Membership Experience for the Modern Era

Reimagining Membership
From The Ground Up


Since 1954, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has led the charge in helping people worldwide live longer, healthier lives. ACSM's passionate, global membership base spans occupations across the spectrum of sports medicine and health fitness, including clinical practitioners, exercise science faculty, researchers, and more. ACSM also certifies exercise and clinical professionals – setting a high standard in gyms, health care facilities, and other wellness facilities around the country and across the world.



Making Space For 50,000

As social media proliferates and the modern workforce undergoes seismic changes on a weekly basis, membership associations in 2016 have had to navigate choppy waters. Always seeking to serve its diverse audiences, ACSM and SmallBox collaborated on a strategic plan to reimagine its membership offerings, with specific goals around increasing retention, engagement, and relevance across key audiences.

The tricky part? Ensuring that all members voices were represented. With more than 50,000 members and professionals in over 70 occupations, that’s a tall task – and that’s not counting potential members, connected industries, and the general public, all of which trust ACSM and its community as the expert source for health fitness and sports medicine.

Focus groups are great – but it's difficult to hear from a wide range of voices. SmallBox created a positive, safe space for honest ideation from an individual and group standpoint.
Rachael McLaughlin, Chief Marketing Officer, American College of Sports Medicine


Stories, Surveys, & Creative Sessions

Across several months, we collaborated with ACSM’s membership team to explore their current offering and redesign the membership experience using the Design Thinking framework. At the beginning, we worked to ideate and frame multiple problem and opportunity spaces, while reviewing existing research and initiatives. Though we ended up identifying more than a dozen areas of focus, we knew we needed to start at the root – how might we reimagine ACSM’s membership offerings to be especially relevant in 2016 and beyond?

We mapped out ACSM's ideal content process and experience
using an exercise called Business Origami.



In addition to existing quantitative data, new audience surveys, and competitive research – we also wanted to make sure we brought actual members and potential members into the process, to better understand their needs and experiences. We interviewed multiple members across each audience sector, from students and professors, to researchers, and independent gym owners. We concentrated on keeping the format open in order to dig deep into career needs, professional struggles, and everyone’s unique industry experience.


After gathering our members’ input and reviewing survey data, we synthesized recurring themes, identifying supporting evidence from the stories & data gathered in our Empathy phase. These themes became potential areas of focus for what the future of membership could be. Because we believe our audiences should be the center of the discussion, we framed these areas as open-ended questions: “How might we make ACSM membership a financial no-brainer?” ACSM’s membership team opened the process up to their organization, generating team-wide buy-in by showing the path we took to get to this point.

Ideate & Prototype

After generating a number of ideas on our own, we recruited ACSM staff and a diverse group of members and facilitated a day of open, creative exercises designed to ideate a huge amount of membership benefit and offering material, as well as build cohesion across our audiences, both internal and external. At the close of the session, small groups each prototyped unique membership offerings, and then prototyped and presented to the larger group for feedback and discussion.


Rebuilding On The Run

While rebuilding a huge offering such as membership from scratch can often take years, over the course of just six months we partnered with ACSM and its members to establish goals & opportunities, research and empathize with our audiences, frame new challenges and areas of focus, and then ideate and prototype entire sets of new member benefits and offerings.

The next step? Selecting the best ideas to inform the future of membership, and then returning to our audiences one final time to test what we’ve produced and ensure its value to the people who matter the most – our amazing, dedicated group of ACSM members!

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