Within a year of working in the membership industry, I knew this was the career for me. No business comes close to the opportunity that the subscription membership business provides.
During my first year working with a company that consulted with membership organizations, I’d come across these older people, in their 60s, making great money and working part-time hours. They’d built a membership up over their career, and lived a tremendous semi-retirement. They had control over their time. They got to travel. And, when they went to member events, they were revered and praised by their members.
These guys had life figured out. They’d hustle from time to time to recruit new members. But mostly, they were able to make a great money by keeping their members renewing. And they understood what their members wanted, so there was little struggle or frustration. I’ve met many of these membership millionaires in the years since.
I’ve also had the opportunity to consult with many struggling membership subscription programs. They are frustrated because new members quit without engaging in the program, long-time members drop out even after months or years of care, and they can never seem to get the number of members to grow enough to provide a reasonable profit. What’s worse is they’ve got to “feed the beast” each month by providing more content.
Speaking with a client recently, she told me, “I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what to write anymore, I’m exhausted each month and whatever I deliver, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Members keep quitting.”
In the last recession, I saw the decimation of hundreds of monthly subscription programs. Monthly subscriptions are the first expense to get cut during a recession.
When the first credit card statement arrives after a job loss, recurring expenses are cut to the bone. This is a huge vulnerability of subscription boxes. If your customer loses her job tomorrow, which do you think will be canceled first, her monthly box of cosmetic samples, groceries for her family, or the electricity? In the next recession, when there are hundreds of thousands of layoffs again, many of today’s most popular subscription boxes won’t survive it.
In contrast, most of the membership industry thrives in a recession. I remember one of my mentors in 1997 telling me, “Never waste a good crisis.” Memberships grow on crisis. This is when members clutch their membership the firmest and when its easiest to get prospective members to pay attention to your message and join.
Here’s an important quote to remember about our industry:
“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
― Blair Warren
THIS is what the subscription membership industry is all about. This is what builds a monthly relationship. Whether you are delivering information, insight, razors, candy, lingerie, online resources, or a Facebook community, your members want certainty, clarity, and an advocate. THIS is more valuable that the value of the stuff you deliver.
This is the essential secret of creating a membership that grows versus struggling with the never-ending treadmill of trying to recruit new members faster than they quit. Become an advocate for your subscriber. Connect with the problems that frustrate your subscriber. Take a position against those problems and present your membership as the path toward a solution.
Look at successful subscription programs such as Dollar Shave Club compared to expensive drug store razors; Netflix compared to expensive cable TV; Ipsy which is an advocate for young women; and Datebox which is an advocate for connecting with your partner. They are delivering items — sometimes items available elsewhere. But the items come with a firm advocacy component that makes the subscription addictive.
How can you incorporate an advocacy component into your membership subscription programs? What frustrates your members the most? What can you take a position against that will excite your subscribers? What messages can you include to foster a vibrant tribe relationship?
It’s not about delivering more. Stop feeding the beast. It’s about connecting with members around what matters most. This is what stops members from quitting and makes them cling tighter to their membership connections when times are toughest. Do this, and you recession-proof your subscription business so you will grow your membership in good times and bad.