Why Every Great Website is a Membership Site

The world of marketing is being turned on its head. Instead of messaging that promises an experience, effective marketing must itself begin the experience.

Does that make it “marketing” any longer? Or is it something else, something valued and sought after instead of avoided?

The experience that any smart “marketer” must create is powered by content, first and foremost, because that’s what people are looking for. But what they really crave is something much deeper and meaningful. And that’s exactly why membership truly has its privileges–for both you and your prospects, customers, and clients.

In this 19-minute episode Robert Bruce and I discuss:

  • Why the media approach to marketing works
  • How a major corporation killed their “marketing” department
  • The one word that epitomizes great content marketing
  • The Holy Grail of all revenue models
  • The power of the “logged in” experience
  • Why Facebook is not — primarily — a social network

The Show Notes

Why Every Great Website Is a Membership Site

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.com.

Robert Bruce: So you’re back in town. I suppose this means I have to give the keys to your show back to you?

Brian Clark: Well, I’ll let you stay in the room, metaphorically. But yeah, I kind of got used to it.

Robert Bruce: Being away?

Brian Clark: No, I kind of got used to the show.

Robert Bruce: Oh.

Brian Clark: I did enjoy being away, but it only takes a few days on the beach for me to get crazy bored and I’m ready to get back. So that’s a good vacation.

Robert Bruce: And you came back with a good deal here, a good idea. We’re going to do a series of short episodes about membership sites.

Brian Clark: Yeah. I think some people are coming to this topic with certain expectations. And those are correct, but it’s also a lot bigger than that. That’s reflected in today’s show title. It’s a different way of thinking, but it’s very in-line with what marketing has become — and I mean from the solopreneur up to the biggest corporations on the planet.

Robert Bruce: You like to tell this story about Procter & Gamble, speaking of biggest corporations on the planet. You tell this story about P&G to illustrate this idea of ‘media not marketing.’ Which, by the way, I think is one of the smartest, most powerful concepts you’ve come up with. But you’ve got another one from P&G.

Brian Clark: Yeah. Just to bring people up to speed, and thank you for that. Again, I already gave you a raise. I’m not giving you another one.

Robert Bruce: Damn it.

Why the Media Approach to Marketing Works

Brian Clark: OK. In the original New Rainmaker training course — which all of you can sign up for free. We’ll put it down in the show notes — it really kind of dives down deeper into this media not marketing thing as a way to understand what’s known as ‘content marketing.’ One of the examples that I use when I go out on the road and give presentations, is several examples of people who created media content to accomplish what marketing is supposed to do, and it works much better because no feels marketed to.

So the Procter and Gamble story. Always in my presentations, I lead with this one before giving other examples. I say, “Here’s a story about a brand that turns to a new technological medium to create content and build an audience in order to build its business.” And then I say, “Well here’s the twist. That company was a detergent company from Cincinnati. The new technological medium was radio. The content was the original soap operas named after the detergent company’s line of business. That company was Proctor and Gamble.” They basically created the radio versions of soap operas, carried that into television in the ’50s to reach their demographic — much like we do now online.

How innovative was that for the 1930s? The bigger lesson when we talk about digital sharecropping and owning your own assets and all that stuff, by the 1970s, the soap opera was the most lucrative form of television on the planet. Not only did Procter & Gamble become this huge conglomerate, they also owned some very, very valuable intellectual property that served them well. That’s my normal Proctor & Gamble story, but they’ve actually given me another example of this whole concept of avoiding the appearance of marketing but getting marketing done — or at least what marketing was supposed to do originally.

Robert Bruce: So what’s the more recent example that you came across? I think this was from last summer.

How a Major Corporation Killed Their “Marketing” Department

Brian Clark: Yeah. I just now came across the story, but it did happen in summer of 2014. Basically, Procter & Gamble removed the word ‘marketing’ from the entire business. They changed all the marketing departments to ‘brand management,’ and every marketing director is now called a ‘brand director.’ That just may seem like semantics and just a bunch of hogwash that we wouldn’t care about.

But it is exactly in-line with the same sort of thing that they were trying to do when they originally created the soap opera, which is, they’re creating an experience for their audience rather than just doing marketing, which is messages that promise an experience. “Once you buy, we promise you will get this benefit,” and “you will be taken care of and this and that.” Guess what, that gets tuned out. The experience has to begin before the purchase.

Robert Bruce: So it’s more about creating experiences, and they’re illustrating this and kind of putting their money where their mouth is by things like removing the word ‘marketing’ from their titles. This idea of experiences over content. But it’s still that strategic content that’s going to get you where you want to go, right?

