4 Lessons on The Membership Economy

Written by Robbie Kellman Baxter on August 30, 2016

Have you noticed lately how many organizations are joining the Membership Economy? Netflix and Amazon are two obvious examples, but more and more private sector companies are seeing the potential of unlocking a forever transaction through membership.

As an association, this is how you’ve been doing things from the very beginning, which is why you’ve had so much success. However, you face increased competition for member’s attention coming from the private sector. Technology has made it easy to connect members to organizations and to one another. It also allows organizations to analyze their behavior and provide increasingly targeted experiences to those members. It’s going to require creativity on your part to remain relevant to your current and future members.

I recently conducted a webinar for AssociationSuccess.org to discuss this very subject. At the bottom is a link to watch for yourself, but first, here’s a glimpse into the topics I covered:

1. Humans are Joiners for a Reason

Have you ever taken time to think about the psychology of why people join associations?

Let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Assuming basic physiological and safety needs are in check, people want to belong, be held in high regard by their peers and ultimately to achieve their full potential. Being a member is conducive to meeting the top three tiers of the pyramid. With organizations that provide a long-term formal relationship with customers or members, we experience an immediate sense of belonging, receive recognition for contributions and achievements, and access to tools that lead us toward self-actualization.

This is a really powerful combination, but the important thing to keep in mind is that simply joining an association does not satisfy these tiers by default. You must ensure that your member experience is effectively tapping into these needs. If you can successfully do this, your association will be stickier and conjure up more loyalty.

2. You’re Competing for Their Time

Too often, when we think of competition, we look at the organizations that are offering a similar product or service as us. However, your potential member has finite resources to spend, both in terms of time and money, and so your competitive set is probably bigger than you realize. You’re competing for mindshare and share of wallet, terms you may have heard before. Your customer might choose to pay for a premium membership on LinkedIn, and spend their “professional development” time and money with them, instead of with you.

3. B2B Members Need Love Too

You already know that your Superuser is your secret weapon. They go beyond being great members, and spend their own time and resources to help your organization. They are onboarding others. They’re generous at giving feedback. They are paving the way for new members to get to the point where they’re getting good value.

We love them. But if you’re an association with a member base consisting of businesses rather than individuals, you may not think this concept applies to you. In fact, it does!

A great example is Salesforce. They have a dedicated status for their Superusers—MVP. These members, who have demonstrated a commitment to the Salesforce community are given freebies, like customized sneakers and socks. They also gain the ability to speak at national and international events, and direct access to senior Salesforce executives. There are less than 50 people who achieve this kind of status, so they feel really special. In fact, many Salesforce administrators feel more loyal to Salesforce, a technology vendor, than they do to their employers.

You wouldn’t think people would identify with the company in this way, but for some it is their most important community. Remember, on paper your member may be a business, but you are still dealing with individuals.

4. You Might Need to Give Away Some Milk for Free

People’s expectations of what they should be paying for are changing. For example, one of the biggest benefits that associations used to offer was connecting likeminded people because they used to be hard to find. However, now you can simply go to LinkedIn and run a search, or join online groups based on shared interests.

Just because something costs you money to create, doesn’t mean it’s worth paying for. Free things can be loss-leaders that attract people to your organization. For example, major accounting firms offer free training programs for continued education for their existing employees, but also for alums. For the firm, it is a marketing cost. Free can also be a way to give someone a taste of what you have to offer, so they’ll want more, or a way to bring together a bigger group of people to create a Network effect. Technology makes it much easier to give away value, in the form of digital content and community. Get creative in thinking about how you can incorporate free as a tactic in your business model.

I’ve identified four takeaways from the webinar, but I covered a lot of ground in the hour-long discussion. Below is a link to watch it for yourself!