BLOG 23rd July 2019

Membership Schemes Must Be More than Discounted Tickets

Look inside the wallet of a woman in the UK or Ireland, and you’re more likely than not to find a Boots card there. Airlines and supermarkets are top of the list too when it comes to loyalty schemes, and subscription-based schemes are at the heart of gyms' and Netflix’s business models.

But things are different for the cultural and heritage sectors. Our membership schemes aren’t based around cost-saving, but rather a deeper relationship between organisation and audience member. It’s not about value – it’s about belonging.

Last summer, my sister bought me a membership to QFT for my birthday. Every time I use the card I get a discount on tickets, but to be honest, I’d probably pay the full price anyway if I really wanted to see the film. She wasn’t saying ‘here, have some cut-price film tickets’, but rather, she was paying me a compliment, saying that I am a film buff, someone who would belong to such a club.

Most people don’t belong to arts membership schemes because they’re savvy bargain-hunters. Instead, being a member appeals to their own sense of identity. It’s also a way for members of the public to support organisations that they feel make a positive impact in their own lives and others.

Very few people would say that a supermarket brand inspires them, makes their locality a better place to live, or impacts on their well-being. But that’s the kind of thing we see in research on arts, culture, and heritage all the time. So our membership schemes shouldn’t be based around bagging a bargain.

Membership Benefits to Arts Organisations

Needless to say - designing, promoting, and sustaining a membership scheme is a commitment, particularly for time-poor arts workers. But there are significant benefits to having an active membership scheme.

The most obvious is that it can provide a much-needed source of sustainable income. If your sales are focused on the Christmas season, membership schemes can be a great way to spread revenue and attendance across the year.

Members can be a huge resource for information and ideas. They are a self-selecting loyal audience that are usually really chuffed to be asked for their opinions.

But the most important benefit is increased customer loyalty.

In order to encourage customer return, you’ll need to map your customer’s potential loyalty journey and give them the opportunity and invitation to increase their loyalty at each stage. Generally, a customer is ready for membership when they’ve already bought from you a few times. After that, they can progress onto subscription, donation, or becoming an advocate for your organisation.

Signing up for a membership can be an amazing way to make someone feel fully ‘bought-in’ to your organisation. And hopefully – encourage them to attend more often.

Case Study: Some venues are now offering membership-only tickets - i.e. buy a ticket and get a free year's membership. HMS Caroline in Belfast offer a one-off ticket which allows the visitor to come back to either attraction for free within the next 12 months.

How to Price

Once you’ve decided to launch or re-fresh a membership scheme, it’s time to have a look at your figures. When pricing, consider your average spend per order. If an audience member usually spends £30, then a £20 membership is reasonable. If the average spend per order is £150, a £50 membership is an easier up-sell.

It’s rare for someone to never attend and then suddenly take out a membership (unless it’s a gift). So, price is not usually a barrier that needs to be addressed for members.

Look at the other offers you’ve got currently – multi-buys, early-bird, season tickets. Will your membership undercut these, be in competition with them, or cause confusion?

Case Study: Sadler’s Wells had a long-running membership scheme, but when they looked closely at it – it was losing them money. They ran online surveys and focus groups with existing members and identified priority booking as a key benefit that members valued. They also realised that members often signed up because they wanted to support the work of Sadler's Well, and not because they wanted to save money on tickets. A re-design of the scheme led to 52% increase in new members.

Choosing Benefits and Creating Value

There are lots of way to reward your members. Which ones you choose will depend on your target audience for membership. Are they highly knowledgeable about theatre and looking to know more and view more challenging works? Are they looking for an excuse to get out and meet other like-minded people in a group? Or are they a family, who appreciate all-in deals and whose child would love a special kids’ membership card all to themselves?

Personal touches – making them feel special

  • Priority booking
  • Exclusive newsletters/mailings
  • ‘Thank you’ in programme, in venue, on screens
  • Artist-led thanks – a personalised tweet or doodle from a performer or artist. (Stand Up to Cancer have a great example of this)
  • Invites to dress rehearsals.
  • Receiving exclusive email newsletters or the programme via post.
  • VIP nights.
  • See the museum or gallery after dark.
  • Members’ social night/tour. (works best for audiences motivated by social reasons)

Cost-savings for the customer

  • Percentage discounts on tickets.
  • Multi-buy offers (Liverpool Philharmonic even have a loyalty points scheme).
  • Waived booking fees.
  • Top price seats at a discounted price
  • Discounts at your bar or café.
  • A free glass of prosecco on season-opening.
  • Free mulled wine and mince pie at Christmas showcase.

If you are offering some savings, a good way to protect your current revenue is to offer an added extra (free glass of wine), encourage secondary spend (restaurant deals), or upgrades (cheaper VIP seats).

Getting Involved

These benefits will suit fans of your artform that want to be engaged on a deeper level.

  • Pre and post-show talks.
  • Behind the scenes tours.
  • Meet the artists/directors.
  • Members’ book club.
  • See the archives/vaults/collections in storage.

Encouraging Sign-Ups

By looking at your ticketing data, you can spot customers who are likely converts to membership. Use your knowledge about your audience to forefront the benefits they’ll get from membership and the main motivations to sign up.

The National Trust market their membership as a way to ‘feel free more often’. They have £4.2 million members, of which 60,000 are volunteers. They also offer a special junior membership.

Keeping them engaged

Unlike gyms, which oversell memberships and count on most people not turning up, cultural venues want their memberships to be used. Keep an eye on your members’ booking activity – if they’re not buying, send them a personal reminder to make the most of their membership and suggest something to see.

Use auto-renewable memberships - if customers can pay via credit card or direct debit they’re much less likely to opt-out of membership after a year.

As always, research and testing are key to refine your membership scheme. Try a focus group of loyal customers before you design yours – but also remember to check in with current members and see what they think.

If you're considering starting your own scheme, we offer free Audience Appointments to talk through your ideas, and we've lots of ways to help research your audience too.

Maurane Ramon

Head of Client Development

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