Membership Programs Are Catching On with Local Media, Others

More and more media organizations, non-profits, charities and credit card companies are adding the sheen of “membership” to bolster customer acquisition, loyalty and renewals.

Pitches for membership subscriptions have become expected and even sought after by consumers that have been conditioned by Amazon Prime and subscription streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify.

According to a November 2018 survey by McKinsey, 15 percent of online shoppers added one or more subscriptions in the last year. Some are heavy users of subscriptions.

Memberships are closely aligned with subscriptions, but tend to have implications of personalized, “value added” services. Both have built-in loyalty and renewals, and a better opportunity to generate frequent usage.

Retailers and prepared food companies have seen this. Amazon Prime probably leads the way. But specialized companies like Box, Stitchery, Harry’s Razors and Blue Apron are also now disrupting traditional retailers and vendors. Some of these, like Gillette, have fired back with their own membership programs.

Can local media leverage this trend towards memberships (aka “affinity clubs”)? Past efforts to upgrade deliverable-based subscriptions to value-added memberships have mostly failed.

The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Capitol New YorkNew York Magazine and others have each developed membership programs featuring discounts to restaurants, movies and books; discounts with clothing retail partners; and tickets to special events.

Most of these never caught on. The vast majority of the media companies failed to provide the volume of customers to keep partners interested. They also didn’t support the programs with enough marketing and other resources.

This time, it feels different. In the case of news orgs, the public has become convinced that they have a valuable and important product. Users have increasingly been asked to “fund journalism.”

More will sign up if there is a reasonable incentive to subscribe. The New York Times, for instance, is providing new subscribers with Spotify subscriptions and Google Home voice search devices. PBS, meanwhile, is providing its members (if they pay $60 or more a year) with streamed on demand access to its program library.

What can “local” media entities provide to win signups to their membership programs? Here’s our short list

• Discounts: Work with local movie theaters, theaters and sporting good companies to keep the list full of hot specials.

• Personalized Offerings: Tailor digital and physical offerings to consumers based on their interests and browsing histories. Provide “insider” access.

• Live Events: Host special events that appeal to specific member communities (shopping, culture, sports)

• Giveaways: Provide free promotional gifts from partners, as well as branded products like tote bags, T-shirts, music