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Three Tactics to help Associations Convert Members

With high attrition rates for new and younger members, associations should pay attention to (and copy) best practice digital experience designs (Thank you Spotify!)

Membership organizations have had to work hard to retain younger members and convert those with student & discounted rates into full-fledged members - and that was before this year’s elimination of conferences and events! Today’s digital-native young professionals have high expectations of digital, and associations looking to move more services to digital need to deliver tangible value to members –70% of whom attrite within the first two years.1 So how can membership organizations use digital experiences to make the case that younger members should take the plunge and become professional or full members?

Enter Slack, Dropbox, Spotify, and MailChimp. These companies – that you know and have likely used before – may have an answer in the form of their ‘freemium’ business model. They grew businesses with paying ‘members’ while providing limited services for free or deep discounts to grow a large prospect base of potential customers – and this made them awesome at showing their value through digital to drive conversion. Many associations incorporate discounted rates for new members – but the digital engagement and conversion strategies that lower barriers to entry should be examined further for associations looking to succeed digitally. We’ve identified the top three critical lessons that membership associations can learn from the companies that have pulled it off most successfully.


  1. Lesson 1: Overcome ‘Good Enough’ among young members.

    Free/discounted membership can’t be ‘good enough.’ It’s all too easy to provide a base-level of service to users that keeps them complacent with your organization. Giving users what they need is almost always the right instinct – but the freemium model shakes up that logic.

    Find what your members value most about your organization – and decide what users would be willing to pay more for. Balancing the costs of service with value to members is key. Give away too little and they won’t stay interested. Give away too much and you’re back where you started. Again, the point of freemium is to lower the barrier to entry and entice prospects, not placate them.

    MailChimp has the right balance. Free users can manage 2,000 contacts and send 12,000 total emails per month.2 This ‘locks in’ small businesses early on, and ‘locks in’ upgrades to a paid version as their business – and mailing lists – grow. MailChimp's paid features 'unlock' to grow with their users, as an association’s offering should grow to fit their younger members’ professional growth.
  2. Lesson 2: Show them what they’re missing.

    Don’t hide what users don’t have access to, flaunt it, and remind them of its exclusivity. Prospects need to see tangible value of membership. Most associations understand the importance of marketing their member benefits to early-stage prospects - but something free or discounted has diluted value. So highlight your value through ‘what you’re missing’ tactics like ‘greyed out’ links and on-screen reminders of exclusive members-only content, descriptions of paid member-only resources in communications, and other teasers for what else your association has to offer.

    Spotify is master of these value ‘nudges.’ A free Spotify user can always see the paid-only features on their site/app and attempting to use those features pulls up messaging and links to become a paid user. The free version of Spotify also has ads that serve as a constant reminder of the value of becoming a paid user.3 Associations could learn a lot from Spotify’s use of each free/discounted interaction as a conversion tool.
  3. Lesson 3: Give them “the full treatment” on conversion.

    Surprise and delight new converts – immediately. A first impression can make all the difference. Highlighting the value of your new paid member’s investment says “this was worth it.” Once a user goes from a free/discounted membership to a paid/full membership – they should notice a distinct improvement in experience, whether it is from access to new resources, enhanced services, or even design elements.

    Simple personalization to each touchpoint conveys membership value – and positively impacts retention. Freemium companies use personalized ‘Welcome’ emails to new members, customized member dashboards or profiles, and communications personalized to speak directly to their needs and who they are. You’ll need an effective digital experience platform (DXP)4 to collect and analyze your member data to deliver this; once in place, these platforms allow you to learn more, personalize better, and improve retention and loyalty with your members.
In sum, associations should ensure their digital experiences deliver consistent value to members at each visit - encouraging young members to value membership more. And freemium services – businesses that differentiate almost solely on digital experience – provide membership associations with easy to understand (if sometimes tricky to implement!) examples of how to use digital to demonstrate value to current members and entice prospective members to join.
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