Making membership a habit

18 APRIL 2018

Emma Thompson, Director

This week we heard news of the £5 tickets Tate have introduced to encourage more young people to visit their special exhibitions. Apparently, young people (16-25 years old) make up less than one tenth of Tate’s visitors, and Tate want that number to increase. 

They seem to have done their research: The Guardian reports the current Tate director stating that “We are acting on what 16-25-year-olds say they want so that we can make the changes needed for future generations.  Our sector should be shaped by their creative energy and their message to us is clear: arts institutions should plan with, not for them.”

To take advantage of the much-discounted ticket price, 16 - 25 year olds must join Tate Collective, a free membership scheme.  And Tate is looking to appoint a new trustee to represent this age group.

It’s a great piece of publicity: cheap tickets, free membership (with added benefits such as discounts in Tate cafes and shops) and direct involvement of an audience demographic who, according to various sources, have much energy and enthusiasm for their chosen causes, want to feel empowered, and gain huge satisfaction from seeing their efforts rewarded.

Get them hooked

For Tate, the offer of cheap museum exhibition tickets is the hook to get young people to join; I imagine Tate have a broader plan to encourage members to visit more, buy more, get more involved, advocate. It’s not a surprising model: in the professional membership sector, we have similar offers of discounted membership, cheaper conference fees, free services or reduced-cost product purchases to hook younger target audiences into membership.

The initial engagement is relatively easy. The next step is harder: holding on to those younger members beyond that first connection.  What can professional bodies do to make sure that these members keep coming back for more?  And it doesn’t only apply to young people - this is about retention of any member of any age, at any stage of their career, anywhere.

Building the habit

Last year, I came across an Association Success interview with behavioural designer Nir Eyal.  Nir has written a book in which he describes four steps that lead to habit-forming experiences. The process begins with a trigger, prompting the user to take an action, which leads to them receiving a variable reward. Finally, they are encouraged to make some kind of investment that helps improve the product or service or unlocks more of what they need - by which time the individual has been hooked into the cycle of continuing action. 

I’ve read the book and although it draws predominantly on examples of the ways in which technology providers encourage interaction and continued investment, it’s thought-provoking.  How could membership bodies make their products, services or resources a habit, so that membership becomes a must-have?

Probelm solved

In the AS interview, Nir explains how membership bodies could apply the model by using their content as the trigger, bearing in mind how much should be freely available and how much should be member-only. There’s also some consideration of online member communities. But Nir thinks that the model isn’t just for digital or technology-based products; he believes hooks can be found anywhere. 

If membership bodies have empathy and understanding of what their members need, Nir believes the only limit to designing habitual products or services is imagination: “…don’t start from ‘What can we sell?’; start from ‘What problem can we solve?’”

It will be interesting to see whether Tate’s cheaper tickets are all it takes to solve a problem experienced by younger members and achieve growth in visitors.  


P.S. You can find pretty much all of the content of Nir’s book in his blog (no paywall!).