Subscription is a pricing tactic.

It is not a strategy. Not by itself.

It’s important to remember this distinction when you’re designing subscription-based membership offerings for your association.

Many associations are attracted to subscriptions for the same reasons as corporations:

  • Predictable cashflow allows for more thoughtful and confident investing in the future
  • Members who subscribe often establish habits, and engage more deeply in the association
  • Subscribing can increase loyalty and satisfaction, and result in referrals, too

I have seen the transformative power of subscription pricing in building “forever transactions” between organizations and the people they serve. I have spent most of my career studying subscription pricing, membership models and the power of focusing on long-term relationships.

But if you want your subscription offerings to be successful, and to result in greater engagement, loyalty and lifetime member value, you have to think holistically.

Step 1: Define Your Ideal Member and Forever Promise

Step 1 is to take a step back and ask yourself a few questions. Who is your ideal member? What is the ongoing goal this member is trying to achieve, or ongoing challenge they’re trying to solve?

In many associations, the “ideal member” wants to thrive personally and to support the integrity of the profession as a whole. So the ongoing goal (or what I call “forever promise”) is “help me thrive in my profession, and ensure the integrity of this profession for the future.”

Step 2: Determine All of the Ways You Can Help Members Achieve that Goal

Step 2 is about your product offering. Now that you have a clear idea of your ideal member and their desired outcome, you can consider what your organization can do to help them.

Let’s take “thrive professionally and support the integrity of the industry as a whole” as the forever promise.

You might start at the beginning of that person’s career, maybe while they’re in school. What can you do to help them early on? Maybe offer discounts on conferences, mentorship, and help with student loans.

Later in their career, their needs might evolve—they are trying to stay current in changes in the field and build a network of colleagues and peers. So the right benefits here might be briefings, access to experts, and small group events to build connection.

And as this person reaches their peak professional status, they may value recognition for their contributions to the profession, as well as the ability to mentor others. They may also be looking for help as they plan for retirement and who will succeed them and take over their business.

By building your product offering, against the member journey, you are able to provide ongoing value, build engagement and drive loyalty. Ideally, it will seem to your members as if you can “see around corners” for them, helping them anticipate the next challenge before they’ve even considered it.

Step 3: Structure and Price Your Offerings

Only once you have the offerings and the member journey mapped out can you begin to think about the value of what you can offer, and who among your ideal members would want it. There’s quite a bit of iteration that goes on here. You may find that your offer is more or less valuable to different segments (new vs experienced professionals, for example; or people who attend your conference vs people who don’t).

Triangulate pricing, considering what your member is willing to pay, what the offering will cost you to deliver, and what alternatives the member has to achieve that forever promise.

It can be tempting to offer many subscriptions along with “add ons” for conferences, databases and other elements.

Keep in mind that the more complex your pricing, the harder it is for the member to establish habits and just trust that you’re going to help them achieve their goals, in exchange for fair payment.

Step 4 (Step Forever): Test Test Test

Even with a clear ideal member, forever promise and offering, you need to test and see how your audience responds. Do they understand what you’re offering? Is it relevant to them at that price? Once they sign up, how do they engage and what distinguishes the subscribers who stay from the ones who leave?

You will have many questions to test early on, before scaling your launch. But even after the full launch, you’ll want to continue iterating, learning from the data you’re getting back, and improving the offering.

The biggest mistake I see with organizations of all types that launch subscriptions as just one of many business models, is that they think that the launch is the finish line. And really, it’s just the starting line.