Uncover Hidden Benefits and Value for Customers Through a Membership Model

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robbie“What would be different if you thought about [your subscribers] as members?” Robbie Kellman Baxter—author of the best-selling The Membership Economy and a keynote at the upcoming BIMS conference—asked in her SIPA webinar on Sept. 30. (Archived here for members.) “‘What else can we do for them?’ They’re subscribing to this specialized content so they have this core need. What additional value can you provide?”

Here’s the thing. You’re treating your subscribers very nicely as it is. You’re trying to build communities, sell them on webinars, maybe have events now and then. Why not have them belong?

poynterThe latest example is Poynter Institute, a publisher/seminar-giver/training organization. “The Poynter Prepared Membership Program will give journalists, educators, students and storytellers access to a wide range of affordable training that will help them achieve their career goals,” Poynter President Tim Franklin said. “And, significantly, our highest membership tier will provide participants with one-on-one coaching sessions with our world-class faculty experts in areas like writing, editing, broadcasting, digital storytelling, social media and leadership.”

That’s the other thing—you may have benefits to offer that you don’t even realize. It might be private coaching sessions or a social media primer. For Pro Farmer which, like Poynter, has three membership tiers, they are commodity prices text quotes and a premium email service. Pro Farmer’s tiers ($379, $459, $689) cost more than Poynter’s, but they include more benefits. Poynter’s ($40, $99 and $365) are more to get you in, give you discounts on training, and a taste of what they do.

“You already have this existing relationship with a focused group,” Baxter said. “That gives you limited opportunities to offer them added value. By building a layer of membership around everything you do, you can increase loyalty, engagement and willingness of subscribers to do more for your [business].”

Baxter is big on social recommendations from your most loyal followers—or “superusers”—as a key to success, and she believes that a membership model increases that occurrence. It makes sense. Poynter lists benefits such as “personal invitations to Poynter events” and “early registration to all Poynter training” to help cultivate loyal members.

As for marketing, Poynter writes: “We have made it easy for you to compare each membership plan. See the benefits of each and decide which would be best for your needs. All members will receive a digital membership badge to share on social media and one Poynter e-book. The first 40 people to sign up at each level will receive a special Poynter gift.”

Interestingly, Pro Farmer keeps some of its subscription lingo in its marketing: “When you subscribe to Pro Farmer, you get more than a weekly newsletter. Pro Farmer is about giving members the information they need to make the right management and marketing decisions for their farm…”

Baxter said that, “membership is about your mindset, focusing on these formal ongoing relationships, as more important than any process you’re invested in. The mindset is the difference between an anonymous customer and when you truly belong. And it starts with [the] leadership [you show].”

Other benefits will depend on what your audience values most. For Pro Farmer, it’s information. Said Joe May, their marketing manager: “The VIP membership gets [access, alerts, reports] plus text quotes, the LandOwner newsletter and [a special] email service… These folks are information junkies, and we give them a mix of content that’s available, and content that we push to them.”

The biggest point is that membership can enhance your relationship with customers, without necessarily adding cost. Plus, it might be a way for your customer service, sales and marketing people to get to know their audience better. As Baxter said, the biggest issue may be to “make sure your customers get the most out of what you have to offer them.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…