Part 3b - What is the "Ideal Membership Cycle"?

Intro

As we were nearing the end of the process to restore and stabilise the existing services we were offering to our members, we had a much more thorough appreciation of what our problem areas had been, and more specifically what the factors behind them were. Armed with this knowledge, we were now in a much stronger position to think about how to avoid those problems in future. So we began to think about growing the club. That didn’t just mean simply increasing the number of members that we attracted and retained - if we were truly honest, we didn’t know for sure what changes might achieve that. We knew we were in the digital age and could no longer rely on traditional methods of getting found through Google and the major motor shows. But what to do? We needed a completely new approach.

Cynically grabbing new members with a flash-in-the-pan marketing campaign wasn’t going to lead to membership satisfaction or sustainable growth. So we began by thinking more broadly about the services we offered, and how they could be individually improved, expanded and delivered for the benefit of the membership. We’d already found that focusing on reducing attrition was a quick-win to yielding membership growth. What we didn’t yet understand was how to attract new members into the club by really getting noticed for our strengths.  Indeed, we didn’t know if we had any stand-out strengths! All we knew was that we had to get the basic services right first. We could then think properly about offering additional benefits to attract new members to the club in the digital era, something we hoped might sustainably grow the membership overall for the long run.

But where to start?

 

The Ideal Membership Cycle

As we were working in the dark, we wanted to understand what changes would be most effective in helping to improve and grow the club. To answer that, we asked ourselves what the ideal lifecycle of a Rover P6 Club member might look like.

Our “Ideal Membership Cycle” is the framework that evolved during the transformation of The Rover P6 Club as we sought to identify our goals, our purpose and our capabilities, and translate those into the Services that we needed to deliver to our membership and our customers. As our thoughts, ideas and designs developed into this structured format, we found a clarity in the actions that we undertook - what we were doing, why we were doing it, and for whose benefit.

Service Strategy

The very first questions we asked were what are we doing, why are we doing it, and who are we doing it for? We were writing a magazine because that’s what we’d always done. We were filling the pages because we needed to put something on them. But we knew that wouldn’t be good enough in the long run. We were starting to recognise the difference between basic service expectations and value-added benefits. Members pay a fee and in return expect a basic level of service. We needed to define what that meant and deliver it properly. Only then could we start thinking about additional benefits to offer on top to help improve club Services and generate growth. We called this our Service Strategy.

To define the basic service expectations, we first sought to understand the needs of the club’s “customers”. To do that, the committee first needed to identify who our customers were. We found that there are two distinct types of club customers: internal and external.

Internal Customers

  • The club members. This is the obvious one. They are both the organisation and the most direct consumers of club services.

External Customers

  • Journalists. The journalists and the classic press/television programmes are the biggest promoters of the classic industry. They ensure classic news from the clubs is distributed to all enthusiasts and help drum up support for all makes and models

  • Car parts and services suppliers. Besides consuming club advertising services, our parts suppliers rely heavily on the club’s ability to promote the car, increase the car’s profile and generate interest and ownership. When the club does this well, our parts suppliers will see increased business.

  • FBHVC. The FBHVC represents all of us and campaigns on our behalf. They need to understand our needs in order to be effective.

  • General Public. Whether perusing the club website, forums or attending the NEC Classic Motor Show, the public is consuming services from the clubs.

  • Other Clubs. Many clubs exchange their magazines with other clubs, often those in different countries supporting the same car. As a result, members of those clubs are indirectly consuming your club services.

Once we had an understanding of our “customer types”, we thought about the basic service expectations and value-added benefits that would be delivered to each type. For example, the club magazine is a service expectation, not a benefit. High quality content such as in-depth technical articles is a benefit that is delivered through the magazine and adds considerable value to a member’s experience, but the magazine itself is the basic expectation.

By thinking about what each different consumer of our Service Strategy required and would benefit from, we were able to think about what we needed to deliver to each of them along their “journeys” through the membership cycle.

Membership Cycle

After much thought and discussion, we agreed our membership cycle has three distinct phases:

The Rover P6 Club’s “Ideal Membership Cycle”

Attract- Potential new members are engaged through multiple media channels and sufficiently convinced to join by a number of factors

Service- The Club provides each member with club benefits, services and communications (e.g. club magazine) throughout the year of membership.

Retain- Members enjoy the service offered by the club and renew their membership for another year. Their activities, enjoyment and public engagement with the club (e.g. shows, events, social media) serves as a convincing factor for other new members to join.

