Membership has its Privileges

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"Oh boy," I heard you say as you finished off last week’s column. "The secret of success is to make people register for my site, then turn most of them down and demand they pay!"

Sorry, I told you to wait for this week’s column. If you built a business plan based on the above paragraph, rip it up and read on.

Variety can demand registration because it has earned respect, spending millions of dollars over many decades to become the "bible" of its industry. In fact, it’s so respected that it can sell subscriptions, and when it gives one away, its reader knows they have "arrived". When you have that kind of history, goodwill, and financial weight, you can make demands of your target market, too. Until then, you need them more than they need you.

So what do you do? Well, for starters, you don’t "demand" that the people in your target "register". Instead, "ask" that they "join" as "members". Sell them on the benefits of being part of your exclusive group.

Sell Your Benefits

Don’t just place a registration button on your home page (although you should do that, perhaps as a pop-up). You’ll also need to include a letter of offer that details the benefits the prospect will gain from becoming a member of your site – benefits they can’t enjoy as a mere visitor. The letter must convince the prospect not only to input an email address, but to also fill out your qualcard.

Right now, I want you to write down all the special benefits you might offer members – a small sub-set of your present visitor base – that you can’t offer ordinary visitors. This might be a special email newsletter, a discussion list, moderated chats, or other benefits.

These benefits could be things you presently offer all visitors, but you should also be careful to add new, "exclusive" features. Can you put your members in personal contact with a renowned expert who might answer their specific questions? Can you create a book – even a PDF file – that will describe your industry in great detail?

Once you have your offer letter and qualcard (which you remember from last week), it’s not enough to put them in front of whoever might happen along. Even the best-known print publications don’t do that.

No, if this member is valuable, and if they’re going to give you their time and help you reach your target, you’re going to have to do two things:

  • find them, and
  • solicit them.

Capture your Target

You’ve already done an initial solicitation. Now you need to become a direct response advertiser yourself. I’m going to recommend that you kill some trees and buy a list – a printed list of addresses – from a list broker.

Because you’re after online subscriptions, you might start with an email list, but don’t restrict yourself to that. Consider also creating a mailing – a printed, paper mailing – aimed at your target audience. If these people are a worthwhile audience, after all, they’re worth your spending money to reach them.

The winner in your market will be the publisher who gains the most loyalty from the largest segment of the target market, and who can prove that reach to advertisers. So, once you have a solid membership database, consider getting an audit.

I know that this is expensive. This is a long-term business plan. The results of following this plan will be to let your site meet those print publications that compete in its market head-on, then destroy them, due to the speed and lower costs of online publication.

You see, you don’t just have a content site. If your site has content and you’re serious about the business, you’re now a publisher. And a publisher’s job is to serve and advocate an industry or lifestyle. It’s time to get serious about that.

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