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What type of benefits do members care about most?

Membership organizations exist to serve their members. So it’s no surprise that Corona is often tasked with uncovering what benefits members find most valuable and what new benefits members are seeking. Similarly, we often conduct research with non-members to measure their awareness of the organization’s benefits and whether they are a “fit” for them.

The benefits Corona has examined has run the spectrum, from career services to professional development to lobbying and more. While benefits are unique to an organization, we have observed some broad trends, such as:

Benefits that focus on the individual consistently rate higher than benefits that focus on the profession or industry.

This can vary by segment and organization, but in short, a benefit that focuses on personal gain (e.g., networking, career, skills, etc.) will rate higher than those that focus on the profession or industry more broadly (e.g., funding research, representing their interest with legislatures, etc.). This isn’t to say the other things aren’t important, but that they have relatively less appeal than personal benefits.

This makes intuitive sense in many ways. While people will support the broader industry benefits, they first want their own needs met. People ask what’s in it for them and the clearest answers are those benefits that they can see a direct advantage from. While people can often see the benefits of supporting their broader industry, it is not as direct or an immediate of a line from organizational offering to personal benefit.

Have you seen this with your own organization? What benefits have you found to be especially valuable among members?


As a side note, when Corona researches benefits we don’t only research the value of the benefit, but also often how the organization is performing in providing that benefit and whether the organization is seen as the entity to provide it. Weighing all of these factors together helps our clients make a more informed decision to what benefits to offer.

This is the third post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here.

The importance of segmenting your membership

Members of associations may often be thought of as a cohesive group but, in fact, rarely are. While all members may be share some unifying characteristic – interest or involvement in an industry or topic – beyond that their needs and preferences can be quite diverse.

For instance, members’ needs may vary by:

  • Sector. Government, private, or nonprofit.
  • Industry. Academia vs. business or even specific fields of study or types of products or services.
  • Career stage. Students, young professionals, those mid-career, and those close to retirement.

So, how can you effectively segment your membership (or even prospective members and other non-members)? Here are two main methods you can use to get started.

  1. Segment membership based on what you know about them. This most likely means collecting information at time of sign-up or renewal, such as industry or career stage, and then placing them in the best segment(s) from there.
  2. Allow your members to opt-in to the segments you identified. This can work well if you think some members will have multiple interests or interests that may not be obvious. For example, someone who works in academia but has strong industry ties and may want content for both.

Research can inform either strategy. By asking members their wants and needs, you can decide the best segmentation strategy and then use one of the above methods to place people into the segment that will best meet their needs.

Once you know who is in which segment, you can tailor newsletters, website landing pages, and even membership appeals to each group.

One concern organizations can have with segmenting, and then communicating differently with each group, is how to stay true to who they are as an organization. This is a valid concern, but it is important to understand that segmenting your membership allows you to better communicate your message to each group. It does not mean changing who are for each group.

The following flowchart helps show how the different pieces are interrelated.

Here is the same graphic showing how this may look for an actual organization.

For instance, if we were segmenting on academia vs. industry:

Or, if we’re segmenting on student /new members with late career/existing members.

Stay true to who you are as an organization but tailor your appeals accordingly.

This is the second post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here.

Virtual Natives

Hello virtual native, good-bye digital native.

While that statement might seem far-fetched, after all it wasn’t that long ago that we were getting used to the idea of a digital native as a person familiar with computers and the Internet from a very young age, it isn’t too early to plan for a future defined by virtual reality. Children born over the next two decades will grow up with it. Not only will these children grapple with developing their own imaginations, they’ll be discerning what is really real from what is virtually real. Might the 2 year-old of 2030 have a virtual imagination?

It’s time to get ready. Parents, care givers, educators and children’s museums will be shaped by this new reality.

You read it here first. Virtual native – a person familiar with virtual reality from a very young age.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Do Denver residents see themselves in arts, cultural and creative organizations?

At our I2020 presentation last week, we had a lot of great discussion about the data. One topic we discussed was representation in arts, culture and creativity. While a large majority of Denver residents in our survey believed that people like them participate in arts, culture and creativity, African American and especially Latinx residents were more likely to doubt that people like them participated. Even a small difference can be important, though, since people might use representation to infer other things about an organization and its events, such as whether an event is welcoming, whether they have the right background knowledge for an event, and whether an organization is relevant to them. Also, representation is important because it’s something that organizations have some control over, especially representation within their boards and staff.

Quantitative research is really useful for understanding the “what” of a topic. To get to the “why” though, you really need qualitative research that gives people space to explain things in their own words. We hope the results from this I2020 survey inspire Denver organizations to start digging into the “why”.

To view the presentation, click here (PDF). To learn more about Imagine 2020, including additional research, click here.


How to communicate with members in your organization

One of the most common topics we cover when conducting member research is communication preferences. This makes perfect sense – your organization may be the best at what it does, but if you cannot reach members effectively then what’s the point?

