If you run a membership organisation, there’s nothing quite like the rush of acquiring new members; after all, what’s the point in having a fantastic organisation you’ve put your heart and soul into if there’s no one signing up to reap the benefits?
However, the allure of acquisition often overshadows the more important task of keeping the attention of loyal members who make it through the door. This is partly because membership retention is hard, and not an immediately attractive prospect. With research suggesting that most businesses need to retain customers for at least 12 to 18 months to break even on their investment, it’s easy to see why some organisations neglect it in favour of new acquisitions.
However, any organisation focusing on acquisition over retention is building itself upon shaky foundations, and that’s why we’ve compiled a list of 15 membership retention ideas to help you build a stronger, more successful organisation that won’t come crashing down when the initial hype subsides.
Why is Membership Retention important?
- It’s more cost-effective than acquisition - according to Bain & Company, even a 5% increase in membership retention can trigger an increase in profits of between 25 and 95%, which makes sense when you consider the recurring revenue a repeat customer will bring. When compared to the effort it takes to attract a customer who may only pay once, it really is a no-brainer
- It’s more likely to lead to referral income - more data from Bain & Company showed that a customer who made one purchase from an online retailer was likely to refer three people, but one who made 10 purchases generally increased their referral rate to seven people. This supports the idea that if you tend to the members you have, they can do a lot of the work for you
- Membership retention improves your reputation - repeat subscriptions is a sign of happy members. An individual can easily be swayed into making a single purchase through the use of promotions or discounted services, but may easily disappear when it’s time to pay again. Loyal members regularly handing over their hard-earned cash is a sign that you are a trustworthy organisation worth their time and investment.
How do you increase membership retention?
While membership retention can seem difficult, it doesn’t have to be. Many of the most effective strategies involve tools and insights that you already have at your disposal, and it’s just a matter of refocusing your efforts on what’s happening inside your organisation instead of worrying about the members you haven’t reached yet.
Our user retention strategies are broken down by category, to help you better understand how they relate to your members, as well as how they can build upon the great work you’re already doing. Specifically, these methods can be separated into clarity-focused, product-focused, and customer-focused initiatives.
15 Membership Retention ideas and strategies
1. Refine your onboarding process for new members
While no one likes to be patronised, a bit of hand-holding is sometimes necessary to help people get to grips with your organisation. This is especially important if your organisation competes directly with others for members.
If you are seeing a drop in membership at renewal time, it’s always worth going back to square one and asking a few important questions: have I been clear on what my offfering is? Do new members know how to get involved once they’ve subscribed? Is there anything missing from my subscriber emails? Often, something as simple as updating your membership website or improving your emails to new subscribers will help confused members to understand your offering and stick with it.
2. Set their expectations
A concise content and event calendar is a vital part of any onboarding process. If you set clear expectations from the moment they hit “subscribe”, letting them know what’s coming over the next few weeks and months, then new members will feel more supported and secure in their decision.
Adding a personal touch (such as a bespoke message or greeting) to onboarding emails and communications can often help too.
3. Sell the benefits!
Once you’ve drawn a person in, don’t allow any time for buyer’s remorse! You have exactly what they’re looking for, and don’t let them forget it. You wouldn’t be running a membership organisation if you weren’t proud of and confident in your offering, so pass on that passion to your members.
Don't be shy about regularly reiterating member benefits in the emails you send to your membership. In particular, emphasise how your offering addresses their needs and pain-points and, ultimately, makes their life better.
4. Don’t overwhelm new members
While clarity is important to user retention, it really is a balancing act. If taken too far, a once-useful roadmap for members to follow can quickly become a steep decline into pushy correspondence and straight-to-spam emails that dilute the benefits of your service.
So, while everything outlined above has the potential to cultivate a dedicated subscriber-base, make sure you guide as much as is necessary, and then give your members room to breathe. If you have a solid onboarding process, the rest will likely fall into place.
5. Make your membership offering unique
Although membership organisations typically occupy a very specific niche, they almost always have some competition. This may be from a larger organisation with a broader focus or a range of more niche outfits. Either way, one of the best ways to retain members is to truly distinguish yourself from any comparable services and competitors. While you may not want to refer to your competitors by name, consider articulating your benefits in a way that subtly makes it clear how you stack up against the competition.
What are you offering that can't be accessed elsewhere?
6. Learn from others
While in general it's better to focus on your members than your competitors, if you’re blind to competitors you run the risk of missing the boat on new opportunities and innovations that may facilitate your competitors taking a portion of your members.
However, if you keep your eyes peeled and identify what your competitors are doing well, you might be able to expand upon their ideas to offer something that far surpasses them. It’s never a bad thing to remind your audience why you’re the top contender for their attention.
Similarly, spend time looking at what similar membership organisations in other sectors are doing. Often non-competing organisations are happy to share their learning.
7. Everyone loves a cliffhanger
Knowing your audience is important, and presenting yourself as an authority in your field opens up great avenues for repeat subscribers. If there’s a particular kind of content you know people are tuning in for, don’t give it all away at once.
