Membership Perks: Strategic Benefits for a More Engaged Membership

By Kendra Lusty | Updated on Sep 1, 2021 8:26:00 AM

Perk is such a happy word.

Maybe it reminds you of your perky friend with a talent for breathing excitement into a boring day. Or perhaps it conjures memories of your favorite morning perk-me-up. Or is it the employee perks, like breakroom doughnuts that help you look forward to your shift on Monday?

By definition, “perk” means to become or make more lively and cheerful.

It’s no wonder then that membership organizations refer to their value-added benefits and services as membership perks. Done right, they can liven up a membership, encouraging members to engage more often and on a deeper level.

Are you considering adding some perks to your line up of member benefits?

Membership organizations, retailers with premium membership options and other businesses of all kinds are turning to perks to overcome a variety of challenges. In one 2021 study, 90% of businesses said they are putting priority on enhancing or expanding their loyalty programs this year. Other member engagement statistics tell the same story.

One thing we know for sure is this: member engagement is a critical precursor to member retention and acquisition. Membership perks can be a powerful tool for winning your members’ attention and engagement.

This article is designed to give you a deeper look into:

  1. What exactly are membership perks?
  2. Why are they such a powerful tool?
  3. How can businesses use them to engage members?

What are Membership Perks?

BonusPerhaps the best place to start understanding what membership perks are, is to examine what they aren’t. Membership perks are not the main reason that people join your membership. That honor is reserved for your core benefits.

Membership perks are any extra benefit added to help keep organizations relevant in the lives of their members even when they’re not actively using the organization’s core benefits.

If you’re asking yourself why we bother making the distinction, you’re not alone. The membership industry regularly lumps together every reason a member might join or stay. You may have even heard the following terms used interchangeably: member benefits, membership rewards, membership perks, and member incentives to name a few.

But at Access Development, we believe that something is lost when you discount the nuance between terms. To us, membership perks in particular represent a special class of benefits with a special purpose.

Where Perks Fit in your Engagement Strategy

To really understand what makes membership perks powerful, we need to back up a bit and examine them closer.

First, here’s some background on the relationship membership organizations hold with their members. A membership model is a bit more complex than the simple exchange of goods for money you see in a customer relationship. Instead, memberships typically offer exclusivity in exchange for ongoing loyalty. This means that as long as the person remains a member, they’ll have access to gifts, discounts, items, etc., only available to members.

To reiterate: core benefits are the main reason people join a membership. For example, drivers join roadside assistance programs for the security of knowing they’ll have help if they need it. Teachers join professional associations for the career support, networking and certification opportunities. Hobbyists join social clubs to meet like-minded individuals and enjoy favorite activities.

2021 Customer Loyalty & Engagement Statistics

Businesses with membership models typically have these core benefits nailed down. After all, it’s what they advertise to encourage people to join in the first place.

But what happens when a driver pays for years without a single breakdown or other reason to use their roadside assistance? They might consider dropping it as an unnecessary expense.

This is where membership perks can help. Perhaps a discount on routine car maintenance would also help the driver feel safer driving. Or maybe a free coffee for their birthday would give them something to look forward to on their morning commute. The right membership perk at the right moment gives extra, positive ways to stay connected with members.

Why Offer Membership Perks?

By far, the biggest reason for organizations to offer membership perks is to give members a great reason to stay when they might otherwise leave.

How does this work?

To understand the power of member perks, let’s examine all the reasons members might leave, or as it’s known in the industry: churn.

Do you want to churn? I will find you and I will retain you.Churn is enemy number one to the business/constituent relationship. To combat churn, many companies have decided on an incongruous solution: attract a higher number of new members each month than the number of existing members lost. This does create membership growth, but it isn’t the best (or the cheapest) path. Regardless of your customer retention strategy, here are some things you need to know about churn.

Fact 1: You will inevitably lose some members to churn.

Fact 2: Some reasons for churn are out of your control. (For example, you can’t help when members face budget shortfalls or changing needs.)

Fact 3: Some reasons for churn are well within your control. (For example, you can help retain members from “ragequitting” by providing top notch customer service to smooth over issues.)

Fact 4: Some reasons for churn are hard to put a finger on, making it difficult for the member themselves to explain why they are leaving. (For example, they may say “I don’t use it enough” or “it’s not worth the cost.” Most explanations like these indicate a lack of engagement.)

When the solution is to help members engage more, membership perks are a powerful means to that end.

To put it another way: imagine your membership as a colander. If your goal is to keep your members within the bowl, then the holes represent all the reasons why members might slip away from you. Once you’ve identified the holes where members are simply disengaging, you can use membership perks to strategically plug those holes with extra reasons for members to stay.

How Membership Perks Solve Churn

The key to using membership perks effectively is to choose specific perks to shore up specific weaknesses in a membership.

Most organizations will have to do some digging to figure out exactly why members are disengaging. If you’re not already tracking member participation & interaction levels and surveying to gauge how emotionally connected members feel toward your membership, you may want to start. The more detailed the data, the easier it will be to see the big picture.

Once you’ve identified a potential issue, the next step is to find an added benefit that can provide unengaged members with exactly what they want. Here are a few examples of what that might look like:

Potential issue #1: the core benefits of an organization aren’t well rounded enough to provide relevant value to a member’s everyday life.

Some organizations with a narrow focus struggle to stay consistently top-of-mind. After all, even avid sports fanatics don’t think about their favorite pastime all the time (probably). So a sporting organization could diversify by adding perks to support members’ non-sports needs too.

Part of the benefit comes from providing more value; part comes from providing value more often.

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Potential issue #2: members feel it takes too long to see the experience a benefit of membership.

According to 2021 research, 72% of consumers expect to receive at least one benefit of a premium loyalty membership within the first week or immediately after joining. And businesses who deliver rewards faster enjoy greater loyalty and more repeat business. This pattern continues throughout the life of the member journey.

Organizations with a large number of members who drop out soon after joining could benefit from offering a welcome gift or other quick win.

Potential issue #3: your core benefit is difficult to define and/or assign a monetary value.

While some of an organization’s benefits are tangible, like a team t-shirt, some are intangible, like opportunities to network. Others still are so nebulous you won’t find them listed on an organization’s website, like a sense of belonging. These can be challenging to balance against the cost of membership.

If members just want to know “what’s in it for them,” perks with a high get-it factor and definable worth can make it that much easier to communicate value. Some perks, like discounts, can demonstrably show more value potential than the cost of membership.

Find a Membership Perk That’s Right for Your Members

One thing we know for sure is this. The sneakiest but most pervasive killer of membership loyalty is simple disengagement.

Do you need some member engagement ideas? Are membership perks the answer to your engagement challenges? Future articles will outline the different categories of perks and the types of organizations that benefit from offering them. We’ll also describe how to find benefit providers, and give you a list of questions to ask before partnering with one.

Until then, if you’d like to discuss the power of lifestyle discounts as a value-added benefit with one of the experts at Access Development, you can contact us.&

Topics: Customer Engagement, Member Benefits, mobile discount programs, customer retention, member acquisition, Discounts, membership perks

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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