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As any association leader knows, the membership economy is far from new. Yet this centuries-old concept has gained new traction in today’s economy as for-profit businesses and traditional associations work to earn buy-in from potential members. 

The reasons behind the membership economy’s booming success are complex, but break down to four key trends.

As businesses switch their focus from ownership to access, one-time to recurring payments, transactions to relationships and one-way communication to ongoing feedback, these four key trends should inform any effective membership strategy. 

The membership economy prioritizes access over ownership

It’s easy to think of membership organizations as the gatekeepers to information and access. After all, this is the model many associations rely on. When new members join, they instantly gain access to a community full of exclusive events, valuable resources and connections. 

But today, the membership economy offers consumers much more. From cars to clothes, artwork to entertainment, memberships grant temporary access to almost anything you can imagine. 

Take Zipcar, for example. For a low monthly fee, the car rental service guarantees members can access a vehicle when they need it. For people who can’t afford to buy a car or simply don’t need one on a regular basis, Zipcar’s monthly fee is a small price to pay for the peace of knowing a vehicle will be accessible if needed. 

Your association doesn’t have to go into the rental car business to leverage this trend. 

Start by considering your members’ needs. Are there physical or digital tools they might need to rent on a semi-regular basis? Get creative: could you negotiate special rates with existing membership services? 

By thinking outside the box, your organization can find ways to embrace this trend and expand your offerings. 

The membership economy shifts from one-time to recurring payments

One of the most powerful aspects of the membership economy is its ability to transform isolated transactions into stable, predictable revenue. 

Consumers are especially willing to pay a monthly fee if doing so makes their lives easier.

Dollar Shave Club supplies members with affordable razors that arrive each month. The service saves members the time and effort of remembering to purchase new razors — plus, it’s cheaper than buying disposable razors at the drugstore. 

Most memberships charge a monthly fee, but many offer the option of paying an annual sum instead. To entice potential members to pay for a full year in advance, offer incentives such as a small discount or added perks. This can help organizations lock in more revenue up front, while encouraging members to engage in order to recoup their investment. 

The membership economy values relationships over transactions 

In a traditional retail setting, customers come and go, often staying for one or two disconnected transactions. But because the membership economy inherently engages consumers over a longer timeline, it’s ideal for nurturing deeper relationships. 

People often feel indifferent toward organizations they don’t regularly interact with.

But when people sign up for a membership that rewards their engagement with distinct benefits, they’ll have a reason to engage more deeply. It’s easy to see this in action on platforms like Patreon. When people sign up to become members of a Patreon community, they are instantly rewarded with exclusive content and community ties to fellow supporters. The same can be true for any membership organization.

This can lead to in-depth relationships that grow and deepen over time. 

The membership economy transforms one-way communication into feedback

Just as the membership economy supports deeper relationships, it also fosters more meaningful communication with members.

Imagine a large organization’s public social media page. Anyone can wander onto the page and write a comment — which explains why there are so many irrelevant, tangential entries into the public conversation.

Now consider a private social media group that’s only open to members. Not only have people invested time and money to gain access, but they’ve also agreed to use the group for a specific purpose. It’s easy to see how this group will generate more meaningful conversations — including feedback — over time.

The membership economy is a powerful force that’s transforming the way people engage with organizations. Leveraging these four trends can help any membership program get off the ground.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
September 24, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.