The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Identity Is More Valuable Than Discounts …


One of the most overused, misunderstood words ever used.

At least in marketing.

Too often companies/agencies think the word – or, the modern version of it, ‘membership’ – gives them the right to churn out all manner of contrived marketing under the guise of it being for the benefit of their members … when we all know it’s just a badly disguised attempt to get people to spend more money with them.

It’s so transparent you could put it in your garden and call it a greenhouse.

But recently I saw an example of a brand that understands what being a member should mean. How it should feel.

Because contrary to what many companies seem to believe, membership is as much about give as it is take.

I’ve heard far too many people narrow it down to ‘transactional value’.

What a company gives you is in proportion to what their audience gives them.

Data for discounts.

Purchases for discounts.

Information for access to stuff. And discounts.

Mechanical. Contrived. Commercial. Soulless.

And while I get the commercial value in this approach and acknowledge some do it very well … apart from the fact it’s now condition of entry for any commercial organisation, that’s not what real membership is about, just the illusion of it. And often, this illusion isn’t even for the audience, but for the marketing department of the brand and their agency.

Having a card that gives you discounts or questionable points that – if you’re lucky – can be used for some supposed benefit or other, may increase the amount of times you transact with a brand, but it doesn’t mean the audience give a shit about them.

And maybe companies don’t care about that, they just want your money.

But they should.

Because if people are transacting purely for convenience or routine, you may find they’re susceptible to going to someone who shows they understand who they really are, not just how much money they have to spend.

Nothing highlights what real membership is like, like sport.

Yes they expect stuff from their team.

Yes they can be vocal when things go wrong.

But …

Members can deal with loss.

Members can deal with pain.

Members can even deal with scandal.

All they really want is to feel their presence counts.

That they’re seen. That they’re valued. That they’re respected.

That both parties are putting in equal amounts of graft for the common goal.

Not so the club can flog them more of their stuff, but so they can feel they play an acknowledged and accepted role in making the team better, more distinctive and more special.

And while there’s a bunch of programmes that do this – and some do involve giving discounts and access to products before they hit the market – the most powerful are where teams target members hearts, not just their wallets.

Doing stuff they value, not what they want you to value.

Stuff they didn’t have to do, but still did.

Stuff that means they went out of their way rather than expecting their members to always go out of theirs.

It doesn’t even have to be a grand gesture, it just needs to be a gesture that proves you get how important it is to them, rather than just say you do.

But here’s the best bit … when you do that properly, you find those members will want to buy more of your stuff anyway.

No need for any contrived ‘membership’ marketing.

No need to claim you are as loyal to them as they are to you.

No need to push ‘signing up’ every time they spend any amount of cash.

Because ‘transactional value’ is a byproduct of the emotional relationship you have together, not the cause.

You’d have thought brands would have got this by now, especially as the approach so many currently favour is not that different to when the internet first started and people would get inundated with ‘e-newsletters’ from brands, simply because they once handed over their email address because they were interested in a single thing they said.

I often wonder if the brands that follow this approach think Argos has the best membership program in the Universe, simply because people keep stealing pens from their stores.

If you are one of those wondering this, let me help you.

They don’t. People just steal their pens from them. Because they can.

Me included.

And yes, I appreciate someone could say that’s ‘transactional value’ but actually it’s just shitty free advertising from a shitty free pen. It’s the same approach Virgin Atlantic had with their Upper Class salt and pepper sets that literally had ‘stolen from Virgin Atlantic’ printed on the bottom of them.

Because it was free advertising. Literally included in their cost of operations.

Look, having programs in place that drives sales value is a smart thing to do.

But doing the same as everyone else and claiming people have some sort of deeper connection with you because of it, is ridiculous.

Transactional value is the opposite of what membership is really about.

Because membership isn’t just about what you have, but how it makes you feel.

Or said another way, who it makes you feel you are … who you are a part of.

And with that, have a look at this …

24 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Too often the new era of marketing focuses on the efficiency and not people. Excellent post Robert and I love the Pirates example.

