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 20 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 their core services. And they provide enough value to make someone think twice before taking their business elsewhere.
4. Go Local
We've recently released a study showing that people are obsessively hyperlocal, rarely traveling beyond 20 minutes for everyday purchases. People may love connecting online, but their money stays 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.
5. Build an Active Community
Experiment with a new social channel like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn or Slack. If your audience is there, it won't hurt to make an effort. Try them out, see if any stick. But don't waste your time with the ones that don't draw a crowd.
Once you find the social channels most populated by your customers/members, host online conversations related to your product and service, respond to customer inquiries and address issues your members are dealing with, share behind the scenes info and keep customers/members in-the-know about what's happening with your business, create a contest, start a blog...the possibilities are endless.
6. Emotionally Connect
Consumers with an emotional connection to a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value and will recommend brands at a much higher rate (71% vs. 45%). Taking the time and effort to build authentic, personal -- even socially conscious -- connections with customers can result in higher and more frequent spend, brand advocates, higher lifetime value and increased revenue.
For more details on the value of emotional connections and how to build them, check out our article: 4 Ways to Create Emotional Engagement with Your Customers/Members.
7. Insert a Human
Brands and companies are easy to walk away from. People aren't.
Connecting human-to-human makes your company 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.
8. 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. For more on effective onboarding, be sure to read: "Loyalty Begins at the Beginning: the Importance of Great Onboarding."
9. Support a Cause
37% of U.S. consumers show loyalty to brands that actively support shared causes, such as charities or public campaigns. Start by finding out what your members are passionate about, choose some specific causes and create ways to support them. Even something as simple as giving to a local charity, volunteering, and service outreach can go a long way.
One well-executed example of this: Heineken's Brewing Good Cheer. But social consciousness can cut both ways, and it's important to do it right. Here's an analysis of a hot-button advertising campaign from Gillette, asking men to be "the best that they can be:" Lessons from Gillette: 3 Keys to Engaging in Social Commentary.
10. 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.)
11. 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.
12. 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 or boost 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.
13. 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.
A great example of this was the teaming up of Lyft and Old Navy during the holidays to help their customers.
14. Tell Stories
There's a reason people give 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.
15. 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.
16. 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 people without a lot of money. 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.
17. Add Strategic Surprises
When attending an event this past year, I received complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries and sparkling water waiting for me in my hotel room with a personalized thank you note.
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!
18. Get Personal
80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences. Personalization can include anything from crafting an email or letter using a customer's name, sending a birthday coupon, to providing individual recommendations based on browse and purchase history.
Read our blog post, Using Personalization to Build Engagement – Six Rules to Get It Right, for tips to help you get started on your personalization efforts.
19. 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?
20. 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 20 and start building those relationships.