Last week we made a strong suggestion that companies get rid of all their customers - and replace them with members.
A customer is someone who buys something. A member is someone who belongs to something.
We should all aim to have members, even if we don't have a formal membership structure. Members, in this sense, are customers who have developed a deeper, ongoing relationship with your product or brand.
These relationships don’t happen by accident. Some brands can develop deep cult followings, but not all of us can be Apple or Starbucks.
We can however, borrow specific tactics from membership groups designed to build engagement and long-term loyalty.
Start small. Try any of these 17 engagement tactics used by some of the largest membership organizations in the world.
1. Add a Membership Function
Yeah, we just said that this list is for those who don't have a membership structure. But it's really easy to add a membership function without it becoming your core model.
Loyalty programs are an example of this. An SMS alert club also counts. Besides designating a formal, ongoing relationship, these can allow you to collect data that can improve every aspect of your business.
2. Create a VIP Experience
Many successful membership organizations have tiers. In general, if you pay more, you get more. More access, more perks, more discounts on ancillary products.
Your business already has people who pay more than others. Or maybe some who have been around longer.
Identify these people and give them the VIP experience they deserve. Maybe it's a special event after hours, or access to new products or services before they're available to anyone else.
It doesn't have to be lavish or expensive. The gesture and recognition alone will excite most people.
In most industries, the longer and more loyal a customer is, the more likely they are to be gouged. Don't take yours for granted - they'll notice, and appreciate the effort.
3. Add Extra Benefits
Big groups like the NRA and AARP didn't gain traction early on because they hit on hot button issues. They grew rapidly because of member benefits that extended their value to meet everyday needs. Discount programs are a popular member perk because they offset dues, for example.
Think of Amazon Prime or T-Mobile Tuesdays. These provide tangential rewards and benefits that enhance the core services. And they provide enough value to make someone think twice before taking their business elsewhere.
The second aspect of benefits, of course, is actually putting some effort into generating usage of those benefits. But that's another topic for another time.
4. Go Local
Late last year we released a study showing that people are obsessively hyperlocal, rarely traveling beyond 20 minutes for everyday purchases. People love connecting online, but their money goes local.
And if you're a regional or national company, you should put forth an effort to go local as well.
Getting into people's neighborhoods is a common tactic among larger membership organizations. They have regional meetings, local sub-groups, and sometimes events that go on tour.
Host a local event for your customers. Or partner up with a local business or charity that your crowd might have a shared interest in.
One well-executed example of this: New Belgium Brewing's Tour de Fat.
5. Try a New Social Channel
Snapchat? Ugh. So tired of hearing about Snapchat. The last thing we need is another social media channel to manage.
But, if your audience is there, it won't hurt to try. It might work so well that you can cut back on your Facebook or Twitter efforts.
It may not be Snapchat though. Reddit. LinkedIn Groups. Slack Groups. Try them out, see if they stick. Don't waste your time with the ones that don't draw a crowd.
6. Insert a Human
Why do so many big time tech companies have massive conferences full of content that could just as easily be broadcast over YouTube? Or major associations hosting annual conferences?
Brands and companies are easy to walk away from. People aren't.
Connecting human-to-human makes your company very real. It adds a person, a name, and sometimes a face to the emotional connection a member forms with your company.
Find a way to connect your members with at least one person in your organization. It doesn't have to be face-to-face. It could be automated - sending an email from an actual name, for example.
Another way of inserting human connections is creating ways for customers to gather together. Maybe you host a user conference. Maybe a "thank you" cocktail party at the end of the year, or a new product preview for your core members.
7. Create an Onboarding Process
Onboarding is a huge part of memberships. People decide quickly how they feel about a brand. It's important that you have a system in place to manage the customer experience through the first few days (or longer) after purchase.
Validate their decision for purchasing, offer a quick win (through a reward or bonus), and send them down the path to the best possible experience.
8. Start Producing Video
People are consuming more and more content through video and livestreaming. Membership orgs have taken advantage of this because their members share common interests and desires. And many of those members would much rather watch a video than read an article.
Don't you think your customers might as well?
It doesn't have to be expensive or a major production. Just produce useful content that reveals how to do something new with your product, or introduces your new service in an exciting way. Write up a short script, grab a camera, find a well-lit area, and just record.
We mentioned earlier inserting actual people into the customer engagement process. One way to do that is video - maybe every new customer or member is sent a link to a video introducing your team, for an example. (Bonus engagement points for mentioning the customer's name.)
9. Set a Specific Goal with Every Customer
If you don't have a formal onboarding process, consider at least doing this small item that smart membership groups have figured out: help the customer decide what satisfaction will look like.