Serialised content, like weekly blogs, webinars or explainer videos, is a fantastic way of reeling in a regular audience. Humans are creatures of habit, so if you can bag yourself a spot within their schedules, you’re on the right track to maintaining your audience.
8. Flexibility is key
The belief that “one size fits all” doesn’t apply when it comes to pleasing members. In fact, such a rigid viewpoint can be harmful in that it doesn’t recognise your members as individuals.
If you don’t offer flexibility in your pricing and services, you’ll alienate those that either don’t want to pay for parts of your service they don’t use, or are willing to pay more for your service in exchange for a few extra features.
Both upselling and down-selling are useful tools that give dissatisfied individuals another option if they are considering cancelling their subscription. Simplifying your subscription plans to allow users to up or down-grade at any time is an easy way to cater to changing needs.
Specific examples are basic plans that include only email updates and premium plans that include access to VIP events.
9. It’s ok to press pause
Part of recognising your members as individuals is also understanding that their habits and circumstances won’t continue indefinitely. Any recurring payment is a commitment, and sometimes people cancel simply because they can’t afford that commitment at that point in time.
By allowing people to pause their subscriptions, you open up the possibility that they may be able to make that commitment again at a later date, when their circumstances change. A door that remains ajar is more welcoming than one that is firmly closed, and members will also feel valued that you have recognised the benefit they bring with every transaction.
10. Strike while the iron is hot
A great tactic for retaining members is to try and sway them at key moments of indecision. Have they left something in their basket but not completed their purchase? Why not send them an offer code as a little incentive? Has a credit card been declined? Send them a friendly reminder to update their details, alongside a summary of the benefits they will lose out on if their membership lapses. Data like this is invaluable, so be sure to capitalise on these opportunities as they appear.
11. Dangle the carrot on social media
There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly persuasion. Just as offer codes and discounts can incentivise new members to sign up, they can be just as good at keeping people excited by your product. You could even explore giveaways or social media promotions to get people re-engaged with your organisation in a way that is fun and instantly shareable.
Giving someone a saving in the short term is always preferable to losing them as a member forever, so don’t be afraid of some good-natured bribery.
12. Try the personal touch
Sometimes, it’s the little glimmers of humanity that make your organisation stand out. Consider a direct personal email to members you think are in danger of cancelling and offer a conversation. It is much easier to cancel a subscription with a faceless organisation than it is to cancel with a person.
Even a small amount of personal contact can change a member's perception of your organisation. Always be on the lookout for these opportunities, and tailor your content to maximise them.
13. Survey your environment
No one knows your offering better than you; except for your members of course! Even with the best of intentions, it can be easy to lose perspective on exactly how people interact with your organisation day-to-day.
By surveying your active members, you are tapping into the most valuable resource of all. You can find out first hand what your audience likes about your offering, as well as what they find frustrating or difficult. If you find out that 70% of your audience want more updates from your organisation, or that 25% find the checkout process fiddly, you can approach solving these issues with improved clarity.
This also applies to dissatisfied members. Creating an exit survey to discover why someone has cancelled their membership is the easiest way to avoid cancellations for similar reasons in future.
Examples of Exit Survey questions for organisations
Exit Surveys are an extremely valuable tool, and putting one together doesn’t have to be complicated. Effective Exit Surveys are detailed enough to give you actionable info, but concise enough that the customer completes them without getting bored.
The exact questions will vary depending on the type of organisation, but here are some general questions to get you going.
“What made you decide to cancel your subscription?”.
“If there was one thing you’d change about our offering, what would it be?”.
“What could we do to make you consider subscribing again in future?”.
“What were we doing right?”.
Another way to utilise your existing members is to let them sell the organisation for you. Positive testimonials are easy enough to source, and these individual perspectives will help build trust in your brand and your service.
Testimonials are just as powerful for retaining existing members as they are for attracting new members. This is because they paint a picture of what membership could be like so that disengaged members are inspired.
Keep them short and to the point, though; no one wants to read a testimonial reminiscent of an Oscars acceptance speech. A good testimonial only needs to highlight specifically how your membership offering benefitted the member in question, so that other users can envisage similar benefits.
15. Acknowledge your members
The importance of this one cannot be overstated. In the end, all organisations are nothing without their members, and a big part of membership retention is acknowledging this. Just telling you members that you appreciate them is a great first step. Beyond that, loyalty schemes and special offers are perfect for recognising the continued contributions of long-time supporters, and making your members a part of your success will work wonders in keeping them invested for weeks, months and years to come.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and is merely meant to illustrate the potential goldmine of repeat subscriptions you already have, ready and waiting. New user acquisition should of course remain a valid priority in order for any organisation to grow, but hopefully these 15 membership retention ideas will set you off on the right track towards building a sustainable and successful organisation.
If you found this article useful, be sure to check out White Fuse’s other fantastic content, designed to support you in all areas of organisation creation, growth and retention.