Will Membership-Based Brands be Successful in the Future?


Before we teleport into the future, let’s take a trip into the past. Organizations like Rotary, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, United Way, and the Lions Club to name a few, really became popular in the early 1900s. It was a primary resource for socializing, giving back to their community, and even personal or professional development and support. Clearly, these were the days before the internet and we could be “social” with the movement of a mouse or the swipe of a screen. People were expected to work and take care of their families. Relatives and neighbors were responsible for helping those in need. If they were unable to do so, then the local community was obliged to help. Those generations grew up with the mindset of “you have to go somewhere to be social” and “you need to be seen in the community to have influence.” They grew up trusting organizations as reliable sources of information.

Millennials on the other hand are not as trusting. This generation has grown up seeing scandals and lies coming from these same organizations. They do however trust each other and other people who have not earned their mistrust. They want to co-create solutions to things that are important to them. A generational study from Pew Research Center shows:

  • Only 19% report that most people can be trusted
  • About half do not identify with a political party
  • Most do not align themselves with any religion

So what does this mean if you are a nonprofit that relies on memberships or a business that has a business model based on memberships or subscriptions? It means competition is high while interest is low. Everyone wants this generation to commit to them, but the ultimate question is are you relevant to their needs tomorrow?

Should you focus on smaller niches, welcome the masses, or try to serve both with tiered memberships/subscriptions. Well, that is a good question and the answer is “it depends”. What is your business, who do you serve, who do you want to serve, why do you want to serve them, and how are you willing to serve them? And are those answers in alignment with your brand? Or are they out of fear of a downward trend? Because the millennial generation is strapped with much higher debt than previous generations and because of their mistrust of corporations and organizations, their decision is going to be based on if the investment is a smart career or financial decision. They want to know the ROI of committing to you!

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