Physical: Your Differentiator in a Digital World

1st November 2022

International Advisor to the Global Association Hubs Martin Sirk argues that being a digital-first organization doesn’t necessarily mean you should get rid of all things physical.

As renowned business futurist & uber-cool keynote speaker Kjell Nordstrom pronounced when I first experienced his cyborg-punk presence, way back in 2002: “your excellent website is no more a determinant of future success and competitive advantage than having functional toilets in your office”. 

Twenty years on, in the same vein, having a well-designed and adequately-funded digital strategy is going to be as essential as that prototypical website, but just as insufficient, for your association’s future success. 

Why? Because every company and association is now in the midst of becoming digitally competent and competitive, and this process will only accelerate as the tools to achieve this become cheaper and ever more sophisticated. Pricing will become even more transparent than today; products and services will be capable of almost instant deconstruction and replication; content and expertise will become unconstrained by geography or institution; hyper-competition will be ubiquitous. And users, consumers, members will have incredible choice at their fingertips, as individually-customized messages and offerings become the norm from every organization they interact with. Any association’s claimed digital differentiators will be subject to inevitable, inexorable erosion.This is why, alongside a great digital strategy, associations need to consciously design and invest in an equally sophisticated, complementary physical strategy, and not simply treat these activities as the vestiges of an outdated, analogue world that is receding in our rear-view mirrors. 

This piece is part of the exclusive partnership between Boardroom and the Global Association Hubs, which comes as an innovative response to the increasing decentralization of international associations as they look to develop their activities globally.

Alongside your CRM system, find a valued place (throughout your organization) for hand-written thank-you notes and personal phone calls.  As well as your AI-driven translation system, employ people who deeply understand and respect cultural differences. When rolling out your on-demand content library, constantly encourage in-person group gatherings to engage with complex issues. Use digital to map out physical: your members’ friendships with each other are probably the single most powerful determinant of their loyalty to your association, and your ability to understand, facilitate and reinforce these relationships will in the near-future become mission-critical. Always remember that trust is not an algorithmic concept, no matter what blockchain enthusiasts tell you!

And most importantly, don’t let the global, universal nature of digital persuade you that geography no longer matters, especially when it comes to the selection of strong destination partners and the best association ecosystems, whether you are planning events or looking for an office location or a base for global or regional activities.  Global Association Hubs partner cities – Brussels, Dubai, Singapore and Washington DC – understand the digital revolution that associations are going through, but are even more competent in the physical partnership priorities that help to build and sustain genuine, long-term competitive advantage.

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