The cure for competition?

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Whether you're a CME provider or with a pharmaceutical company, it's hard to argue that the competition is getting tougher all the time. For providers, there are more meetings, more online activities, more enduring materials, than ever before--and physicians have less time to spend on CME than they used to. For pharma, well, mergers and acquisitions are almost as big a part of life as freaking out about the Office of the Inspector General and the FDA. But are they doing us any good?

Tom Asacker addresses all this in a must-read article on his Web site for anyone who is facing increased competition--and who isn't? Maybe the nichiest of niche associations still has a fiercly loyal constituency, but most of us have more and more information sources that are in direct competition to our products, whether they be meetings or magazines. A snip:

Your new imperative is to assess and appeal to your customers feelings period. Feelings are the basis for all profit generating consumption in a market at the mercy of customer choice. Focus on feelings, especially the subtle ones that customers themselves cannot articulate.

Pay attention to what they do, not what they say, when assessing feelings, Tom says. If they say they love the organization, but no longer come to your meetings, something's out of whack, obviously.

I'm going to think long and hard about this, because our magazines also face huge (and, believe it or not, growing) competition. How do you feel about us? Just having come back from the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education conference last week, I got at least some indication of how people feel about Medical Meetings, the main magazine I work on.

One thing I noticed was that whether they like what we're doing or not, the readers I spoke with do care about the magazine (and this blog, which is really exciting!). They care if we get it right--and they're quick to let us know when they think that we don't (though I'd love to get more constructive criticism). This is a good sign, at least anecdotally, from some of the people I spoke with.

But it's nowhere near enough. What can we do to enhance our relationship with you? What would spur you to feel better about us than the other information sources out there?

And if you're not asking these questions of your "customers," why not? I'm trying to think of brands that I feel passionate about, and what makes me feel that way about them--why I'll spend twice as much on a turkey sandwich from Filo's than I would on a turkey sub from the Groton House of Pizza. What makes us passionate about an organization, a meeting, a journal, or a listserv? How can we inspire that same passion in our constituents?

It's not enough to have ACCME accreditation or exemplary FDA compliance, or an award-winning magazine. With the rapidly burgeoning sources of competition out there, if we don't know the answers to these questions--and act accordingly--some of us may not be doing what we do in a few months or years. Of that, my friends, I feel sure.

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