A customer is someone who buys something. A member is someone who belongs to something.
Every business should aim to have members, even those without a formal membership structure. Members, in this sense, are customers who have developed a deeper, ongoing relationship with a 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 member engagement ideas 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.
Customer loyalty programs are an example of this. Many businesses find success by sending exclusive coupons to people on their mailing list. Others keep customers coming back again and again through point-accumulating apps that function as digital punch cards. 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 Value through 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. Focus on Local Benefits
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. This is why the best discount programs focus on in-store deals at neighborhood restaurants, shops and more.
Even regional and national companies 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.
And for that matter, getting face-to-face from far away is more doable than ever before as the world becomes increasingly comfortable with Zoom and other video conferencing solutions. Webinars offer a great hybrid solution, bridging the gap between live conferencing and video production as presentations can easily be recorded and viewed by many more at their own convenience.
In-person events (when possible) offer other ways of inserting human connections. Some creative ways for customers to gather together include user conferences, a "thank you" cocktail party at the end of the year, or a new product preview for your core members.
8. Create a Clear Path to Success
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."
Then for long-term success, 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, help them meet their goal, because when you do, it'll be much easier to go back and ask for their business again.
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. You can hardly go wrong with simple and kind acts like giving to a local charity, volunteering, and service outreach. One well-executed example of this: Heineken's Brewing Good Cheer.
Other companies have used their platforms to take a stance on social issues that are important to them. But social consciousness can cut both ways, endearing some members to you while alienating others. So 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 organizations have taken advantage of this because their members share common interests and desires. And many members would much rather watch a video than read an article for how-to's like: How to Save Money on Travel or product announcements like Discounts at Disneyland.
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. Improve your Accessibility
If you haven’t performed an accessibility health check in a while, you’re probably due for one. Technology keeps giving us better and better ways to serve those might otherwise find your products or services out of reach.
Many businesses are already taking this baton and running with it. It’s why you see more menus accommodating dietary restrictions, more events with sign language interpreters, more websites with carefully chosen color schemes and optimized for voiceover and zoom in technologies.
And during the 2020 pandemic, many businesses scrambled to add online or delivery options to make up for the lack of foot traffic. Such options shouldn’t be abandoned at the first signs that normalcy is returning. There will always be those who can’t visit in person for one reason or another. The more options you give, the wider your customer base can be.
And even small gestures like making sure images have descriptive alt text, and your videos have subtitles so they can be enjoyed by people of all abilities are important. Doing so will help ensure you don’t unwittingly exclude potentially loyal members. And while not everyone needs special accommodations, those who do will notice and appreciate that you put in the effort, especially when not every company does.
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 appeals to your crowd or serves similar interests like: shoe companies and fitness apps, 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.
Membership organizations learned long ago that it can be hard to communicate ROI. Telling member stories is an effective way to prove your value by showing it at work in the real world. You may want to share the story of a very successful members by creating case studies to prove with real data how you were able to help them solve a problem.
Another method allows members to tell their own stories, which you can share in the form of testimonials and honest reviews. People rely more than ever on peer opinions to help them decide to do business with new brands and organizations.
Stories are powerful tools, but imagine how much member engagement you could inspire with a story about the customer they care about most: themselves.
Doing so requires tracking and data analysis in order to show definitive proof of your value to a customer: how many times a month they patronize your establishment, how much money they’ve saved by using your exclusive discount program for associations, how many people have voted their product review as helpful, etc. However, it’s an effort worth making as it gives members a solid reason to return to you again and again.
Even if your value can’t be easily quantified by points earned or dollars saved, you can always remind them why they started a relationship with you in the first place. Those feelings of emotional engagement are never more powerful that the moment they join, or purchase. A little reminder might be all it takes to draw them back in for more.
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.
Even the very act of asking for feedback shows customers you care. But 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 is 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. Reward Them
There are lots of ways to reward your customers, and you'd be hard pressed to find one that is the "wrong way."
A favorite of many businesses is to 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 member engagement very quickly.
Big bonus to this surprise and delight: recipients are often likely to go online and brag about what they received!
You can also guide people to make repeat purchases, renew memberships or leave reviews by rewarding behaviors that lead up to the most desirable actions. So, give exclusive coupons for joining your mailing list, award points for visiting your website and give free samples just for walking in the door.
17. Give Them Cash
As long as we’re talking about rewards, we definitely need to acknowledge that the king of all rewards in most peoples’ minds is cold hard cash. Cash back rewards that is.
Organizations everywhere are discovering the flexibility of offering cash back rewards, and customizing programs that are just right for them and their members. Many programs are merchant-funded by brands wishing to attract new customers. Other programs offer a variety of redemption models so you can choose to pass the savings along, revenue share, or convert them into customized rewards.
As exciting as earning a few dollars back at say, their favorite clothing store, might be, imagine the thrill of earning BIG rewards on travel expenses.
Best of all, members and customers alike find cash to be a great motivator for engaging with brands often.
18. Get Personal
80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences. Using personalization to build engagement can be as easy or as complex as you'd like it to be. Some popular methods 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.
You can also personalize your voice to your membership as a whole by speaking the language of your customers.
Taco Bell, for example, does a great job of this. Their ideal customers aren'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
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.
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. Value in Every Correspondence
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.
If you have the tracking in place to record member interactions, you can use it to send the most valuable communication there is: proof positive of your value to them as an individual.
You Can't Fail
Here's the best news of all this: you can't fail when it comes to member 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.
For even more strategies on how to improve member engagement, check out these articles:
- 40 Inexpensive Customer Appreciation Ideas
- 40 Specific Member Engagement Tactics Any Organization Can Use
- Gauging Member Engagement: Segmenting Member Marketing for Success