The 5 Myths of Membership

Creating relationships between brands and members is notoriously difficult work. And if we have one bit of blanket advice, it’s that there’s no one way to build loyal relationships. And in fact, too often what we see are programs that copy tactics, tech, and value propositions from one another, creating a sea of sameness. In fact, most loyalty brand-building is becoming increasingly ignorable. If brand attraction and connection are rooted in human-driven uniqueness, a copy-and-paste strategy does no good to differentiate your brand long-term or help to truly serve the needs of your members.

Here are the top five myths we hear from clients and partners that often push loyalty or membership programs into a dead-end.

1. “Let’s focus on member acquisition first.”

Please don’t! Why? Most programs have a leaky bucket. What good is acquiring members if you can’t sustain their engagement? Acquiring members for life (and lifetime value, versus for just a few weeks, or only for a sign-up perk) is the goal. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best programs make retention strategies their engine for acquisition. They create good word of mouth and bolster a referral strategy. One great example we’ve seen of this is Boys Club in the Web3 space. They have no traditional acquisition marketing but instead provide loads of utility that advance a conversation, creating strong word-of-mouth. They also make it easy for new folks to take advantage of their exerpertise. How? It’s very simple: they provide a lot of value in their newsletter, which is frequently forwarded to new prospect members.

2. “We have a loyalty tech platform, and now we must shape our program around it.”

This is a very common one. Often we see an organization has decided on a loyalty tech platform, or been mandated to use one, and is now trying to retrofit a loyalty or membership program around it. This process is totally backwards. We don’t believe in starting with tech at the expense of a membership vision. Tech is part of the puzzle, but it’s not valuable on its own. The first question you should be asking is if you have value in your membership. This is applicable to the Web2 and Web3 spaces. Just because you have the technology does not mean you have the community. So how are you solving the fundamental problems or needs that bring people to you? How do you create the pull of a magnet? Then what do you build or acquire to get to the technical infrastructure that supports the vision?

3. “Membership is just marketing.”

Often we see membership get siloed into a marketing or CRM function. The truth is that membership is not owned by marketing. It’s core to your business and should start from the top. Every organization is different. Membership could be led by marketing, experience, or someone with membership in their title. But it needs to be supported and mandated by the top. For membership to be successful, it needs to be promoted and championed by someone who understands it can’t live in a single function. Membership is a way to do business and so leadership needs to organize resources with that in mind. Otherwise membership will always be just a tactic, rather than an engine.

4. “We just need to figure out our loyalty tiering system.”

A membership tiering structure is not a strategy. Theses structure don’t create demand for membership on their own. Often brands are inspired by well-known tiering programs like Delta, and there’s a large misconception that a points-led tiering structure and framing will unlock loyalty, or additional value for the member. But the reality is that you can bring your membership structure to life in myriad ways — and you don’t need to be tied to tiering models. There are many instances in which a tiering model makes no sense and actually does harm to a brand’s appeal. And as we’ve written elsewhere, the points and rewards model is a tricky dance to get into. Not every brand can or should look like Delta.

5. “We already have a rewards program, so we don’t need to think about membership.”

A rewards program doesn’t mean you have loyal customers. 90% of businesses have a loyalty or rewards program. Loyalty isn’t created by points or discounts alone. This may (of course!) be the number one things consumers ask for (another myth buried in here — that what consumers want when asked is the same thing as what consumers need), but this isn’t why members will be loyal. True loyalty stars with being loyal to your members first. What additional value are you giving them? Consumers don’t actually know what they want — instead we must tap into what they need. Focusing on rewards first only devalues your brand rather. Instead we should start by focusing on what would add value to your members’ life.

Hellen Contributors: Adrian Ho, Pierre-Laurent Baudey, Elsa Perushek, Peter Petrulo, Jason Zabel



Jason Zabel
Hellen—Membership for the World’s Most Loved Brands

partner and creative director @zeusjones and @hellenmembership. writing about culture, brands, belonging and the future.