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Promoting a Member Referral Campaign

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It is September and we are all heavily into our fall membership drives. Offering a strong membership promotion is absolutely necessary — especially in the fall — and that will differ from club to club, season to season and area to area. On the other hand, a strong membership referral promotion is something that you can utilize all year round. It is important to be consistent with your messaging regarding membership referral bonuses. That is why it is worth the time to plan your strategy, put it in place and then implement it consistently over time and watch the results.

When you decide what your referral bonus will be, keep it simple and clearly communicate it to your members. From experience we have found that it may be best to offer the same reward for each type of membership gained, rather than tier your rewards based on the value of the membership. You must also decide if you are going to give a reward for each membership unit or each new person that joins. In most cases, it works best to offer the same reward for each membership unit, whether the unit is a family, individual, youth or senior. Members are more comfortable with the simplicity of that and you also avoid making them feel less valued if they receive a lower bonus than someone else.

In our case, we offer a $100 credit to a member’s account each time they refer a new membership unit. This is straightforward and simple, giving members the confidence that they are sure what their reward will be. The guidelines for receiving this reward are printed clearly on each and every membership referral pass that we provide for them to give to their friends. It is also printed clearly on marketing materials and the website.

The major way we promote our membership referral bonus program is though a mailing every two months that includes a letter with an explanation of the program and 5–10 passes for them to give out. By putting the passes directly into their hands in their home, we feel they are more likely to use them. The passes expire in two months, which creates an urgency to give them out right away.

We closely track all the new member joins from referrals and create a monthly poster in the club that lists all the names of the referring and new members. This way they all receive recognition for their contribution. It is amazing how many people stop and read those names.  We also post them on our Facebook page, which has over 2,500 fans. On a side note, posting names and giving recognition is a good way to build your Facebook page.

In our case, everyone who joins or refers a new membership is also eligible to win a grand prize. This extra layer to the program is a good way to keep the buzz going. The grand prizes are awarded about every six months. We have given away cars, trips, TVs, iPads and more. If you are able to build a member event around the awarding of prizes, that can create even more awareness for the member referral program. Some examples of events are family fun days, member appreciation parties, holidays, new expansions, etc. The more you celebrate, the better!

I have included a sample of our member referral pass to illustrate how we present this. These passes are also placed strategically throughout the club on all the service desks and common areas. Members are constantly reminded that they are available and can take as many as they want. Obviously, we track the use of these passes and the guest is limited to using them only one time in a 90-day period.

After putting a consistent plan like this in place for a year, we found that our membership referrals increased by 30 percent. Prior to this, most of our new member inquiries already came from member referrals, but this program increased that number. In addition, we increased our conversion rate to new memberships from this lead source as well. In our case, that was attributable to better sales systems and is another discussion altogether.

Linda Mitchell is the director of marketing, public relations and charitable giving for Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Penn. She can be reached via e-mail at linda@newtownathletic.com.

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Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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