The Membership Lifecycle Turns Five

Way back in 2007, I developed a white paper around a concept that I called the Membership Lifecycle. The concept was built around a systems thinking approach to membership. The lifecycle model has gone through some changes and adjustments over the years, but I still find it a very practical and helpful tool to use to diagnose and fix problems that organizations are experiencing with their membership.

So on the fifth anniversary; I thought that I would share a brief review of the concept. The Membership Lifecycle segments the membership experience into five consecutive stages:

1. Awareness -- when prospects first discover you. No one joins a membership organization unless they first know that you exist and have value that will help them. You also will have difficulty recruiting a new member if you cannot identify who top prospects are for membership. So the goal of the awareness stage of the lifecycle is what I call mutual awareness. On the one hand, just like any product, you need to establish share of mind with your prospective members. But in addition, you also want to gain what I call share of database. You want them to raise their hand and register on your website, accept a free whitepaper or newsletter, or attend a webinar or meeting. When they know who you are and you know who they are, you have the chance to cultivate a relationship.

 2. Recruitment -- when prospects choose to join you. Membership is what marketers call a “push” product as opposed to a “pull” product. A pull product is something that is bought not sold. If you are a coffee drinker, you do not need a promotion piece to convince you to drink your coffee every morning. You seek it out. But very few people wake up in the morning saying that they need to find a membership organization to join. As a push product, membership is sold not bought. Successful membership organizations put in place a very pro-active recruitment plan as part of the lifecycle. They test, track, and analyze special offers, messages, marketing channels, and timing to convince a prospect to give membership a try by making the decision to join.

3. Engagement -- when new members feel they belong with you. The most likely member not to renew is a member in their first year. The second most likely member not to continue membership is one who has no behavioral indicators of usage or involvement with the membership. So the goal for these new members and those not taking advantage of the value provided is to generate interaction. Any type of interactive engagement, whether it is a purchase, a visit to the website, a completed survey, or a phone call to the organization correlates positively with the ultimate renewal of a member. Membership engagement is a crucial lead-in to renewal.

 4. Renewal -- when lapsing members decide whether to keep you. The mind shift that is important when thinking about renewals is that you are undertaking a campaign and not managing an event. We are entering another political season. Politicians know that just sending one letter or one phone call is not a strategy that will maximize voter turnout. So they are very aggressive (some say too aggressive) in turning out the vote for themselves. In the same way, today the standard three part renewal series is no longer sufficient to maximize retention rates. A synchronized, multi-channel, high frequency, campaign is required to maximize renewal outcomes.

5. Reinstatement -- when former members agree to return to you. In life there will always be bumps in the road with any relationship. It is no different with the membership relationship. However, it almost always makes more sense to try and restore an existing relationship than starting a new one. The reinstatement portion of the lifecycle is where attempts are made to understand the problem and fix it. This sometimes involves market research. As the old proverb says, “Look where you tripped, not where you fell.” It also involves ongoing outreach to highlight new opportunities and new membership options. Successful membership organizations never give up on getting members to come back.

The Membership Lifecycle is a framework to diagnose and fix the challenges that face every membership program. In my consulting work, I usually find that two, three, or even four elements of the membership lifecycle are functioning well in a membership program. But I also find that one or two parts need to be addressed to establish a strong and resilient program. Take some time to look at your membership to see which of these parts of the lifecycle is a weak link and put some time and effort into making some changes. It will positively impact the entire membership program.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post!