In today’s digital-forward landscape, associations are navigating the need to keep pace with evolving member expectations. Coming from a background in product development and digital strategy, my foray into the world of associations has been filled with learning curves and revelations. A standout among these insights is the pivotal role of mobile apps in shaping member engagement and service delivery. To delve deeper into this realm, I turned to an expert in the field—Jason King, the President of Accella. With a rich track record in mobile app development, Jason has journeyed with numerous clients, many of them associations, through the labyrinthine process of envisioning, building, and sustaining successful mobile applications. The insights gleaned from our conversation shed an illuminating light on the challenges, triumphs, and strategies integral to creating the right mobile strategy for associations.
Jason, as an industry insider, how do you see the role of mobile apps in the world of associations?
Jason: As professionals in this industry, we champion the use of mobile apps in associations. That said, our main goal isn’t just selling apps—it’s about building lasting, successful relationships with our association clients. Sometimes, this involves recommending custom solutions, like event apps or community hubs. But these custom apps, with their unique features and higher costs, are usually a better fit for the bigger associations. For many others, off-the-shelf apps can often fulfill their needs just as effectively.
So, even with off-the-shelf apps, are there instances where a custom solution is necessary?
Jason: Absolutely, and it’s important to highlight that point. While off-the-shelf products can cover some generic needs, there are many specific requirements and challenges unique to associations that no common solution can support effectively. That’s where a well-crafted custom app comes into play, providing unique features tailored to the association and its members.
What are some examples of custom apps Accella has created that address specific association needs?
Jason: Of course. One of our collaborations was with the Air Line Pilots Association. We helped develop their ALPA mobile app, designed with features crucial for pilots. The Jumpseat Flight Finder allows for fast, efficient flight searches from anywhere, while the Known Crew Member locations guide crew members to accurate drop-off points at airports. The app also provides personalized union documents accessible based on login persona, offering custom information on demand.
And what about apps aimed at different user bases?
Jason: For that, the NAMI Air app we developed for the National Alliance on Mental Illness comes to mind. We designed it as a supportive space for individuals with mental health challenges. Despite the app’s substantial engagement and positive impact on its community, it was eventually sunset due to a lack of financial backing.
In one of Accella’s whitepapers, key areas to focus on when developing a mobile app are highlighted: defining the purpose, sparking initial downloads, and creating re-engagement. Can you tell us more about this?
Jason: Absolutely, these factors are pivotal to the success or failure of a mobile app. Defining the purpose is about understanding what unique value the app brings to your association and its members. Initial downloads are important, but it’s the re-engagement—the repeated usage—that truly indicates an app’s success. And none of this can happen without robust executive-level buy-in. It’s crucial to navigate the challenges and obstacles that inevitably arise on this journey.
What does it mean to develop a custom app? Is it just about creating software?
Jason: Oh, it’s definitely much more than that. When we’re talking about creating a custom app, we’re really talking about investing in a new product. It’s a bit like how startups see their digital platforms. But it’s also about reshaping how your association functions and connects with its members.
And there’s the aspect of digital transformation. Now, I’m not a fan of throwing around buzzwords, but here it really applies. We’re not just slapping a digital veneer on existing processes. We’re reimagining those processes with all the possibilities that digital tech offers.
You’ve mentioned digital transformation. Can you expand on what that means in the context of developing a custom app?
Jason: So, for associations, this process is about more than just the upfront development cost. You have to think about what it means for your organization as a whole. That could mean changes to staff roles, investing in training, budgeting for maintenance and updates, planning for future features, and even grappling with the cultural shifts that come along with new ways of doing things.
That’s why it’s so important to plan for the long-term success of the app—it’s not just about getting version one out the door. And when we work with our association clients, we’re not just building them an app. We’re guiding them through this transformation, making sure they’re poised for success in the long run.
What would you say should be the main goal for associations considering a mobile app?
Jason: Well, the aim should never be merely to have an app, to tick a box on a checklist. An app is not a novelty, but a tool, a means to an end. The goal, therefore, is to offer genuine, tangible value that encourages not just initial downloads, but regular usage. This means creating something that truly resonates with members and provides them with something they can’t get elsewhere. Ultimately, the app should form part of a long-term digital strategy that the association is ready to back and invest in. It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses—it’s about providing real value to your members.
Our chat with Jason reveals the multifaceted nature of mobile apps in associations. Custom apps are an investment suitable for larger organizations, while off-the-shelf solutions can meet many associations’ needs. Success lies in defining the app’s purpose, driving initial downloads, and fostering ongoing engagement. App development should be viewed as a strategic investment that aligns with an association’s long-term digital strategy, with the ultimate aim of consistently delivering value to members.
For those interested in delving deeper into this topic, Accella has authored a detailed article titled ‘Facing the Digital Imperative: Associations, Mobile Strategy, and the Power of Market Research.’ This piece explores the nuances of mobile strategy for associations, providing further insights and guidance.
You can read more here.