Three Ways to Create Forever Members

Has membership fatigue set in with the people your association serves? A forthcoming book explores how associations and subscription-based businesses can work to create “forever transactions” with their members, delivering value that lasts a lifetime.

‘Tis the season for year-end renewals, and not just for associations.

In the digital, subscription-based economy, many products and services operate on annual or monthly renewals. And lately, I’m experiencing what Robbie Kellman Baxter, president of Peninsula Strategies, calls subscription fatigue.

In the last month alone, I’ve received almost a half-dozen renewal notices—from my cable service and magazines to credit cards and apps that renew on a yearly basis. I even have a quarterly subscription service for my toothbrush. Every time I get one of these notices, I ask: “Does this product or service add up to real value in my life?”

While the subscription economy is growing at breakneck speed, there are times when anyone can fall out of love with a membership. That’s obviously a problem for associations. But in her forthcoming book The Forever Transaction (due out in March), Kellman Baxter has some advice for combating membership fatigue, gathered in interviews with association and business leaders who revealed essential elements that contribute to member loyalty and result in lifelong relationships.

I asked Kellman Baxter a few more questions about what it takes to deliver member value that lasts a lifetime—in her words, to create a “forever transaction.” She highlighted three essential actions.

Find the right product-market fit. Associations often forget to analyze how their products and services fit into their members’ lives, Kellman Baxter says. In a push to deliver as many products as possible or to be “all things to all people,” associations miss the opportunity to bundle valuable things together—such as content, online education, and in-person events—in packages that are well suited to an audience segment.

“In the case of associations, you might want to focus on members by where they are in their careers or how deeply they want to engage with your organization,” she says. And a word of caution: “If you reach out to people with an offering that doesn’t deliver, you will disappoint them, get negative feedback, and maybe get distracted from serving the people you’re best able to serve.”

Treat members like neighbors. A little empathy can go a long way toward establishing member loyalty. Kellman Baxter says many successful associations and membership-based businesses perform a simple thought exercise to create human-centric engagements: They think of each member as a next-door neighbor.

“If your next-door neighbors were members of your organization, what kind of advice and insight might they gain?” she asks. Because of their close relationship with you, “they might be getting a concierge-level experience, combined with insider information. Ideally, every one of your members should have that experience too.”

Use technology to reduce friction. In a recent article published on LinkedIn, Kellman Baxter argues that associations are up against a lot of new competition, especially from Silicon Valley tech firms seeking to create forever members through seamless interactions and engagements.

She cites LinkedIn, Amazon, and Salesforce, which have created successful relationships with customers by utilizing digital technologies like content streaming, one-click purchasing, recommendation and referral search, and artificial intelligence. To keep up and meet members’ expectations for a seamless experience, associations need to adopt similar technologies.

“I’d say the best place to focus is to remove any friction from the process of membership,” Kellman Baxter says. “Make it really easy to join, but also make it easy to get the most out of membership, and even make it easy to cancel.”

What strategies have worked well to boost member loyalty at your association? Post your suggestions in the comments below.

(Natali_Mis/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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