Most clubs should be well versed in the first two and probably like ourselves, self-congratulate on the high levels of new members brought into the club each year. However the importance of Retention is often overlooked. As explored in our last blog, Part 3a - What’s Causing Static or Dwindling Club Membership Numbers?, attrition is the fundamental root of static/dwindling membership numbers. If we can continue to attract new members at the same rate, but lose fewer to attrition, the net effect is growth.

Attract

There will always be classic car owners who do not wish to join a club, or perhaps prefer the local community car club. But there were many more potential members who were just not finding us, or were not convinced that they needed to join a club at all. We felt there were two factors working against us. Firstly, we were just not getting noticed, and secondly we didn’t look sufficiently attractive.

We are finding that Club Members in the digital age are more impulsive and demanding than they ever were in the past. Gone are the days when a magazine alone, delivered every two months, was the sole reason for joining. Problems encountered by members are no longer written by letter to the editor for publishing in the next magazine, to be answered by the collective membership in the following magazine two months later. Up to four months’ delay. While we were willing to wait in the 1980s & 90s, the modern member demands that their problems are resolved the same day. The demand for information at their fingertips has never been greater. An integrated online presence consisting of Social Media, forums and a well designed club website is the single most important enabler for this to happen.

An interactive website and digital facilities for the modern audience

The website can no longer simply be an online presence. It needs to be visually appealing on all platforms (desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone), give information freely to the community, provide a one-stop shop for resources on your car and make membership facilities as easy as possible. For example, with the demise of the cheque book, an online payment option is a mandatory feature of your website. As will be discussed in Part 7 - Promoting the Club through the Website, the club's website must be the hub of the whole online strategy in how you build your online presence.

Integrated Online Strategy

As we discussed before, the magazine is still king, but its significance is only part of the story. Access to the magazine is moving rapidly towards digital delivery. While digital magazines will not replace the paper copy in the short term, the direction of the tide is swelling with many more of our members making these requests. The reduction in piles and piles of back issues, the ease of storage on tablets and computers, the in-built search facilities, and the portability of carrying an entire back catalogue of magazines on a tablet computer, are just some of the benefits that this will bring. The Rover P6 Club is not there yet, but projects are well underway to ensure that it happens.

Members want to feel like they belong to an all-inclusive, fun, interesting and socially aware community where they feel the fire in the belly of the club to constantly improve, and that everything is done for the sole benefit of the membership and their club.

All of the reasons for Attracting new members are the very same reasons that members will be Retained. The club must deliver on its Services to the membership, so it's worth spending the time to get them right.

Service

Members aren’t your family. Nor are they your fan club. They are all fee-paying customers. That might sound obvious, but a poor quality magazine delivered irregularly doesn’t constitute adequate service in the 21st Century. More than ever, members are indicating that they expect a degree of professionalism and are acutely aware of the ‘value for money’ that being a member offers them.

The Magazine is King

The magazine is still the single most important aspect of service that a club delivers to its members, and a key reason for many to stay. Ask yourselves (as we did) the following questions:

  • Are you delivering what your membership wants to read, or are you producing 'something to fill the pages' in the time available?

  • Would you find the articles interesting yourself if you didn't know the individuals concerned?

  • If you saw your magazine on the shelf of your local newsagent, would you buy it?

In our case, the answer was a resounding 'no'. It was a good 'club magazine' with some good 'out and about' content, but frequently spoke about the same individuals that many members may have no interest in. The magazine also looked like an amateur club magazine, as many of them do, and so would not turn heads on show on a newsagent shelf.

Members will Publicise Good Service

We have found that addressing the above problems with the magazine also produces many new members in the process. Since revamping it, our members have started publicising The Rover P6 Club magazine, Driving Force, voluntarily on Social Media with the direct result of encouraging new joiners.

Improving service creates spontaneous publicity

 

Members want to feel connected with the club

A common problem with delivering service is the inability of members to be able to contact the committee. We still occasionally fall foul of this today, but it is markedly improved. The concept is simple, but we are all volunteers with day jobs and a part-time hobby job! However people do get very annoyed if phone calls and emails are not returned.

  • Keep contact numbers and emails on websites up to date

  • Ensure that webform contacts on websites work properly

  • Always return phone calls and emails

  • If you pass a message to another committee member, follow it up to make sure contact has been made

It's so simple, it's obvious, but it's really annoying for members. If lack of contact is becoming a problem, it should be the membership secretary who finds out because they have the most contact with members. So make sure your membership secretary is reliable.

