How do you build a membership proposition? This round table discussion of a dozen leaders in B2B and B2C media businesses included some at the start of their membership journey, and some who had several years’ experience. We looked at how to research and develop a valuable package, how to market it and how to ensure that members renew.
Research your audience to uncover their needs
Before you start throwing a random list of items into a membership package, take the time to research your audience. Be very specific about who you talk to – you may have different segments or job roles, and each will have different needs. Understand their world and what they are trying to achieve in life (whether at work or for their area of interest). Start by talking to people you know, and then extend to a broader group.
Support the qualitative research with data and analytics on what people read, the topics they are interested in, emails they click etc. The image above illustrates the “wheel of wants” for a retail sales director.
With enough due diligence, there is an opportunity in most markets. Once you have a picture of the needs of your reader, match this against the content, products, and services you are already offering, and consider what elements you can add.
How to decide value, tiers, and pricing
Rank the value of the different elements – be prepared to take out items that add no value. People will pay for just a small number of features that really make a difference. If a package helps them avoid risks or make great gains or simply saves lots of money, they may well pay £’000s for it.
If your audience is more segmented with some large corporates and some smaller customers, consider developing tiers of propositions – with the most valuable features in the top tiers. This might be letting them get involved in events or benchmarking or being able to call up editors or analysts.
You may have a group that value your content but have limited budget: design a free or low-cost tier that could then feed into premium tiers.
Within your audience there may be one person with special responsibility – eg for training and development, who can see the value of buying on behalf of their team.
Be prepared to iterate and evolve
Membership is a long-term game. You may not get the proposition right from the start. Be prepared to remove or add features as you go. One publisher said that their initial research group said they wanted an archive, but in reality, members didn’t use it that much. And over time, you will get more usage data and feedback from your members and be able to tailor the package.
What community adds to membership
The difference between a subscription and a membership is community. That can be as simple as a badge or identity, wanting to be part of a club without meeting in person or conversing with fellow members. But in many markets, readers or members do want to gather with like-minded people, to share ideas or even to strike up business partnerships. Consider going beyond offering members a discount on your mainstream events and create something that feels exclusive. This can be in person events, virtual round tables or an online exclusive community.
An engaged community can also be a source of insight. Over time in most sectors, individual needs change, and nurturing and listening into your members’ conversations provides a heads-up on what they will value in future.
How to market effectively
If you have done the research thoroughly, you will know “why” people will buy – ie how you can make their life better. This is much more powerful than a long list of “what” is in your package.
Think hard also about “who” you are marketing to. Is there a decision maker who can see that they will save money on research, training, or time, or be able to add value to their business (or their life) if they buy your product?
If you have a sales team, it is worth practicing the sales pitch to each other. If it is too complex, or a long list of benefits, it won’t work. Try to get it down to forty words.
What drives renewal
When building your product, think about more than just the content and services. Consider how it will be used, and what will drive usage. Getting the alerts system right will drive usage, members will find what they need and are more likely to renew.
The move to monthly billing can make renewals easier – the amounts are smaller. But you do need to ensure that members are accessing your content and services. In B2B markets, a buyer may only need to get value once or twice a year to feel it is worth the price. For example, avoiding making a poor supplier choice or making a valuable business connection.
For multi-seat memberships, ensure that the right people get logins – those who will use and value the content. And consider adding in some special benefits for the senior decision maker. The CEO might not access the content but will appreciate an invite to a senior level round table or breakfast.
This article was based on a virtual round table discussion with members of the Speciall Media Group. This is a community of 180 media leaders which I run on a platform called Guild. It’s free (for now) but invite only – no vendors, suppliers, advisors or consultants, just media owners. Members can share best practice and tips and we run regular round tables on topics of interest. Request to join here.
I have helped several publishers build membership propositions. If you want to have a first chat about how to create a viable membership product for your audience, do get in touch for a chat over coffee (real or virtual).
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.