Member Engagement Strategy: Market Using the Ladder of Engagement

We’re taught pretty young that the shortest route from point A to point B is a straight line. In many cases, this means a straight line is also the fastest and easiest path.

For example, if I need to get on the roof of my house, I can get there faster climbing a ladder than, say, a series of switchbacks.

If we look at the member journey, point A would be the beginning of the relationship between member and organization. Point B may look different for every organization, but in general, the end goal is to guide every member to the point of true loyalty.

You may say members have reached point B when they:

    • Log in every day
    • Refer friends and family
    • Take a volunteer position of leadership
    • Register for an annual conference
    • Turn to your services for help when they encounter a challenge
    • Redeem rewards over 30 times
However you define it, encouraging every member to point B should be the goal of your marketing strategy. On that note, if you haven’t defined what “fully engaged” looks like for your organization, perhaps now is the time to do so.

Of course, you could let your members meander around. Some of them are bound to stumble into full blown loyalty… eventually.

Or, you could blast every member with non-stop requests to take that last, crucial action. But that’s more likely to drive people away from you than toward you.

Just like we learned as kids, the fastest path between new member to fully engaged member is a straight line. Many organizations have found great success imagining this straight line as a ladder, called the ladder of engagement.

Designing your marketing strategy according to the principles of the ladder of your engagement can help you guide members steadily into higher levels of emotional engagement and loyalty.

What is the Ladder of Engagement?

The ladder of engagement (or pyramid of engagement or engagement funnel) is a design structure for marketing strategies. Organizations everywhere have taken the basic blueprint and customized it to fit their needs.

In essence, everyone begins their membership journey at the bottom of the ladder. As they interact more and more with your organization, they symbolically move up the ladder, until they reach the top, which is signified by them being fully engaged.


As a marketing plan, this means that every rung on the ladder represents an action the member must take before moving up to the next rung. Progression is determined by the member’s willingness to perform the current request, rather than by the amount of time they’ve been a member.

Members climb the ladder one step at a time, starting with the easiest actions that will help them build a base of trust before being asked to take more difficult actions later on.

To summarize that again, here are three basic principles that make the ladder of engagement effective:

1. Ask for something easy first, then escalate.

Naturally, at the beginning of membership, people have invested very little emotional energy into the relationship. These low levels of engagement go hand in hand with low levels of trust.

Therefore, by segmenting your members by their level of engagement, you’ll be able to ask them to complete a task appropriate for their level of trust.

So how do you figure out what you want your members to do in the first place? What propels them forward the fastest? If you already have a proven onboarding sequence, that will make it an excellent place to look. 

The easiest actions for members to take will be those that take the least amount of time, effort, commitment and/or monetary investment. As these factors increase, so does the difficulty level, and therefore the amount of time you should wait before sending the request to your members.

2. Let every member progress at their own pace.

This helps the message feel personalized to each member as it is always appropriate for their current level of engagement.

To accomplish this level of membership segmenting, you’ll need to invest in a good CRM, or Customer Relationship Management tool.

It will take some effort to design and program the sequence of messages. But once you get the details ironed out, it will be easy to start every new member at the beginning of the sequence and allow them to work through it. Your CRM will automate the whole process.

And what of your current members if you’re just designing your ladder now? It’s also possible to calculate the emotional engagement score of all your current members. 

That way, you can sort them onto the best possible rung to involve them at their current level and let them progress from there.

3. Prompt members to take the next action as soon as they’ve completed the last.

fast climbThis encourages steady forward progress. The hope is that no one will skip steps or go backwards.

Of course, when you encourage members to progress at their own pace, some are bound to stray from the course you set forth. Even if it is the straightest path.

To give your members the best chance of staying on the path and continually moving forward, you’ll need to ensure you (1) choose the right calls to action and (2) back them up with genuine value.

From there, it may take a little trial and error to perfect your plan. If you find people stalling at the same place, maybe adding another step could bridge the gap. If you find people rushing through a sequence, perhaps you could simplify the process by removing a few steps.

Build Your Own Ladder of Engagement

You can customize a ladder of engagement to your own organization goals. Some will only need a short ladder of a few steps. Others may prefer a ladder so long, they’ll need to break the rungs up into sets.

Here are a few visual representations of ladders that have been successfully used by organizations. Each one groups members by where they are in their member journeys, which will define what actions they’ll be encouraged to take. As you can see, there are lots of different ways to label the groupings.

Aware → Interested → Interacted → Engaged → Evangelized

Observing → Following → Endorsing → Contributing → Owning → Leading

Watch → Share → Contribute → Extend

Inactives → Spectators → Joiners → Collectors → Critics → Creators

As you can see with the examples above, the rungs (or sets of rungs) are divided by member engagement level. Though the names differ, their purposes follow a similar progression. In general, you’ll want yours to accomplish these goals:

First Goal: Cultivate Interest

The first rung or set of rungs is generally an education phase. The people on these rungs will be your newest members and/or potential members who are still researching you. Everything you ask them to do should help generate interest and educate on your organization.

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At this point, you can’t really ask for much or you risk chasing them away. But if you ask for something that requires very little effort but delivers a big reward, you’ll begin to build the base of trust you need to keep them moving up.

Some good requests at this phase might include:

      • Watch a “getting started” video
      • Read an article
      • Download the organization app
Second Goal: Encourage Interaction

During this phase, you’ll ask your members to get progressively more involved. This means you’ll ask the member to put forth more effort, trust you with personal information and take some initiative to interact with the organization.

It’s a bit of a risk on the part of the member, but when you keep delivering on promised value, they’ll continue to climb.

Here are a few ideas for good requests at this phase:

      • Give an email address and permission to send a weekly email.
      • Comment on a social media post
      • Sign a petition
      • Redeem a coupon from their member discount benefit
Third Goal: Reward Sharing

facebook likeDuring this phase you’ll be asking members to prove their emotional involvement. It’s not an easy thing for all members to align themselves as an advocate for a business, so it pays to make it worth their while.

But if they’ve already climbed through the previous steps, they’ve proven themselves worthy of the ask.

Here are some suggested calls to action for this phase:

      • Bring a friend to an event
      • Write a review of the membership
      • Participate in a local discussion group
Fourth Goal: Deepen Involvement

During this phase they’re approaching the top of the ladder. Once they reach this point, they’ve proven their trust in you by learning the ins and outs of membership, getting involved and referring membership to others.

Now you can ask them to complete bigger, more involved tasks without worrying that you’re overstepping any bounds. What is it you really want from members? They’re primed and ready to hear you out.

Maybe those tasks will be something like:

      • Register for an association conference
      • Organize an event
      • Join the $1000 rewards redeemed club

Back Everything Up With Real Value

Every time you ask a member to complete a task, you are asking them to trust that it will be of some value to them. If you deliver on the promise of value or even exceed expectations, you make it that much easier for them to say yes next time.

For some companies, that may include bolstering up the value of membership. Many organizations have found great success adding a members-only discount program to their list of membership perks. Since everyday discounts are in high-demand and offer universal value, they’ve proven effective at delivering a high level of perceived value.

The best discount programs are full of high-value deals at local businesses your members already frequent. That way, when you ask them to redeem a deal and they are met with value beyond what they expected, they’ll be primed and ready to step up to the next rung.

If you’re ready to start designing your ladder of engagement, here are some more articles to help:

Topics: Customer Engagement, Discount Programs, Member Benefits, member engagement, association marketing, Membership Organizations, membership benefits programs

Written by: Kendra Lusty

For over a decade, Kendra Lusty has been a writer for Access Development, and currently focuses her research and writing on topics related to loyalty and engagement.

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