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The last year forced us all to closely consider what we deem essential. 

The forced minimalism of quarantine, as well as the summer of protests and turmoil, allowed for much-needed introspection on the products, brands, and organizations we care enough to seek out and the kind of businesses we want to support. 

Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of “The Forever Transaction” and “The Membership Economy” and regular Sidecar contributor, helps organizations and businesses turn their products and services into a habit, making them essential to their members.

Let’s dive in. 

What is the membership economy?

In the membership economy, organizations value the relationship with the member more than the transaction. It’s not about marketing or a major sale — it’s about an organization’s identity and the connections it fosters to keep customers coming back, including all of the mini-moments and touchpoints. 

“It’s more than having a membership product — it’s about the mindset and where your heart is for the entire organization,” Baxter said in a presentation for Sidecar last year. 

Membership is a two-way street, with long-term benefits for both the members and the organization. However, organizations may be tempted to focus on providing the maximum value upfront in the acquisition stage, but Baxter said it’s critical to continue investing and engaging in their members across the full member lifetime. Loyalty should be rewarded. After all, you do not want to damage relationships or stop taking care of the existing members who have been with you through the good times and bad. 

What is the difference between a membership and a subscription?

Baxter says the key difference between a membership and a subscription is that a subscription is just a pricing tactic. Membership is about the mindset of the organization. 

Members aren’t just customers — they are deeply invested in your organization, they trust you, and they’re even willing to continue investing in you during crises like covid-19 because they believe you have their best interests at heart and will continue to deliver value to them. They believe in your solutions and share your attitude toward the problems they solve.

In order for your membership to be essential, you need to demonstrate to your members how you are the long-term solution and a critical key to their success. After all, who wants to be a member of an association in 2021 that’s still touting the best practices of 2010? Embracing change is critical for long-term success and relationships. 

What is the forever transaction?

Baxter says the forever transaction is the heart of the membership economy. This is when a customer becomes a member and stops looking for alternatives. 

In the forever transaction, “customers take off their consumer hat and put on a member hat,” Baxter described. This leads to long-term and lasting relationships, as they are built on trust, emotion, attitudes, culture, and connections. 

The forever transaction also assumes growth on both parties — your customers will change with the world around them, and you will change, too! But they are trusting you to be by their side through every phase and evolution. Long-term members stick with organizations because they trust the organization will grow and evolve just as they do. After all, who wants to be a part of an association that still advocates the best practices of 2010 instead of 2021?

How will the membership economy evolve? 

Things are changing fast in the membership-based organization world, and keeping up with the times has never been more important. For associations to thrive, here are some trends we expect to see more of: 

  1. A focus on values. The past year more than ever before demonstrated that people want to spend their money with organizations that have strong values and stand up for their beliefs. 
  2. A focus on digital. People are living and working from home, a trend that is likely here to stay. Virtual and hybrid events will also continue to be a part of our normal experiences. Winners in the membership economy will have savvy online presences and adopt a digital-first mentality. 
  3. A focus on creativity. From finding new ways to generate revenue to new ways to keeping members engaged and delighted, there will be a jolt away from doing things the way we’ve always done them.

Emily Herrington
Post by Emily Herrington
May 12, 2021
Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.