So, what is the most preferred way members want to receive communications? Email. Almost without fail, email is members’ top preference. While this is true on the whole, we have seen growing interest in social media channels as well. Still, if you had only one mode of communication, email would be most preferred.

However, sending email alone isn’t the golden ticket to effective communication. Below we offer some other best practices we’ve learned from researching and working with membership organizations.

  • Have a process to not only gather contact information, but to update it over time. Contact information often becomes stale. Periodically ask people to update or confirm their information, perhaps at member renewal each year, and make it easy for people to update their information on their own. Ensure old addresses are removed. Make opting out easy, and if an email fails to deliver several times to an address, purge it from your system. Having clean lists keeps members happy and allows you to better measure email effectiveness.
  • Track email effectiveness. Not all emails are created equally. Track open rates and click rates to understand when it is best to send your emails and what content gets the most clicks. You can also send multiple versions of your email to different individuals on your list to test email strategies, such as different subject lines or calls to action.
  • Ask members what content they want and how frequently. Are they looking for organization news? Broader industry news? Event information? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Tracking what they click and respond to will also help validate content preferences.
  • Develop a broad communication plan. This goes beyond email, and while email will often serve as the backbone of organization communications, having multiple modes and number of touchpoints can help maximize your reach too. To make your plan, consider each communication mode your organization currently uses or would consider using, and then map out what types of messages get pushed out through each and how often. For example, your plan might send member reminders and important organization updates through a monthly e-newsletter, renewals go out via email and mail, and less important news and information is shared on Facebook and Twitter.

In future blog post we’ll further discuss how to best reach your members with relevant content. Specifically, how to segment your membership by their needs.

This is the first post in a series of posts about membership organizations. Corona has worked extensively with membership organizations and is sharing some of its lessons learned over the years here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to get all updates, and sign-up for our quarterly newsletter here. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Imagine 2020 Data Snack

Today, Kate Darwent, PhD, spoke to an audience of over 100 arts leaders about the need to increase opportunities for Denver residents, especially African American and Latinx residents, who are hungry to participate more in arts, cultural and creative activities. The city conducted a one-of-a-kind statistically valid survey of its residents in 2017 to learn what they value about the arts, what motivates them to engage, and the barriers they face. Interestingly, residents with a strong desire to participate more face a complex web of barriers including: lack of opportunities in their immediate neighborhood, less satisfaction with the amount of information they receive, and more uncertainty about whether people like them participate in arts, culture and creativity.

The 2017 survey was a mid-point check on IMAGINE 2020: Denver’s Cultural Plan.

Measuring in Multiple Dimensions

The shortest route between any two points is a straight line.

Don’t dance around.

Get to the point.

Sometimes being indirect is the best route.

We hear such sayings everyday. Indirectness is often seen as a liability, circuitousness as a weakness. But in our work, that’s not always the best strategy.

Understanding people and behaviors requires us to understand the context in which they live, think, and make decisions, and that’s a difficult thing. In my 18 years of work as a market researcher, one thing that I’ve learned is that people have such a wide variety of perspectives on life that there’s no way I can take them all into account when conducting research. The best I can do is to piece together the patterns that I see in the data and use that to enlighten myself and my client.

In order to do that, sometimes you can’t just ask one question. You have to triangulate. This may involve asking different types of questions that circle back to the same general topic in different ways. It’s expensive, relatively speaking, because it keeps you from asking other questions in that same survey space, but it can be valuable.

However, it is indeed a luxury to be able to engage in this practice. So we look for other approaches where possible.

As a variant on that approach, one of my favorite tricks of the trade is to ask complementary questions, questions that help you understand the context of a particular issue. It may not give you different perspectives, but it’s an efficient way to add value in multiple ways.

For example, if we ask about desire for various recreational opportunities, we ask simultaneously how important it is to their quality of life. This gives us three measures for the price to two: desire, importance, and the combination of the two. It helps us understand the issue and its context. For mental health issues, we may ask about how common they are in households, but also what their impact is. Again, we get three items of information for the price of two.

More importantly, this gives us a context for measuring opinions and issues. By asking related questions in two or three different dimensions, we can measure issues with a more rich understanding.

I hope you found this post interesting, but also informative and important.

Corona 2017 Promotions

As we end 2017, Corona Insights would like to offer recognition to our team members who have been promoted this year. We were pleased to witness the promotions of Matt Bruce and Kate Darwent, PhD, to the position of Director, and Gregory Hornback to the position of Senior Associate.

Matt has been with Corona Insights since 2012, and has been involved in numerous projects related to natural resources, utilities, recreation, and other areas of interest. He is a leader in ensuring that the company uses sound methodologies and embraces new ones as needed.

Kate also joined Corona Insights in 2012, and she has played a key role on many Corona projects in the areas of research, strategy, and evaluation. Some of her key contributions have come in the role of advancing our work in survey research and market segmentation, with particularly strong roles in our health, arts, higher education, and philanthropy practices.