Comment by George

Well said Rob. For me the issue is not about the shifts in marketing approach, which I suspect you don’t care about either, it’s the lack of objective thinking going into it.

Because companies have user data they think they know their customers best. What they still don’t understand is they just know their customers in the sales moment and so their programs are automatically designed to drive transactions rather than build more authentic forms of membership/loyalty/relationships.

The pirates example is excellent, but I presume an exception.

Comment by Pete

“Remove the friction to sales”.

Comment by George

Exactly this Pete. I’m not against the evolution of marketing approach at all. I think the potential for it is amazing. But I’ve seen too many companies approach this form of marketing from making a sale then going backwards to design the rest of the approach rather than going backwards from the audience. The result is customers have to fit in with what the company wants because their focus is really all about their own gain.

I get why this happens. The data they use is narrow and the approach they use is generalistic. Everything is designed for speed and mass and while I understand the theory behind it so much of this practice ends up making a commodity of the brand as ‘the distinction of the experience’ has been narrowed down to some colours a logo and a section on the site that says “about us”.

Some do it brilliantly. Because some understand who their customers really are, who they really are as a brand and what they are ultimately offering each other as members. And while it always ends up in a financial transaction – the difference is, as I write in the post, it’s a byproduct of the relationship rather than the cause of it.

Comment by Rob

The pirates need to do all they can to keep their fans from giving up on them.

Comment by Bazza


Comment by DH

Subscription services are the new loyalty. Bundling products and prices to deliver you things you don’t need or use every month.

Comment by Wayne Green

Subscription services can be very powerful. Nike’s youth sneaker subscription service is an inspired idea. But when you are being forced to sign up for writing pads, the only one winning there is the company and their market valuation.

Comment by George

Yes. Some are brilliant.

I know I am biased, but the Nike kids one is a case in point … and you wonder why no one ever did it before. [Though I have enjoyed something like this since Otis was born, because they have continued to send him freebies so I’ve never bought him any, ha]

Comment by Rob

The problem I see with many membership strategies is they believe people will want to become a member of any brand as long as they’ve transacted with them once in their life. That is not how people work or brand marketing.

Comment by George

Yep. One of the reasons Nike are so successful with their programs is because their whole brand is basically an emotional membership program. People are already members before they sign up for any membership.

But in the D2C space, that isn’t how it works at all. It starts as a transactional relationship – and while that too can work, it means loyalty is often based on convenience which means not only can customers switch to another brand without too much effort, there is a lack of brand distinction so in essence, the owners are creating a commodity rather than a brand.

That said, many of those owners are building it to sell within a couple of years, so the goal isn’t to create something that has a clear position in culture – that can drive appeal, differentiation and brand value – it’s to create sales so they can get out as quickly as they can.

We are almost in anti-brand times, despite the fact the benefits of a strong brand have not changed at all. If anything – in these times – just got stronger.

Comment by Rob

You guys have spent a lot of words basically saying don’t be a dick.

Comment by John

Hahahahaha. Well said.

Comment by Rob

I’ve always found that the strongest relationships aren’t built on how much one person has spent on the other. That tends to be a very different sort of relationship.

Comment by Bazza

And how does that make you feel?

Comment by John

Also known as the Heidi Fleiss relationship strategy.

Comment by DH

Or the Charlie Sheen statement …

“I don’t pay prostitutes to have sex with them, I pay for them to leave after I’ve had sex with them.”

Comment by Rob

He was called Charlie for a reason.

Comment by DH

The shift to membership marketing has nothing to do with membership.

Comment by DH

stop trying to sound like a fucking planner.

Comment by andy@cynic

the only reason im not going to shit on all your planner wankery knickers in a twist shit is because youre pissing on the shit that is making marketing antifuckingmarketing.

consider yourselves very very fucking lucky.

Comment by andy@cynic

Your benevolence is humbling.

Comment by John

im a fucking saint.

Comment by andy@cynic

[…] flogging membership and community doesn’t get […]

Pingback by Losing Friends And Alienating People … | The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Leave a Reply