Do Your Digital Products and Services "Spark Joy"?

Tom Jelen | 10.11.19
Topics: Tips - Trends - TechTalks

Like many parents, my wife and I have accumulated a lot of stuff since we started a family 14 years ago—toys, games, clothing of all sizes, books, and so on. Now that our children are a bit older, we feel like it’s finally time to clean house and dig ourselves out of the family clutter.


Inspired by Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, we got to work on "tidying" our things. As Marie Kondo suggests, we worked through our accumulated stuff by category and—slowly, but surely—we made progress.

I am happy to say that we were able to get rid of a bunch of the clutter in our house and we are now folding our clothing so it stands up in our drawers (all the Marie Kondo followers will know what I'm talking about; for the rest of you, there is YouTube).

When you are going through the process of getting rid of your stuff, Marie Kondo suggests that you "take each item in [your] hand and ask: 'Does this spark joy?' If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it." You want to surround yourself only with things that "spark joy" and "speak to your heart."

The process got me thinking about my digital consulting work with associations. I think it's safe to say that associations have something of a reputation for holding on to digital products and services that may have outlived their usefulness. Unfortunately, this clutter has a variety of negative impacts on associations:

  1. Every digital product or service requires ongoing maintenance. The time and energy your association spends maintaining an underperforming digital product carries an opportunity cost. If you spend all your time keeping an outdated service up and running, you won’t have the time to build new solutions to your members’ problems.
  2. Digital clutter breeds complexity, inefficiency, and risk. Your IT department will likely attest to the fact that more technology is not necessarily a good thing. As described by McKinsey in an article on IT architecture, "In many companies, the great diversity of technologies—including programming languages, operating systems, and integration tools—creates tremendous inefficiencies." A large digital footprint could also open the door for all kinds of security and privacy risks.
  3. Your members may become overwhelmed by all your offerings. An HBR study found that "…the best tool for measuring consumer-engagement efforts is the 'decision simplicity index,' a gauge of how easy it is for consumers to gather and understand (or navigate) information about a brand, how much they can trust the information they find, and how readily they can weigh their options." Rather than aiming for quantity, perhaps the better strategy is to focus your attention on strengthening and simplifying the most viable digital products you provide (and jettisoning the rest).
  4. Integrating your customer experience will be very challenging. Research by Martin Mocker and Jeanne Ross "…shows that product integration, unlike product variety, is related to better performance." However, the challenge of integrating ten products is much more difficult than integrating two. Rather than spend all your time integrating systems, perhaps the better solution is to reduce the number of systems you are trying to integrate.

By now, you are probably asking yourself: "How do I know if my digital product 'sparks joy'"?

That's a fair question. After all, you can't physically handle your website and see how you react. You'll need to look for "sparks of joy" through other means. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether it’s time to retire one of your digital products:

  1. Has usage stagnated or declined? The most obvious sign that your product has reached the decline phase of the innovation cycle is that people are no longer using it. If your career portal isn't getting traffic from members looking for a new job, perhaps it's no longer as relevant as when it first launched.
  2. Are you still receiving feedback (positive or negative) about your digital product? As Oscar Wilde once said, "there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about." In the world of digital products, the lack of any feedback may be a bad sign that people are ambivalent about your offering.
  3. Are you receiving feedback that suggests that your digital product is out of date? Many associations have old microsites lying around that have a…vintage feel to them. While clothing fashions come and go and you might argue that your old suit will come back into style, the same cannot be said for digital products. Perhaps it's time to recycle the throw-back website and let the Wayback Machine act as your family photo album when you want to take a trip down memory lane?

As Marie Kondo points out, getting rid of one of your digital products doesn't mean it was a failure. Rather, it served a purpose at a point in time, or it taught your organization something about what your members value. So thank it for the service it has provided and create space for the next digital product that will "spark joy" for your members.


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