Brian Clark: Well, technically, all marketing collateral and advertisements are content. But what are we talking about? That’s why I don’t say ‘content.’ I say ‘media’ because people know what that means. We’re talking about media content, or entertaining, engaging, and yes, educational — at least in this context — content that people actually want instead of marketing.

Marketing only promises an experience. Most people are like, “I don’t believe you. I’m not going to listen to your spiel. What have you done for me that’s of value?” That’s another core word in Procter & Gambles’ decision. It’s all about creating ‘value’ and creating an experience that emanates from that value.

The One Word That Epitomizes Great Content Marketing

Robert Bruce: So we were talking earlier about a very specific word that epitomizes the experience that best works for content marketing. What is that word?

Brian Clark: It’s very interesting. Of course, this has been a slow evolution over time, but the word is ‘belonging.’ People want to belong. That’s the experience that they’re seeking: “Do people like me do this type of thing?” Our friend Mr. Godin tapped on this with his book Tribes. Even before that book was The Culting of Brands, which was an older book which I would suggest everyone pick up. Kind of dicey on the topic, but it’s exactly right.

Number one, it says that most cults aren’t evil, which is kind of controversial I guess, and that brands should emulate that sense of bringing people in and the sense of belonging. That’s how evangelism occurs as well. We have all these kinds of religious concepts, but that’s who we are at core. It all ties back to the way we talk about audience.

If you’ve ever seen one of my presentations — or again, taking the free New Rainmaker course — you’ll see these concentric circles that represent the audience experience. On the outer reaches, the cold outer reaches, are social media followers. Someone may follow you on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they feel like they belong with you in that sense. But as you move in closer in the inner circles, it gets much more warmer, an intimate relationship. That’s what you’re trying to do.

You’re trying to attract people in closer to you and create that sense of belonging as an aspect of them becoming part of the audience. Of course, the audience experience doesn’t end at purchase. In fact, that’s what everyone is aiming for. Retention. Subscription based models. Trying to get the Automatic Customer is another book I just picked up and I’m going to dive into. It’s basically about someone who becomes your customer every month or every year because they’re on a recurring subscription or something similar.

Robert Bruce: So maybe we could look at this another way. ‘Audience’ is the preferred word that we’ve been using for a long, long time. But look at it as maybe audience, and then ‘true audience’ as the person moves in closer into those concentric circles.

Brian Clark: Yeah. I think that’s what Godin was trying to get at with Tribes. You may be part of the audience before you’re all in. That is a good way to think about your content marketing strategy. How are you trying to serve people with value in a way that makes them say, “Yep, I’m in the right place. This is my people”?

Robert Bruce: Yeah, right. Also briefly on the cult thing for those who may be offended by that or think it’s overly religious or whatever, take a look at the Final 4 that’s going on right now. Any sports team or any hardcore believers.

Brian Clark: Absolutely. All sports are cult.

The Holy Grail of All Revenue Models

Robert Bruce: This kind of really nicely folds into the idea that we work to create a paid membership model. This idea of belonging. This idea of these concentric circles, of bringing the audience in closer and closer, from cold to warm. But there is a type of subscription revenue that’s the Holy Grail, right?

Brian Clark: Well everyone wants recurring revenue. Historically, I don’t think there was such an emphasis on this, but this has been happening over time. It’s accelerating. Again, I think it’s tied to this concept of belonging on one side of things, and the other is just cold, hard cash reality, which is, those are very stable business models. Now think about the electric company. They’re a monopoly. You probably hate them. They probably don’t do a great job, but they bill you every month. If they don’t, or you don’t pay, you don’t have lights.

OK, so that’s an old, old model, almost out of necessity. But think of the advent of cable television where something that had been free, was now not only paid, but you paid every month or you lost access. So now we accelerate all the way up to Spotify, and Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Basically, things you used to own or watch for free have become things you belong to. They are membership communities.

I think the biggest revolution that we’re seeing from the way you and I grew up is the fact that we lease our music if you no longer buy downloads. It took me the longest time to quit buying from iTunes. When I want something, I want it. Even though then, under that arrangement, Apple could probably screw me over.

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Brian Clark: This goes back about 10 years ago. There’s this book called The Age of Access. It’s basically predicting this trend, that more and more of what we spend our money on is about purchasing access to things as opposed to owning them. This is way before the sharing economy, and this is before Netflix and Spotify and all this. And it nailed it. In our Teaching Sells program from 2007, this was the big theme, and it turned out to be dead on. It turned out to be dead on about online training. People will pay for information if it’s packaged the right way. If it’s creating access to something more than just raw data or words. You know what I’m saying?

