Essay

What makes a membership experience worth it?

The results from our first community survey are in

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Portrait Julie Donders
Julie Donders
January 18, 2023
4 min read

We know membership programs can be valuable to brands and businesses — but how can we ensure they're valuable to members themselves? That's what our first community survey set to find out — what makes a membership meaningful.

Part of what makes Memberful Design truly meaningful is the collective knowledge and drive of our listeners. With our community surveys, we explore together what it takes to spark lasting initiatives, build a movement and create meaningful connections.

To kick off the series, we dive into the membership habits and preferences of the designers, firestarters, and organizers that follow Memberful Design. We explore what gets us excited to join a membership and what makes them worth the investment.

A big thanks to our dedicated listeners all around the globe for sharing your useful insights.

Let’s dive into the main takeaways!

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Memberships are popular, with subscription services topping the list

Out of the many types of memberships available, subscription services (radio, TV, print) are the most popular among our listeners: more than 80% have one or more. Additionally, around half of you are members of a professional association, and just over 40% are part of a cultural or social group or sports team. Around one-third of you also mentioned charity organizations, non-profits, and political groups, while only a relatively small percentage of respondents (7.7%) are part of a religious organization.

Takeaway: People are becoming used to the membership and subscription model, which means brands have an opportunity to use this to invest in long-term relationships with their most important audiences.

We choose our memberships wisely

Most of you (53.8%) have just 3-5 memberships in total. Just one person (shout-out!) indicated having more than 10, while around 20% of our listeners have 6-10. This makes sense: being a dedicated member and reaping the benefits takes time and effort.

Takeaway: It’s crucial for member organizations to be clear about the benefits of taking part in a community and why it’s worth their investment of time and effort.

Memberships act as an extension of the self

88% of you mentioned opportunities to learn and grow as a person as the most important reason to join a membership. That is why it is important for member-based organizations to clarify: what do we collectively grow towards? Who do we want to become, both individually and as a group? These are some of the foundational elements of a successful membership proposition.

Takeaway: As part of your member proposition, define who your members aspire to become, both individually and as a group. Clarify how you will get there together.

Shared purpose trumps transactional benefits

While discounts and gifts are nice to have, none of you (zero percent) indicate they have inspired you to join a membership. Instead, what matters are shared values, a sense of authenticity, and common purpose (60%), as well as the desire to become part of something bigger and find a sense of belonging (44%).

As our research partner Emily Goligoski at NYU’s Membership Puzzle Project put it, “successful memberships connect individuals’ passions to a shared purpose, getting the ratio right between the person and the group.”

Takeaway: Identify the sweet spot between individual passions and the shared purpose of you and your members, to show what you can accomplish together.

Nothing is as powerful as a recommendation from a friend

By far the most effective way to discover a membership is to hear about it from a friend. 80% of you indicated that this has convinced you to sign up. Ambassadorship is a key focus in the practice of memberful design: it’s about creating an experience that is so meaningful for everyone involved, that your members want to tell everyone else about it.

Takeaway: Empower your members to share your story within their own communities, acting as ambassadors for your work in the wider world.

The most inspiring memberships, according to our community

When asked about inspiring member organizations, you mentioned a variety of examples, from your local sports club to a school entirely co-founded by parents. Some of the brands that stood out included Domestika, the Rotary Foundation, ClimateAction.tech, and One-Fit. However, we also saw a noticeably large number of niche organizations make the list, including Women in Lighting, Amsterdam Mamas, and the ultimate frisbee community Windmill. We even came across a “membership in carbon-neutral diapers.”

Takeaway: Instead of focusing on everyone as your target audience, clearly defining your niche increases the likelihood of someone identifying with your targeted offering.

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Next up: memberships that stand the test of time

Our next survey is coming up soon, and we’d love to hear from you again. This time, we explore what makes a membership valuable in the long term. Why do some apps never leave our home screens? What keeps us loyal to certain memberships for years, while others never make it through the trial period?

Stay updated on part 2 of our community survey by subscribing to our newsletter.

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