Members aren’t interested in Club Politics

Take a good hard look at your committee and its behaviours. While we have not suffered with this problem in The Rover P6 Club in recent times, we have talked to many people at shows who feel despondent about how clubs operate, and that politics and perceived 'in-fighting' or ‘empire-building’ gets in the way of enjoyment. Many don't want to join a club because of previous experiences in other clubs. Club members have no interest in the personal squabbles of individuals. They join a club because of a common interest and support, and because they want to have fun with their car. Committee squabbles do more damage to the club’s reputation than to the individuals concerned. They are also destructive to the effective running of the club and growing the membership base. We are all volunteers with limited time. Any time spent that is not directed to achieving the club’s aims and goals is time wasted and will not positively contribute to growing the club. On the contrary, it negatively impacts membership experience.

Be aware of how Social Media represents the Club

As discussed in Part 2 - Is Facebook Killing the Classic Car Club? Social Media is becoming an ever increasing influence for our online presence, and many members expect that they will find us there. However, Social Media gives the opportunity for (potentially) unmoderated discussions to take place between individuals. Care has to be taken with this nature - whilst being a liberating experience for the user, it presents new and unique challenges by taking discussions almost totally out of the control of the club. Sadly, people who would normally be very civil to each other in person can suddenly take on the characteristics of an internet troll. Aggressive or belittling behaviour like this cannot be tolerated when it is associated to the club’s name and page.

However you have absolutely no control, and often no visibility, of what might be said on a user's own profile page. If a member has a grievance, however small, they are fully within their rights to post negative comments on their own page and there is nothing you can do about it. On one hand, this can be a great driver for you. Knowing you risk a public grievance, you will ensure that your services are being delivered to the membership properly. On the other hand, it can be a source of incorrect information or even outright lies that are distributed on another’s personal page. That said, it’s not worth going out of your way to argue back against this. It’s annoying, and often very disheartening when you are giving so many hours to the club only to have your efforts dismissed in an instant by somebody with very little appreciation of what you are actually doing, but people on the whole will make their own mind up about what is right and what is wrong. Information on the club’s pages is what is important so don’t waste energies on the armchair naysayers - they will never change, but the club can.

Make the Membership Secretary work the hardest!

The membership secretary is the most important member of the committee in the day-to-day operation of the club. We can be (and we were) naive in thinking that all the membership secretary need do is send out renewal forms, membership cards, welcome packs and keep the membership database up to date. How wrong we were! The whole life of a classic car club is about the membership, without them, the club ceases to exist. The simple task of keeping up to date with renewals etc is only half of the story. The membership secretary must understand the membership, feel what they want from talking to them, understand their needs from the club and learn as much as possible about the members and their cars.

In the past, we have struggled to get members to send in articles about their cars for publication. People don't see anything as special about their own car. It's certainly special to them, but they don't see it as of interest to the rest of the membership. The membership secretary sees all new memberships and renewals pass their desk on a regular basis and every now and again something of interest crops up that will make a good member’s article or technical piece for the magazine. Make note of these and pass the details over to the relevant editor.

It sounds obvious, but the membership secretary is the only person to see the details of every new member. All new members must be telephoned to welcome them to the club. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it reinforces the belief that they have joined the right club - if a volunteer can be bothered to telephone after work, then the committee must be dedicated to the club. It is considered by our own new members to be "above and beyond" according to a recent conversation. Secondly, you find out about that member, what their skills are, whether they have anything that can be brought to the benefit of the club and its running. You won't know if you don't ask, and if you don't ask, work will always fall to the same individuals on the committee as it has done for many years.

Ask the membership what they want and need

It is important to regularly take the temperature of members’ feelings towards the club and gain insight into the ability of the club to deliver Services to the membership. We have found that the best way to do this at zero cost is to include a comment section on the renewal form - let people have their say! This needs to be on both the paper renewal form and on the website. Of course you're unlikely to get comments from leavers, but again that's where the telephone comes in.

