Your membership model is the backbone of your site and dictates the type of membership that you are actually running.
Purchase any 6 or more cars or tracks at the same time and receive 15% off; Purchase a total of 40 or more cars or tracks and receive a 20% discount on all future content purchases; Own everything? Get a 30% discount on future content purchases; We also run membership specials exclusively for members throughout the year. Is that member is (set theory) an element of a set while membership is (set theory) the fact of being a member of a set. As nouns the difference between member and membership is that member is one who officially belongs to a group while membership is the state of being a member of a group or organization. As a verb member is (obsolete) to remember.
Whilst you’ll find lots of variations of membership models – in fact we wrote a post a couple of years ago on 7 different membership models that you could use – in the Membership Academy we approach membership models slightly differently.
Why? Well membership technology now provides us with a lot of different options, and a lot of the traditional membership models are no longer the ‘norm'.
Instead we are seeing an increasing number of people wanting to break away from more traditional models and rather than just call this a hybrid model as we have previously, we decided that what was actually needed was a new approach to membership models.
We affectionately call this the ‘Membership Trifecta'.
In this way of looking at membership models we actually split your membership into 3 key elements that you can combine as you need to create the membership of your dreams. This approach also gives you a more fine-tuned model to build on in the future.
So, what are the 3 key elements of your membership model?
- Content – the main type of content you will be offering
- Delivery – the way your content will be delivered
- Access – the type of access someone is given to your content
Essentially you need to pick one option from each of these key elements, and combined they will create your central membership model. This gives you quite a lot of flexibility, rather than tying you to a model that isn’t quite the right fit.
Let's look at each element in a little more depth.
The Content Element:
The content element can be broken down into 6 core types:
- Course – a structured course with an a-z path, broken into modules/lessons (or similar) and with a particular goal.
- Premium content – providing in-depth content but not necessarily in a specific order or with a specific result as with a course.
- Library – a content hub comprising of lots of different courses or content types, usually with a ‘pic’n’mix’ approach.
- Community – a forum or other group brought together to discuss a particular topic.
- Service – accompanies a service such as coaching, design or web fixes (e.g monthly design graphics).
- Product – a digital product or resource – usually downloadable.
Your content should be based on the main focus of your membership. So, you may plan on having a community element, but if your main offering is actually a 6 month course then your content model is the course. The content aspect is where traditional membership models are drawn from.
The Delivery Element:
This element looks at how you will deliver you content to members. There’s just 3 options to choose from here:
- Instant – everything is available immediately. No new content to be added except perhaps updates or bonuses.
- Ongoing – new content released on an ongoing basis – often monthly and usually without a fixed end date.
- Dripped – content released at scheduled intervals relative to when the member joins. Often for a set amount of time.
The Access Element:
Your access model is linked to the payment structure you will have, as typically with a membership site it is payment that dictates whether someone has access. There are 4 main options to choose from here.
- Recurring – access tied to regular payments, usually monthly. When payment stops access is removed.
- Lifetime – access for as long as the content is available.
- Fixed Term – access for a set amount of time, i.e. 12 months.
- Pay As You Go – access as needed.
Lifetime and fixed term options could be either one-off or recurring/instalment payments. If using instalments, then be aware that the access can still be revoked if someone fails to make one of their payments.
The Pay As You Go Model is lesser known but think of sites like Udemy or Skillshare – you become a member and then pay for access to specific courses as you need them. This model is also common in the fitness world for access to workout videos.
You may offer a combination of payment methods, such as recurring and lifetime, but your access model will depend on the predominant one – usually the recurring option if this is offered.
So, that's our new approach to membership models. What do you think? What does your own membership trifecta look like?
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Whether you build a membership or subscription solution is up to you. But it's important to know the difference.
Memberships and Subscriptions
If you've ever wanted to buy pounds of quinoa at ridiculously low prices, you've likely considered a Costco membership. Costco membership isn't super expensive, but it gets you access to a warehouse full of stuff that you didn't know you'd need until you see it.
And while it's true that you can buy liquor, prescriptions, shots, pizza and hot dogs from their food court and gift cards without a membership card, everything else—those amazing deals—all require that you have a current membership.
The membership gets you access to the store and discounts on stuff. But to keep your membership active, you have to pay a yearly fee—that's the subscription.
And because they're both so closely connected, few people make the distinction between them. So it's easy to hear the terms treated as synonyms when they're not.
They're two different concepts completely. And it's worth understanding the value of each.
What is a membership?
A membership is the notion of belonging. It's a relational concept.
It says nothing of cost or price, though most memberships end up having a cost to them. Whether you're a member of a professional organization or a member of a club, the dynamic you're most aware of is the “insider” and “outsider” notion.
Many memberships are exclusive. Some memberships have tremendous benefits. Just being a member gets you access to other members—which may be the thing that is most valued.
What is a subscription?
A subscription is a revenue agreement. It's a financial concept.
It says nothing of the benefits of belonging, but it's rare that a person would pay regularly without benefit. The core dynamic with subscriptions is financial in nature. The subscription you sign up for articulates whether you're paying monthly, quarterly or yearly and how renewals happen.
Some subscriptions allow you to pay a certain amount (whether monthly or yearly) to get access to discounts. Whether we're talking about the Amazon Prime or Costco memberships, the yearly fee is the subscription.
Can you have membership without subscription?
Of course you can. I have membership relationships with Avis, United, and Starwood. None of them charge me anything for being a member, and in fact, they give me benefits when I demonstrate loyalty to them. Each gives me a card (though I rarely have them with me) that highlights my membership.
Can you have subscription without membership?
Absolutely. Amazon Prime is one of those subscriptions that for the longest time was just about shipping. I paid a yearly fee for discounted shipping fees. I had no idea who other Prime members were and I wasn't really a “member” of anything.
Do More With Membership Discounts
Over the years Amazon has worked to add more and more to their subscription and at some point, it may feel more like a membership, but to me, the value is the yearly fee that removes all my shipping fees (because I get packages here a lot).
The power comes when you combine the two
My friend Jorge (that's us above) owns Stogies World Class Cigars, which has maybe the best VIP membership lounge in the country. Membership is neither cheap nor easy to get. The waiting list is long. The membership committee is careful. The process is not quick.
The membership program gives cigar lovers 24-hour access to their own lockers, a huge private lounge, and tons of large-screen televisions in a non-smoky environment.
The members don't think or talk about the subscription fee they pay yearly (even though it's not cheap) because the members feel like members. Not just subscribers. They connect. They travel together. They're friends.
People have no trouble paying subscription fees when they feel like they belong to something valuable.
When you connect a relational concept to a financial construct, you can marry memberships and subscriptions for the win!
Do More With Membership Fees
This is true in the physical world and it applies online as well—which is why I challenge the folks I talk to about membership and subscription sites to make sure they understand the difference and apply the lessons of each.