Greg joined the firm in 2015, and has been a great “swing player”, bringing his versatile skills to bear in our strategy practice, quantitative research, and qualitative research realms.

We’re always pleased to offer promotions, because they affirm many positive things. First and foremost, they mean that our team members have proven themselves at meeting our clients’ needs, and that they are providing the high quality of insights and counsel that our clients expect. Second, it means that they are continuing to make great progress in their careers, continuing to build and display their skills and assume more responsibilities. And finally, it’s an affirmation of our company and our culture that we are successfully hiring the right people, and that those people choose to stay with Corona Insights as they crystallize their personal brands and professional reputations.

So please join us in congratulating Matt, Kate, and Greg on their accomplishments, and we hope that you will see plenty more of them in coming years!

How to measure what people want

Recently after an interview for a project, some us at Corona had a discussion about whether or not it would be useful to use a survey for the project. Like a lot of projects, this potential client was interested in what new changes the public might want in their organization. And at first, this seems like it could be a great area to do a survey and ask people what they want. However, directly asking people about what they might want can backfire sometimes for a number of reasons:

  1. Various psychologists have found that people are not always great at predicting their emotional response to something (e.g., will X make me happy?). Part of the reason is that people don’t always do a good job of imagining what it will actually be like.
  2. People often think that they want more choices, but this is generally not the case.
  3. Depending on the topic, people might feel like there is a “socially correct” option and might choose that one instead of what they really want.
  4. I think in general, we don’t always know what we want, especially when the possibilities are vast. And sometimes what we want may not come through in the survey questions. Sometimes experiencing a change is very different than reading about a change, especially if you’re trying to gauge whether you will like the change or not.

In some situations, it may be more useful to try to measure behavior instead of opinions when trying to determine what people want. While it is sometimes difficult to do this, the data can be very rich and useful. One interesting approach is to temporarily make a change and record what happens. For example, New York City first made Times Square pedestrian only as a test to see what the impact might be. It was initially a hard sell because people were thinking about what the city would lose—one of the main thoroughfares. But there were lots of positives to making it pedestrian only—enough to make the change permanent. When you survey people about potential changes, sometimes it is easier to think about what you lose in the change, as opposed to what you might gain. And that can impact how people respond to the survey.

A pop up shop is another example of this. A shop can temporarily appear for a few days or a month to see whether a more permanent location is a good idea. Even if your online shoppers say in a survey that they would visit a physical location, a pop up store will let you know whether that actually happens.

So the next time your organization is considering making a change, it might be useful to think about whether a survey is going to be the most useful way to decide what to change or whether measuring behaviors as part of a test might be a better approach.

The drama of measuring strategic progress

Every week from August through January, millions of Americans tune in three nights a week to watch modern-day gladiators battle over a single objective – strategically progressing an oblong ball down the field in 10-yard increments towards the finish line at the 100-yard mark (the end zone, for the growing number of people not tuning in). We can use the word “strategically” here because the offensive team’s endeavor involves an objective (moving the ball into the end zone); a scope or domain (inside the touch lines and based on field position); and an advantage the offense will try to utilize (a dual-threat QB, for instance).

As we know at Corona from our strategic consulting experience, any effective strategy needs to have these three aspects clearly delineated to succeed.  Even the best strategies, though, can fail when it comes to measuring the progress of its execution. This is as true in football as it is in organizational strategic planning. What organizations and football teams don’t always account for in measuring the progress toward a strategic plan’s execution is the human experience—the engagement side of strategy execution.

In the case of measuring the strategic progress of an NFL team advancing (or not) towards the end zone, the engagement comes in the drama of the struggle between the two teams and the theatrics that go into measuring each team’s progress. With all of its resources as an organization, why else would the NFL continue to use measurement techniques—like having a referee “eyeball” the spot of the ball and then trotting out crews of men with 10-yard-long chains to verify said spot—that are technically neither precise nor accurate if not to engage viewers in the theater of strategy execution, of collectively progressing towards a clearly defined objective?

The lesson is not that precision and accuracy are unimportant—my coworkers would be especially unhappy with that conclusion.  Instead, it is that organizations should be imaginative and intentional not only in how they wish to engage customers and employees around an inspiring strategy, but also how they can incorporate techniques of measurement and naturally occurring data that encourage customers and employees to experience the drama that goes into measuring an organization’s progress towards accomplishing its strategic objective(s).

This gels with some of the research on millennials, who, in addition to being a substantial set of consumers both now and into the future of the American economy, exhibit several characteristics indicating their receptiveness to being engaged throughout the process of strategic planning, including in the measurement of its execution. As previously noted by Corona’s resident millennials expert, millennials often seek to be engaged in nearly every aspect of an organization – from co-creating products to prioritizing the experience of an organization over even the products themselves (pdf).

Though this might be an off year for the NFL, now is an ideal time for organizations to consider taking a page out of the NFL’s playbook and make an effort to engage customers and employees in the drama of measuring strategic progress.