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Dude, that association is so flawsome!

The latest trend profiled on trendwatching.com is titled "Flawsome." Despite the painful portmanteau, it has some interesting implications for associations. (Hat tip to Jeffrey Cufaude for pointing me trendwatching.com.)

Trendwatching defines "flawsome" as such:

"Consumers don't expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are flawsome: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity."

This idea builds on Mark Athitakis' post in January, "Resolved: Embrace Your Messes," in which he suggested that "Maybe this is the year you stop trying so hard to apply order to things and instead spend more time acknowledging life's inherent messiness."

I see this idea as a welcome but tricky one for associations to follow. At face value, consumers embracing an organization's flaws seems like it can only be positive for associations because, well, every association has them. But there's a limit to how flawed something can be, beyond which it's just crummy.

Knowing exactly where that line is located is likely more art than science, and to venture near it comes with some challenges that present themselves in unique ways for associations:

Human versus haphazard. One danger I see for associations is in equating being under-resourced with being flawed. Consumers will embrace flaws when they're the result of being human, not when they're the result of haphazard execution. In other words, you can't aim high, miss by a mile, roll out the product anyway, and then hope your members will understand "because we're a nonprofit."

Two different audiences. Associations have their engaged members and their mailbox members, and the degree to which each will embrace an association's flaws is likely to vary greatly. The engaged are more likely to know and understand the challenges the association faces and likely already put a human face on the organization because they've directly interacted with its people, both staff and volunteers. Mailbox members might see the association from a distance, as a monolithic brand that they judge by the same criteria they judge any other brand, for-profit or non.

More people equals more messiness. An association brand is a particularly squirrely beast because it's built upon the value of a community. The community is the brand, and vice versa. There's inherent value there, of course, but it also makes for a lot more inconsistency or non-uniformity to embrace.

Trendwatching briefly hinted at one strategy for embracing flaws at varying levels, suggesting that "many brands could learn lessons from the software industry and their 'beta' approach. Customers will of course often appreciate and even enjoy helping you improve." I certainly agree. I also know a few members of the association community who would have some recommendations on how to be flawsome. But I'm also curious for your recommendations. Does your association try to embrace its flaws? How have you presented that message to your members and customers?


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