The Power of the “Logged In” Experience

Robert Bruce: Yep. This goes to what you’re calling the “logged in” experience, which I love. It’s something that the mainstream — I hate the word ‘user,’ but in fact, it’s actually quite fitting on some of these services — but the user or the customer or the prospect is ‘logged in.’ We know it. We know what this is about.

Brian Clark: Yeah. That’s a registration and access concept, yet it’s not about paying. So here’s why I’m saying, “Every great website is a membership website,” because this concept of access has permeated us psychologically thanks to the way everything has developed. One big component of this ‘access mentality,’ even in situations where you’re not paying money — it’s not a subscription model, or it’s not yet — but the beginning of the experience is being ‘logged in.’

Why Facebook Is Not — Primarily — a Social Network

Brian Clark: Another thing that I always hit my audiences with is, “What is Facebook really?” And they just kind of look at me like I’m an idiot because it’s a social network, right? But what is it really on the web or with the app? It’s a membership site. Without access and registration — registration and access, I should say, to go in the correct order — your experience is not the same.

You’re like a little kid outside the candy store window looking in, drooling. You don’t get any of the goodies unless you are logged in. You can’t log in until you register, and of course, that means providing an email address. A good email address because you need to make sure that you can get access if anything goes wrong.

Look at MyCopyblogger. It’s been two years now. That was our hypothesis, that the mainstreaming of social media and these other access and belonging concepts, even in the world of free stuff, would be much more powerful than, “Opt-in to my newsletter so I can spam you.” Number one, you have low trust over here with opt-in, and number two, the world shifted. It shifted to an access and registration kind of mind set. That was our hypothesis with MyCopyblogger. You know the results. Why don’t you share those?

Robert Bruce: Well before that, I really like this because you said, “What is Facebook?” We call it a social network. It’s this thing we all know about. But, really, what this does, when you think of Facebook as a membership site for me, it takes away some of the scary, big, overwhelming idea of, “I must build a membership site.” Whatever that is for somebody coming into this. But it makes it easy and accessible. Back to MyCopyblogger, you know that turned into — are we talking about the conversion?

Brian Clark: Yeah. Absolutely.

Robert Bruce: Over 400% conversion.

Brian Clark: 400% increase in email subscribers compared to the Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter approach that we did. That always blows everyone’s minds, and it’s just cold, hard facts. But we upped the value. We created a velvet rope experience, meaning, “If you’re on the outside, you don’t get all this stuff.” But once you register, then the experience changes. You go behind the wizard’s curtain, if you will.

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Brian Clark: It’s been amazing. I don’t think it’s any coincidence, since email is our sales engine, that the year after we did that and we were able to launch Rainmaker — which of course we did with email when it started getting really serious — that’s why revenue grew by 35% in 2014. There’s a correlation there between a much bigger email list and more money.

Robert Bruce: Yeah. And this is the point.

Brian Clark: Yeah. That’s the point. Here’s one final thing to think about, and then we’re going to end this. And we’re going to dive deeper on each of these things as we progress through the next few episodes. We’ve been talking about ‘adaptive content,’ which is a form of marketing automation. We just released the pro features of the Rainmaker Platform to existing people who had pre-purchased access to Pro.

And it really is made much more powerful by the logged in experience. With that log in, and that registration, just like Facebook, when you’re logged in, Facebook knows all sorts of scary things about you. Right? So we’re not advocating scariness, but how about enhancing their experience in a personalized way based on who they are, what they’re interested in, and what they’re doing?

Most marketing automation right now, “Oh, they clicked this link, or they did that, so therefore I’m going to send this message so that my sales team can talk to them,” right? Not knocking that. That’s incredibly powerful, and Rainmaker does that as well. But the logged in experience, we’re going to elaborate on this over the next several weeks.

Robert Bruce: Alright, if you want to experience a logged in experience and get back to what Brian was talking about the stories about Procter & Gamble earlier in this episode and freely access the 10-part course that we mentioned, go to Rainmaker.FM. Click that big green free registration button you’ll see right under the header at the top of the site. You’ll get everything for free, the 10-part course, and use it also as an opportunity to see how we’re doing this. How we’re using and playing with the ‘logged in experience’ as Brian’s talking about. Brian, anything else before we shut this one down?

Brian Clark: Yeah, don’t ever steal my show again. Unless I ask you to because I want to go on vacation.

Robert Bruce: You just can’t leave town because you never know what’s going to happen.

Brian Clark: Exactly.

Robert Bruce: Alright, we’ll see you next week.