Leading consultant Robbie Kellman Baxter coined the term, “Membership Economy,” and even wrote a book on the topic, titled, The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue.  We at Abila feel fortunate to have Robbie join us on Thursday, December 3, for the Grow New Member Loyalty webinar, focused on the importance of initial engagements with new members and strategies for optimizing new member onboarding.

We recently sat down with Robbie to chat about the Membership Economy and why association leaders should be paying attention.

Q. What is the Membership Economy?

The Membership Economy is a term I coined to explain the tidal wave changing all the rules around how organizations engage with the people they serve.  It’s about a move from ownership to access, and from a focus on the anonymous transaction to an emphasis on the relationship.

In the Membership Economy, we expect organizations to open communications, and let us talk back to them and also have conversations among ourselves as members.

It affects all kinds of organizations – public and private, for-profit and nonprofit, big and small, and is really impacting what members expect of their associations.

In the Membership Economy, the transaction is the starting line, not the finish line, and it’s a forever transaction.  Your best members become superusers who drive your whole business forward, and organizations enjoy predictable recurring revenue, engagement, and loyalty at a whole new level.

Q. How has the Membership Economy changed the way association professionals think (or should think) about their members?

Because the for-profit sector has embraced the Membership Economy, customer expectations about the kind of experience they should have with membership organizations has changed.  If we can get free access to fellow professionals through digital communities like LinkedIn, and free training through online services like Lynda.com, why would we pay for these things?

The Membership Economy is creating new competition, even if those “competitors” don’t realize the impact they’re having on associations.

Many associations lament the fact that “Millennials aren’t joiners.” I don’t think that’s the case at all.  Millennials are extremely willing to join, but they’re also adept at researching their options, and are unwilling to pay for something they can get for free elsewhere.  To be honest, I feel the same way – if I can get free parking on this side of the street, why would I pay at a lot? It’s not that I’m cheap – it would be silly to pay for something when there’s a great substitute for free.

Q. Do you have any examples of organizations that are doing a good job embracing the Membership Economy?

So many organizations are embracing the Membership Economy.  Here are a few:

  1. Subscription businesses, like SurveyMonkey and Dropbox
  2. Online communities, such as Pinterest
  3. Retailers, like Lululemon Athletica
  4. Fitness phenom Crossfit
  5. Consumer product offerings, like Dollar Shave Club and Stichfix
  6. Countless solo-preneurs who are inviting consumers to “join” their communities for a fee

Q. What are the THREE main things all association professionals should know when it comes to the Membership Economy?

  1. Associations need to love their members more than they love their products and services.  While nearly all association leaders would say they put their members at the center of what they do, they often are slow to evolve their offerings, lower prices to stay competitive, or implement new technology.
  2. Onboarding of new members is critical.  It’s in those first days, hours, or minutes after signing up that someone decides if a new service is going to become a core habit or a waste of money to be canceled at renewal time.  Don’t make the mistake of confusing inertia with loyalty.
  3. You need to listen to your current members, but also your target members.  Because of the governance structure of most associations,  members who are longtime volunteers often have leadership roles and very high levels of influence, in spite of the fact they’re not incented or trained to look after the long-term health of the organization.  As a result, association professionals often make choices that unduly reward older members at the expense of the needs of young people joining the profession.

Q. Are there any practical tips to share with associations when it comes to embracing the Membership Economy?

  • Learn from Silicon Valley.  Everyone should be an expert on technology, just like everyone in the organization knows how to write and communicate verbally, even if they’re not in the “communications” department.
  • Incorporate “freemium” if you can.   Freemium is the idea that you can have both free subscriptions and paid subscriptions side-by-side. The  free options serve as a source of trial; create a networked effect adding value to the community with each new member; or even serve as a marketing channel, attracting new members, just as Hotmail once grew its paid membership via the free emails sent by early adopters. You want to have a free subscription option that engages a larger percentage of the total available market, and then have “hooks” to convert your fair share into paid members.  To be relevant, you need engagement first, payment second.
  • Segment your audience, and create different bundles for each.  Map out the “journey” of your members, and optimize programming and packaging by career-stage and type of organization.

To register for the “Grown New Member Loyalty” webinar with Robbie Kellman Baxter, visit:  http://www.abila.com/memberloyalty/.

About Robbie:

Robbie Kellman Baxter  is the founder of Peninsula Strategies LLC, a management consulting firm, as well as the author of the Amazon #1 Hot New Release in six business categories, The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue.  She coined the popular business term,“Membership Economy.”

Her clients have included the AICPA, National Restaurant Association, and American Geophysical Union, as well as Silicon Valley Leaders Netflix, SurveyMonkey, and Yahoo!. Over the course of her career, Robbie has worked in or consulted to clients in more than 20 industries.