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How to Market Your Association's Virtual Memberships Like a Tech Company

Written by Christina Green | on November 12, 2015 at 8:30 AM

How to Market Your Association's Virtual Membership Like a Tech Start-Up

Take a second and go out to the Google Play Store or iTunes, and search for free apps. How many came up? Some number this side of a google? (Sorry, bad pun.) But the answer is a lot, right?

If you clicked through to some of the better known apps, you'll find they have a free level and one or more paid levels. Tech companies are marketing geniuses when it comes to knowing how to lock down some of their features in order to entice people to upgrade.

Associations that offer virtual memberships or entry-level membership tiers could learn quite a bit from them.

Lesson #1) Limit Numbers

The easiest ways that a cloud company encourages upgrades is through limiting numbers. In product management, these are called linear features. The more of a linear feature, the better. This could be number of seats, number of profiles, or number of a particular activity a month.

For instance, Buffer app which is a scheduling app that posts to social media profiles, limits the number of social media profiles a user can have and the number of posts they can schedule under the free program. Since most of us have more than one social media profile, people who want to use one platform to publish all of our social media are going to pay for it.

To use this strategy in designing your virtual membership program, think of something your best members do in your community. What will cause a little pain if it was limited in some way?

Remember, this is used in the free (or limited) membership models to entice people to upgrade. You are not taking benefits away from full members. We'll cover this in greater detail in the multiple tiers section below.

Lesson #2) Consider Other Ways to Pay

Mention, a program similar to Google Alerts, pulls mentions of whatever you ask it to (your name, your association's name, an industry, etc.) limits the amount of results it will give you in a month under the free version.

While it's a good example of the idea above, Mention also gives you the option to pay another way. If you don't want to upgrade to a paid version, you can invite a friend to join.

This is known as growth hacking. Tech companies often entice people to refer people in their networks, an innovative way to reward desired behavior. The company gets more business and the referrer gets rewarded for their efforts.

Lesson #3) Make it Cheap and Monthly

When it comes to cheap apps on the cloud, technology companies make it easy to pay. They often offer auto-renewing monthly policies that at first glance look no more costly than your daily cup of coffee.

For many consumer products, the upgrade cost is usually under $20 a month and can be canceled at any time. That makes continued purchasing very attractive. When it comes out of your account, it's barely noticed.

Lesson #4) Offer Multiple Tiers

Associations know all about tiered memberships, but many still think of a virtual membership as a single tier. It doesn't have to be. Depending on the permissions capabilities inside your association management software, you can create multiple tiers in virtual memberships.

To do this, you need a flexible AMS and online community platform with a detailed and flexible security structure. The next thing you need is to understand the psychology behind the multiple levels.

Most tech companies offer 3 levels – good, better, and best. Three is easy to understand, fits nicely in a benefits comparison table, and allows for room to upgrade. The last thing you want to do is confuse members during the joining process with too many options. Let's look deeper into common three-tier models.


The first level is the free level. The reason you offer this level is to get members in the door, allow them to see first-hand the benefits of membership. It does not mean they receive all the benefits of membership, but they're able to see them.

Free memberships offer the lowest amount of benefits, but should still allow members to make purchases such as educational materials, continuing education seminars, and/or event tickets. When purchases are allowed, this membership is referred to as freemium.

The ultimate goal behind a free (or freemium) virtual membership is conversion to a higher paid tier and/or word-of-mouth marketing to prospective members.

Best Value vs. Luxury Designations

Most 3-tiered virtual software options offer a best value label on one of their options. The psychological effect of this designation is strong for two reasons.

There are people who will automatically see the middle option with the best value indicator and select it. They do not conduct even a cursory cost benefit analysis. On the other side of that, there are people who will select the other paid option because if “best value†denotes an economical choice, the other option must be a luxury one. The member who chooses this option believes that upgrades are always the way to go.  

Reverse Order

Take a look at Crazy Egg's pricing below. They use a couple of psychological triggers. They reverse the order of pricing from highest to lowest, instead of the more common lowest to highest. They do this for two reasons having to do with the fact that most people read from left to right.

  1. When people are presented with a decision involving more than two choices, they often select the first
  2. If you think the first number is expensive, you are relieved to see the next option, which is what they are hoping you'll select (notice the less than subtle colorizing).

They also use clever psychological subtitles.

How to Structure Your Association's Virtual membership Pricing Tiers

A Final Word About Marketing Your Association's Member Tiers Like a High-Growth Tech Company

The key to successfully marketing multiple virtual and traditional memberships is ensuring that there are enough differences in your tiers that people are able to understand the levels.

You want to limit activity to entice member to upgrade, but members still need to be able to enjoy the lower membership tier enough to want to upgrade.

Take the time to outline all online and in-person member benefits and look for places where you can erect gates to usage without limiting enjoyment. Doing so takes some finesse, but it will help you improve your revenue flow and percentages of upgrades.

The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Member Experience, Member Engagement, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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