This could be as simple as asking a new customer exactly what it is they want to get out of your product. Then, when you meet that goal, it'll be much easier to go back and ask for their business again.
10. Spend a Bit
It sounds weird to think about having to pay to get in front of people who are already paying you. There just aren't any guaranteed ways to make sure a message gets in front of a customer. Email and social media posts are usually unseen. Texts and phone calls are too obtrusive. Your best bet is spending some ad dollars.
Consider mixing in some tactics that will place your message in other online habitats your customers frequent. Try remarketing to customers who have visited your website, or placing an ad targeted at customers who have disengaged.
You don't have to spend a ton. Many pay per click networks are cheap, and spending just $10 to sponsor a Facebook post can double the audience that sees your content.
If customers are important enough, and your message is valuable, then it's worth putting money on the table to ensure that message is heard.
11. Partner up
Extend the reach of your brand by partnering with another brand that can enhance the customer experience.
Team up with someone that interests your crowd or serves similar interests. Shoe companies and fitness apps, for example. Hotels and on-demand driving services. You can offer discounts to one another's customers bases, or even just agree to promote each other's services to customers.
Another option: Donate a portion of your proceeds to charity.
12. Tell stories
There's a reason people gave you their money, right? In some way, your product or service solves a problem for them. You're a knight in shining armor.
You should know these stories, and then you should share them with potential customers and new customers.
Membership organizations learned long ago that it can be hard to communicate ROI. Let your most successful customers do that for you by telling their stories in videos and case studies.
13. Conduct a Survey
Many companies go awry when they stop listening and start assuming. The most efficient way around this is regular surveys and asking for feedback.
You don't need to act on every piece of feedback you receive, but you'll find a lot of great suggestions and unearthed complaints.
The biggest engagement boost from surveying members? That comes from going back to them and showing them what you've done in response to their feedback.
Another option would be to survey members for research purposes. Help them learn more about something they care about. Our research into consumer spending habits is an example of this. That's information that matters to us as well as our clients.
14. Alter Your Voice
"Align your voice" sounds so marketing-ish, but what we mean is speak the language of your customers.
Taco Bell, for example, does a great job of this. Their ideal customer isn't affluent men in business suits. It's dudes whose hands are sore from gaming all day and other young, broke people. And they mirror how those people talk.
Life is short. Eat tacos while you still have teeth.— Taco Bell (@tacobell) November 12, 2016
Branding and marketing types spend a lot of time thinking about the way a brand speaks and communicates. As a result, most brands are stuffy and over polished.
Meanwhile, consumers know that brands don't speak at all. People do.
And the more personable the brand can be, the more likely they are to fall in love with it.
15. Add strategic surprises
While attending an association's conference this past year, I received a free t-shirt and lunch voucher from a rep. Just for being there.
It was random and inexpensive for them, but it made me feel like some sort of big shot.
Surprise and delight a customer on occasion. Offer them a freebie, or even a discount, with your sincere thanks. It'll show that you're thinking about them, and build engagement very quickly.
Big bonus to this surprise and delight: recipients are often likely to go online and brag about what they received!
16. Go for the Big Ask
Ask your customers for a favor. It could be a referral to a friend. Or to test a product out. Or to volunteer.
Associations often ask for volunteers at events. Studies show that members that volunteer are more likely to donate and become engaged.
Whether they're already engaged before volunteering is up for debate. The point stands: ask your customers for a favor, and the ones who respond are more likely to be engaged.
Some call this the Ben Franklin Effect. Because people wouldn't do a favor for someone they don't like, right?
17. Respect Their Time
Engagement is often associated with frequency, and rightfully so. The more a customer engages with a brand, the better that relationship is going to be.
But don't take that as a license to unleash a barrage of messages.
Before you send a message out, ask how much value it's adding. If your content is valuable, frequency isn't too much of an issue.
Otherwise, give people a break.
Find your most effective times and platforms to communicate, and use them responsibly. Communicate sheer value most of the time, then sprinkle in your sales and promotional communications.
As far as what value means, there's always something to talk about that isn't just sales.
New services, customer highlights, partner announcements, upgrades, case studies, tutorials. All are useful and effective at filling the gaps between transactions.
You Can't Fail
Here's the best news of all this: you can't fail when it comes to engagement.
You won't be hurt by thinking of customers as members. Your brand won't suffer by adding more value to the customer experience and playing the long-term game.
People won't run away. Not everyone will engage, but your most engaged customers will float to the top.
Like we always say, every industry is ripe for disruption from a player that cares more about helping customers meet their needs and goals.
Your best shot is thinking less of your customers as "transactions waiting to happen" and more as "members of our community."
Pick any of these 17 in 2017, and start building those relationships.