One of the biggest shifts in the consumer landscape over the last few years has been the movement from acquisition and ownership to subscriptions. We rent services, borrow goods, and dip into activities. Whether it’s Netflix, Spotify, or any number of the subscription box businesses on the market, we are all used to engaging with a business via a relationship based model. 

According to a study from Instamotors, nearly 1 in 10 young adults spends at least $200 monthly on subscription services. A report from McKinsey said that the subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100 percent a year over the past five years. It’s big business.

And we are increasingly seeing that subscription models apply to service based businesses, rather than product. But what does this mean for membership based organizations? Can they get guidance from fellow associations, non-profits, and other industries that have structured membership operational models?

Regular value

Membership organizations rely on having repeat business, minimizing churn and retaining members for months and years on end. This means they have to offer value. What subscription services do is offer that value on a regular basis. Whether that’s a selection of films or a monthly pair of socks, subscribers are consistently and repeatedly engaging with the brand and getting something for that engagement. Too often membership organizations ask people to sign up and the only thing they get is a badge of accreditation and an invite to the Annual General Meeting. What people actually want is consistent and regular value – and this will lead to a long term relationship and retention. So membership organizations need to think about how they can consistently and regularly offer some kind of value, and communicate this on an ongoing basis.

Think long term

In many bricks and mortar businesses, the sale is the end of the transaction. Money exchanges hands, and the deal is done. Where subscription based services differ is that the transaction marks the start of the relationship. That shift in mindset is key for developing a successful membership organization. As Harvard Business Review says ‘subscription is a pricing structure. Membership is a mindset.’ Make your members feel like they are part of a collective and have formed a relationship beyond the simple transaction.


What subscription services do well is make offers feel highly personalized. From Spotify’s suggested songs to bespoke beauty kits, people are used to getting the products and offers that meet their precise expectations. Membership organizations can tailor their offering to make every member feel valued and special, through personalised communications, specific offers, and opportunities. Members become curators, rather than passive consumers. By using data and insight captured via technology and software, businesses have better understanding into consumer behavior allowing them to hone their subscription models over time to deliver the most effective service for everyone. According to Forbes, 55% of all subscriptions are curation-based, making this category the largest in the 2018 subscription economy.

Lower barriers

There are often many members waiting on the fringes, who just need an extra nudge to sign up. A monthly membership offer can seem less of a financial and psychological jump than say a year’s commitment, especially as people are getting more and more demands on their time and finances. Lowering the barrier to entry can help you convert more potential members. And as long as you keep delivering value, they will stay. Consider offering a monthly payment model, or an “a la carte” membership tier as well as the annual payment option.


Nearly every subscription service comes with a referral code, encouraging the user to get friends to sign up, with an additional perk if they do. A great way to grow your membership base is to use your members as advocates who will spread the word for you. But once again, they will only recommend you if you offer value. It’s not enough to just give a discount – give them a reason to shout about it.

A long term relationship that is personalized and adaptable is what people want from their brand engagements these days. Membership organizations should be thinking about retention and value, just like subscription services do. As the service based economy continues to grow, it’s key that the offering responds to people’s needs and desires. It’s about forming a connection that  has an ongoing exchange of mutual benefit - one that will continue for a long time to come.

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