It’s time for membership brands to regain their purpose!

By Max du Bois

As featured in Memberwise by Max du Bois 

Have Membership organisations and their brands lost sight of their purpose?

This is a query continually raised by clients, as well as something we hear anecdotally, as transactional branding has become more and more prevalent across the sector.

– Professional bodies messages focus on heritage

– Museum memberships fixate on free exhibition entry

– Unions draw you in with promises to help you gain a pay rise or legal support

In a digital world, where people have the power to set up their own groups, it appears exclusive access and freebies have become the norm.

Is it enough to just be offering your members transactional benefit?

This trend extends into the commercial sector. Coca cola, for example, is the only brand in Interbrands top 10 for 2019 to lose brand equity over the past 12 months. This is because Coke has been obsessed with selling coke.

This is no longer good enough!

In contrast, Nike no longer just sell trainers, their brand is about fitness and health. Louis Vuitton no longer just sell bags, their brand is about fashion and identity.

Two thirds of people now choose brands that place purpose at their core, and this number jumps to 90% for Millennials. An important factor, considering we know that 28% of members are currently 30 or under.

The importance of knowing what this audience is looking for is only going to intensify over the coming years.

As experts across the purpose sector, we have learnt from clients operating in different spaces, who have to appeal to the same audiences as the membership sector.

We have spoken to an unrivalled number of potential and current undergraduate students, over the last two years, to uncover what it is they want from Universities and importantly brands.

The answer is, they want both transactional and transformational benefits. And notably they want purpose.

They want transactional value. So value for money, in the form of improved financial prospects.

They want transformational value. They’re looking for a sense of belonging, and a space where they can develop both professionally and personally.

Lastly, they want impact and purpose. Although students first instinct is to better themselves, they have aspirations to make a positive impact in the world around them, and are looking for organisations to align with to help them achieve this goal.

In order to sustain longer-term relevance, membership organisations need to focus efforts on building brands that articulate purpose and create platforms where their members can engage and feel that all important sense of belonging.

As a new-formed organisation the National Education Union were determined to change the record on unions. This was accentuated when research uncovered parents’ perceptions of education unions as being disruptive for both their lives and their children’s education.

By involving both sets of members, from NUT and ATL, together we built a purpose driven brand, for the newly formed National Education Union, to highlight their ambitions of making education a great place to work, a great place to teach and a great place to learn.

The new identity pulses with the energy of the members and the collective strength of two organisations coming together. And in the year following launch of the new organisation, have been able to recruit more than 40,000 new members.

If membership organisations are to remain distinctive and relevant, a focus on both transactional and transformational benefits to unlock brand purpose will be essential.

Particularly when securing the attention and support of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who hold the key to the prosperity of the sector long term.