From our personal perspective, the problems within The Rover P6 Club originated from an inability to deliver promised services, but soon extended as further issues mounted and the membership became dissatisfied. At a basic level, if a club cannot deliver membership cards and magazines to its membership it is doomed to failure. We don’t mind admitting that in mid-2012 we were within a few weeks of stalling financially. The committee were extremely hardworking, dedicated and an absolute credit to the Club, but had not adapted to running the Club in a digital age. The result was a period of steady decline with no visible route out of the situation. The landscape has changed significantly over the last 5 years - the digital age brings encyclopedic knowledge on every subject imaginable at the touch of a button. General research has moved from libraries to our living room and given birth to a generation who don't want to wait for an answer and are much more demanding on the services that they receive.

 

Retain

Why do people leave a club?

If we don't actively chase members to renew, you can’t be sure they are making an active decision to leave when they lapse. Club membership fees do not keep the house warm, put food on the table, pay the mortgage/rent or taxes. Paying club fees is not high on the list of priorities for most people. As such, while many may wish to remain a member, they simply forget and often fail to proactively rejoin after lapsing.

In The Rover P6 Club we were no different. We had a membership system that would automatically halt magazines 3 months after the renewal due date, and then lapse the member at 6 months, all without any need for contact. Reminders were restricted to a few letters - which would invariably be consigned to a drawer "to be done later".

How do you make sure members renew?

There are many methods to remind the overdue members and in The Rover P6 Club we do all of the following (where possible):

  • Renewal letters delivered with the magazine to reduce postage costs

  • Address labels on the magazine with "MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL DUE" in large red letters

We then use the modern technologies  to back up the renewal letter just over a week after it should have landed on the door mat. These include:

  • Emails with increasing regularity

  • SMS text messages

  • FaceBook messages

  • Skype messages

Finally, when the list of overdue members is down to a manageable size we use the telephone!

Top 4 Reasons why Retention is so important

  1. Cost-effectiveness. It takes a great deal more time, cost (events, advertising, etc) and effort to acquire new members (apart from those who find you organically) than to keep your existing ones. Far and away the easiest way to grow your club is to reduce the number of leavers. These people have already found their reason to join the club, they just need a reason to stay. As stated earlier, we all put a lot of time and effort into Attract and Service; we must ensure that we put the same level of attention into Retaining our existing membership.

  2. Nurturing a sense of community and belonging. It can feel like a long and often thankless task to telephone everyone who has not responded to the previous communications, but each one is another opportunity to interact with a member and it's surprising how many will stay. All interactions are good. The more you can put a face and a voice to the central committee, the more engagement that member has with the club. The more engagement with each member, the more they feel like they belong. The greater the sense of belonging, the more likely they will be to remain members.

  3. Generate magazine content easily. Through talking to the member, you will find out more about them and their cars. We have often found the member and their cars to be of sufficient interest that they feature in a subsequent magazine article. A win-win for everyone.

  4. All feedback is good feedback. Additionally, by phoning everyone you will get to speak to those who genuinely wish to leave and find out their reasons and to see if these can be addressed. There is no way to reduce attrition to zero however much we would like. As our membership gets older they often sell their cars when it becomes too much for them. Others are serial classic car buyers who will buy a different car every season, join the club for one year and then sell it to buy something different. In recent times of austerity, "I'm in too many clubs" was a very common reason to leave as members consolidate their club list to manageable levels. It is after all well known that many classic car owners can't just stop at one!

Reasons for leaving the club vary from individual to individual as far as their personal reasons are concerned, but occasionally we find that there is something wrong with the Services delivered by the club.

Services

The final layer of the Ideal Membership Cycle framework is the Services that you offer as a club. Each of these services will be derived from your Service Strategy concerning the identification, needs and benefits to your customers. Each Service may also be broken down into further sub-services, for example the Communications service consists of the magazine, newsletters, emails, website, social media and others.

Our Ideal Membership Cycle has been continually evolving since 2012. We are constantly revisiting discussions about our customers’ needs and benefits, and exploring new ways to better Attract, Service and Retain all consumers of our services - including attracting journalist attention, retaining sponsors and advertisers, or servicing potential members with meaningful free content through our digital channels.

But nothing that is ever done to improve the club is done in isolation, it is a co-existing ecosystem of complex interactions that all work together to achieve the result of Attract, Service and Retain. In short, you can’t make one single change and measure its effect, you have to bring all aspects of your integrated Service Strategy together.

In our future blogs we will delve deeper into how the Social revolution shaped our digital strategy and the Services that we deliver to our members, the way in which we promote ourselves to the Global audience, and our drive to have a consistent brand identity across all platforms.

Brian Humphreys

Michael Allen

 

Next time: What is the point of a classic car club in the digital era?

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