The journey of sustainable growth for membership organisations

Liz Worsley - Principal Experience Designer,

The mission of membership organisations is to champion their members and the sectors they represent, so they can help them develop, grow, and succeed. 

Every day, membership organisations are doing a lot – from publishing useful content and resources; answering their members’ big questions through research; setting standards and influencing policy; to driving innovation and sustainable growth. 

On top of all that it’s critical they stay relevant in our ever-evolving digital landscape. Rapid acceleration towards digital, across all parts of society, means that the needs and expectations of paid-up members are always evolving too.

We take a look at the top challenges that come along with the uniquely complex proposition of membership organisations.

Diverse audience mix

People like to feel understood. The challenge for membership organisations is that they have to speak to a lot of different people, all with different goals and agendas. New members and long-term members; members in small and large businesses; people across many locations and sectors; industry partners, the media, and government.

The membership organisation is trying to pull all those groups in the same direction. 

Jonathan Mew, CEO of IAB UK, points to good UX as part of the solution, “Our biggest challenge is trying to build an industry that does the right things to enable long term growth. We’re part of a very complex industry with a variety of members; having a UX that’s understandable and easy to navigate has been an ongoing process and is a tough nut to crack!”

We’ve found this too when redesigning websites for membership organisations. One of the biggest pain points we find, every time, is relevance (or lack of it). There’s so much content aimed at so many people, that it feels irrelevant and too much like hard work to try and navigate it all. Even employees use Google to find something specific.

WHAT WORKS

Organisations should start by understanding their audiences and what resonates with them, through ongoing research. And make the research actionable by creating personas and journey mapping, that can be used to help any team positively impact member experience. They should regularly ask themselves, is our research up to date?

Include hubs designed for each audience as a quick way for users to filter out everything irrelevant to them, and get a clearer picture of the organisation's full offering.

Use insights from ongoing research to identify the topics that matter to each audience group, and map where there are gaps in this type of content.

Use personalisation to align content and messaging with each audience and membership journey stage.

Retention

It costs a lot more to recruit new members than keep hold of existing ones. Retention is an ongoing challenge for membership organisations, but it is critical to sustainable growth.

A typical behaviour we’ve seen when working with membership organisations to redesign their websites, is that people only visit once in a while, around renewal time, or when they need a specific document, for example.

If a member just uses the website now and then, they don’t stand a chance to see the full value their membership brings them.

Value for money is a common pain point for members and cause of churn.

WHAT WORKS

Organisations should influence the mindset of new members from the beginning by making sure they are aware of the full offering. It’s important to provide clear routes to member benefits, and make sure this content speaks in their language, addressing their goals and problems, not internal company speak. 

Activation tactics should not stop here, but continue throughout the member lifecycle. Members may only have used a few services, but there will be plenty more they haven’t experienced, so use this to inform personalised content and communications.

Look for journeys that take users away from the website, and design new journeys that keep them on site. For example, if users want to share an article or document, they may be copying URLs and dropping off to send on email or Teams; but a simple share feature would keep them on site.

Reward loyalty. Unexpected rewards can increase members’ value perception and satisfaction. If early access to a new report, or invite to an exclusive event, is timed before a member starts to think about leaving, this moment of surprise and delight can prevent it. 

Uncertainty

Nobody needs telling that we’re all living with a lot of uncertainty right now! So don’t go creating more of it, please.

Uncertainty is a conversion killer. If the purpose of a membership organisation is unclear, or the benefits of membership levels are hard to grasp, or website content doesn’t give users very clear actions to take – doubt creeps in and affects how people make decisions.

WHAT WORKS

Organisations should look through all their content with an ‘Uncertainty’ lens, put themself in the shoes of their members, and plan how they will eliminate doubt wherever it is found. This should be a cross-organisation activity.

Design for journeys that align with member and organisation goals. Think about where users have come from and where they need to go next, and plan out effective signposting for each page.

Connecting with Generation Z

Research by Memberwise suggests that Generation Z are not perceiving value from membership organisations, and as a result, they tend to be a small percentage of new members.

One suggested reason is this generation, who have grown up with digital technology, favour brands and organisations that have kept up with change. If membership organisations are seen as slow-moving behemoths, this won’t attract Gen Zers. An outdated perception will be a barrier to making an emotional connection.

WHAT WORKS

Of course, this is a large group of people and shouldn’t be treated as an amorphous lump. Membership organisations need to find out what matters to their audiences and make sure this is represented in membership schemes. They need to make the problems they are helping to solve for this audience more prominent, and reach them on the right channels. 

It’s not exclusive to Gen Z, but members expect to be able to find answers to their questions and do simple transactions without the need to make contact with an organisation; they will engage on their terms. More and more membership organisations are investing in the right technology to enable self-service for this reason.

Summary

The journey of sustainable growth for membership organisations starts with understanding their audiences’ behaviours, motivations, and challenges.

  • Organise content into a structure that encourages navigation and use personalisation to make members feel they are understood and supported
  • Keep up with what audiences need to produce content that resonates with them
  • Test how to frame value propositions, to make a connection with audiences
  • Use activation tactics throughout the member lifecycle not just at the beginning
  • Use the power of unexpected rewards to improve value perception and satisfaction
  • Help all teams identify points of uncertainty for members and make a plan to redesign these parts of the journey
  • Look for ways technology can help the member journey

Whether you need support in understanding your complex audience sets, need help to refine your user experience or you're looking to undergo a full website refresh, our specialist teams are on hand to help.  

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