Association Swing and a Miss--CEA Tech Enthusiast Membership

Last March, I got an email from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) informing me of a new member category they had just created: Tech Enthusiast. I believe the dues were $30 a year and the benefits included the following:

As a CEA Tech Enthusiast (TE) member you will receive hot deals and incredible opportunities from our corporate partners. These include free and discounted products, advance product launch information, access to industry events, and beta testing opportunities. As a TE, you are privy to some very exclusive information.
What the hell, I figured--it was an interesting concept, and for $30 I thought I'd give it a try and see how great the "hot deals" and "incredible opportunities" were, not to mention "beta testing opportunities." I paid up and....crickets. A few emails...and by few I mean really few. No beta testing opportunities that I recall. A circa 2000 online discussion board. That's about it.

Last week I got an email from them announcing that they are ending the new membership category effective January 31, 2012. Wow, really--not even giving it a year? I guess on one hand I applaud them doing what few associations do--cutting an ineffective program. But on the other hand, it feels like they just threw it out there to see if people would pay and devoted basically no staff or resources to it succeeding--what did they expect?

In my opinion, there are a few things they could have done to make this program more of a success:
  1. Technology--I know I'm possibly more the exception rather than the rule, but IMHO, it's 2011--why would you launch what is basically an online membership category and use online forums instead of an online social networking platform? It's one thing if your members are old-school or not that interested in online discussion, but for the demographic they were targeting, why did they think members would want to interact with each other on an online bulletin board while their other online interactions are likely on Facebook or something similar? Yes, it would have cost more but it also would probably have been a lot easier to use, and would have hopefully fostered better member engagement. That said, there are absolutely some successful discussion forums out there--having a Facebook-esque platform is definitely not a guarantee of success. But in this case...the forums were just a fail.
  2. Communication--We've all heard of "build it and they will come" syndrome when it comes to social media, but a whole member category basically built on pay your dues to join then figure it out from there? Obviously it didn't work out so well in this case. Not that people necessarily want to be inundated with even more email, but seriously--this was the total opposite of too much email: barely any email or any other communications. No newsletter. No magazine. Pretty much no anything, period. How are people supposed to feel part of something if they forget they're even a member because nobody is driving the bus? I heard more from people I haven't seen in 30+ years on Facebook this past nine months than I heard from CEA about the thing for which I was paying to dues to belong to. How about a Facebook presence driving me to the website or reminding me of the "incredible opportunities"? Oh, wait--there is one...which I never knew about until I happened to look it up when I was writing this post. How about a phone call from someone there checking in to see how I was liking my membership and what I felt was lacking? A survey? How about something, anything, other than crickets?
  3. Advertising/Revenue--I have to admit I'm kind of sad to see this thing fail because I think it could have been a success. I get that CEA is a huge association with much bigger fish to fry than some lowly "tech enthusiasts" at $30 a year per, but I thought a consumer membership was a cool idea and could have been a great way for them to connect sponsors and corporate members to consumers like me who spend a lot on tech products. What if they had gotten sponsors/partners to offer free membership to their customers, or had stores like Best Buy or RadioShack offer free memberships in stores or fliers? They could have potentially gotten a lot of members and, in turn, could have probably made decent money through advertising opportunities. What if they had offered some kind of weekly or daily deal concept to members? Granted, I'm the first to admit the daily deal world is already pretty saturated, but something that hooks in members on a recurring basis and both offers them a great deal and reminds them of the organization they're part of? Seems like it could have been a decent source of revenue and a good direct-to-consumer way of advertising.
Ok, I'll stop there. I don't know--I guess the "fail fast" thing applies here and they were just trying to cut their losses, but as someone who thought this seemed like a cool concept and was willing to pay to see how it panned out, I'm surprised how bummed I am to see this fail so fast. As a member, I feel kind of discarded or something. Is there such a thing as failing too fast?