On your phone, on your keys or in your wallet, you’ll probably find a membership card. Likely a few. One in three Americans are members to a warehouse club alone, never mind the fitness centers, professional networks or entertainment venues we pay dues to.
While many of these organizations are struggling to retain members during the COVID crisis, they may well be among the best suited for a post-COVID world. They are also in the direst need of radical reinvention to get there.
Membership brands facing crisis today must forfeit their overreliance on physical venues to realize their future ahead.
For too long membership brands have fallen victim to the Experience Economy, investing in their spaces as their source of strength, and have lost sight of the salient emotional driver of membership itself — the sense of social belonging.
At the core of any membership, co-op or corporation, exists:
- A desire of members to be part of something bigger
- A culture of connection among members
- A drive to participate in change and contribute to a greater cause
Brands looking to modernize their relevance must pivot their focus from the buildings they occupy to their culture of community and belonging. Rather than continue to rely on the access or benefits granted to any one guest, they must reprioritize the collective advantages of their communities themselves.
We can see membership brands today, across categories, thriving in these times by putting their communities first. Looking ahead, membership brands serving their greater sense of belonging will find new ways to:
- Enable members to showcase their shared values
- Facilitate a culture of collaboration
- Create cultural ownership of their communities
How, in the future, might fitness clubs put greater responsibility on members for one another’s success? Can you imagine a gym offering an online-only membership for people to access online classes, online community, etc.?
Might zoos or museums give members greater stake in their mission? Could museums offer membership levels set by hours fundraising rather than dues paid?
These are the essential traits of memberships that have withstood the test of time, from professional unions to social movements.
Does this mean “clubhouses” will disappear in a post-COVID world? No. Not at all.
Physical spaces will continue to play a vital role in reinforcing the tactile value of membership and strengthen the emotional bond with the community, whether it’s a trip to Yankee’s stadium or the campus of your Alma Matter.
Whether or not consumers remain cautious of community spaces in a post-COVID world, the membership brands of the future must return to their roots, sourcing their strength beyond their square footage and instilling a sense of belonging in their members wherever they may be.