addressed these issues for one membership organisation, you can apply your solutions to many others.

Also, we found that membership-based organisations tend to have small teams that often-managed massive numbers of members. We saw that as creative professionals with technical insights, we could resolve many of the issues these groups raised with us. Once we identified the commonality across membership-based organisations, we could see how we could focus on this sector.

If you look at the state of digital transformation across the membership sector, this is still in its infancy. In many ways, however, membership organisations are more mature than some corporates for instance. Membership organisations certainly push their platforms hard with their administration systems for example.

What is your vision of how the services associations provide and the value they deliver to members in the 21st Century?

“I see a continuing need for associations to provide the mechanism for members to be informed, inspired and to connect with others across their sector.

The capability to better understand their members through engagement measurement will lead to them needing to behave in an increasingly ambidextrous way. They have to simultaneously, deal with increasing levels of expectations for day-to-day service, while shape-shifting to the future
of more member-driven benefits. They also need to stay relevant in sectors where information is now broadly available and, furthermore, expected to be free.”

How can associations better use personalisation for their members via their online presence and other digital channels such as email?

“Many associations are not yet capitalising anywhere near the full potential of this. Taking a strategic look at how data and content can be better aligned to meet organisational aims is vital. To kick things off, it’s always good to look at current performance and map out how this is performing against objectives.

Standardised regular emails will deliver quick wins, but more insightful prompts can be more spontaneous. For instance, a prompt around a hot ticket event to a loyal member ahead of the central promotion can be highly effective. Online, we can deploy all sorts of smart and assumed personalisation based on whether members are logged in or not, what their current online behaviour is, location and where they are on our member journey mapping.”

What will be the digital member experience of the future look like? 

“With increasing pressures on members’ time, digital becomes the space where more traditional member benefits are delivered such as events and training. I also see that there is the opportunity to make collaborations and interactions more meaningful and actionable.

Digital is still at its early stages and while much of the mechanics are established, what you do with them is yet to be exploited. I see that members across regions and nations can become more collaborative making organisations increasingly more cohesive. I see the potential to connect and share across non-competing sectors also as an exciting space to inhabit, and I can see some of our clients going into this pioneering territory.”

Do we know the DNA of what a membership website should contain and how it should function?

“I want websites to shout out “I know and understand you.” I want members to feel they achieve their core needs and goals but get added value with every visit. Also, a focus on moving beyond the expected and instead, delivering the micro-interactions that surprise and delight.

The DNA must include a robust structure, clear propositions and multiple entry points for people at different career stages. Valuable, provocative and actionable content, plus the opportunity to participate, all add value to membership websites.”

Are member organisations also looking for platforms that will grow as they do, but that can also react to any changes in their sector such as regulation?

“Yes, and often we will speak to a client, who tell us the solution they have at the moment is working fine for them, but if there is new regulation on the horizon for their membership, how are they going to support those changes?

We have seen this scenario many times. We often say to a client that we understand that they have a system that they have been using for several years, but we show them that making a change is attainable, worthwhile and at times essential. Part of my job is to challenge the status quo and show organisations or associations about how they could do things differently.

Of course, delivering digital projects for membership organisations is not just a technical exercise as we have already mentioned. We apply design techniques that ensure our websites are intuitive and able to deliver the engaging experience members want.

If members are confused by the website or the channel they are using, we have failed. You need to focus on your membership and their needs. We can then help you achieve those goals.”

Why are membership organisations hesitant sometimes about embarking on new digital projects?

“Often it is poor past experiences. It is not uncommon for us to be approached by organisations that have gone through much pain with a project such as a system development. They have spent the vast majority of their budget without seeing the benefit.

While often, they will have a clear idea of what they want to achieve; the route to achieving their vision hasn’t been well defined at the outset. We would work with this type of client to gain a full and detailed understanding upfront. We will enable them to learn from previous mistakes and misunderstandings. We are an agency that can deliver their digital ambitions.”

How are membership organisations evolving their systems to be both commercial yet maintain their membership identity?

“I think it all depends on what kind of organisation you are running. If your organisation is a regulator, a trade organisation, lobbying body or a professional membership association, the value and meaning of what membership is will be different for these groups.

I see these aspects as going hand-in-hand. If you are focused on understanding and delivering good member benefits and memorable digital experience, this, in turn, will aid your financial performance. Happy members renew and recommend the experience to others. Having a reliable income stream from members can allow organisations to be more confident with their R&D as they explore and consider new revenue streams.”

How do you think membership organisations will be managing their digital channels in the future?

“We all need to consider the impact of the burgeoning potential of advances such as AI and machine learning. Currently, our digital platforms require a great deal of human input. I look forward to a future where we automate more actions around content, prompts and reporting so that our jobs become more focused on analysis, creativity and interaction.

For now, more tailoring around targeting members with the right media, messages and timing is a good place to start. Better decisions can be made to make the best use of budgets as associations balance paid for and free digital options.” 

Alex and his team have established a broad and deep technical and creative understanding of the membership and loyalty space, exploiting the potential of the digital environment. As membership organisations evolve their connections and communications with their memberships, Pixl8 will continue to advance their digital platforms and services to bring tangible value to each member and member organisation."

To learn more about Alex Skinner and Pixl8, visit www.pixl8.co.uk