Performance Under Pressure: Lessons From COVID-19 Success Stories

These are tough times for almost every organization, but some for-profits are finding ways to make membership or subscription models continue to work for them. Here’s what they’re doing.

A lot of organizations are struggling right now as the coronavirus creates new challenges for their business models. But some are finding ways to thrive—or at least discover bright spots in an otherwise dreary time—by leaning into the membership model.

As a result, these for-profit organizations offer examples worth learning from in the association space. Among their strategies:

Don’t be shy, ask for support. Case in point: The Daily Beast, which nearly doubled its membership growth rate in the early months of the pandemic, according to Digiday. Site visitors are encouraged to financially support the media outlet, which currently is offering a one-month trial for $1 and says its coronavirus coverage earns only  77 cents on the dollar in ad revenue compared to other content. The Daily Beast also displays a “give more” option, which has raised the average order size by 35 percent, says Chief  Revenue Officer Mia Libby. (The publication also put a stronger focus on its homepage, which it discovered was a major driver of subscriptions.)

Offer promotions that help others. With millions of commuters working at home instead of consuming audio content on the way to work, it’s not a great time to be a podcast or an audiobook company. But membership in one audiobook firm,, jumped by 300 percent in March. What’s its secret? A campaign that supported its brick-and-mortar counterparts. According to Forbes,’s #ShopBookstoresNow campaign offered two audiobooks for the price of one, along with the pledge that the customer’s full payment would go to a local bookstore of their choice. The campaign not only helped local shops but gave the audiobook service access to a new audience.

Lean on your content offerings. Did you get sucked into the latest season of Ozark or the wacky weirdness of the Tiger King documentary? If so, you represent evidence that Netflix has been doing its job. According to Adweek, the company added 15.7 million subscribers in the months after the pandemic. The success, which has mostly been ongoing, is even leading the streaming firm to change up its strategies—the company recently revealed that it was dropping its longstanding free trial for new subscribers. Netflix has worked through a significant production backlog—it has filmed most of its 2020 shows already—which is helping serve its audience during a difficult time. When content consumption is peaking, emphasize your content game.

Leverage your natural advantages. During normal times, a service like Blue Apron can offer a nice change of pace for a family whose idea of a home-cooked meal is takeout. But during a time of crisis, such a service can be critical. Blue Apron, which had been considering a sale before the pandemic, saw a major surge in sales, leading to an increase of 20,000 subscribers during its second quarter and an average per-customer payment rate of more than $300, according to Food Navigator USA. Many associations have advantages that can offer benefits during a pandemic, including online education and access to virtual networking and online member communities. As engagement in these offerings increases during the crisis, look for insights into how you can maintain that momentum long term.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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