The Scaling Membership Marketing Strategy: Why Retention Beats Growth

By Aarushi Singh
10 Min Read
A image of an african american marketing manager explaing the membership marketing strategy to her team.

What really matters for the overall success of your membership business?

Do you need to focus on membership growth? Or creating a better experience for your members? 

Although gaining customers might seem like a priority (especially if you’re a new business owner,) that strategy might not align with your personal goals. 

Retention will help you build a better business long-term – one that supports the lifestyle you really want. 

So if you’d rather define success on your own terms, stick with us.

We’re going to explain the strategy and philosophy behind scaling, member retention, and why you need to shift your mindset to make it work. 

Your Personal Membership Marketing Philosophy

Every video membership business needs a core set of values – a membership marketing philosophy, if you will.

Your marketing philosophy is different from a marketing strategy or a step–by-step business plan. It’s what comes before your strategy. It’s a zoomed-out view of your “reason why,” what you want to offer your customers, and what you really want to achieve in the first place.

Carving out your philosophy before your strategy builds out a solid blueprint for your future content marketing, digital marketing, and email marketing efforts – including the metrics that actually align with your definition of success.

Clara Roberts Oss owns the virtual yoga studio Practice by Clara. Her membership philosophy revolves around building relationships and bringing people with common goals together.

A screenshot of Practice By Clara's membership website.

“My core value as a human, as a yoga teacher, and also as an entrepreneur is community and education,” she says. “Those two things feed everything that I do.”

She loves her practice, and genuinely cares for the community she’s built. So she decided to create a space where she and her members could feel at home, rather than gaining a huge audience.

Her philosophy reflects her personal and professional values. That’s why it’s so effective. 

Like Clara, your membership marketing philosophy needs to align with your personal goals and definition of success – otherwise, your business could be tough to sustain in the long run. 

And it’s important to establish this right from the start because it’ll guide the rest of your marketing strategy. Will you take a growth approach, and market more to new members? Or a scaling approach, in which you focus on adding value for the ones you already have? How will you be benchmarking your success?

If you’re just starting out, your first instinct might be to gain as many new members as possible right off the bat. 

But success is measured by more than your subscriber count. Focusing on retention and improving your user experience will actually help you now and in the long run. 

For example: Clara took the retention route, and successfully scaled her business. 

She and her team make enough money to live comfortably and enjoy the lifestyles they want, and they’ve done this by focusing on their existing members.

“The point isn’t to grow massively,” she explains. “The only reason we wanted to grow was to pay people we’re working with what they’re worth.”

Stories like hers are why we recommend a scaling and member retention approach every time. 

But how and why are scaling and growth so different? 

Scaling vs. Growth (and Where Retention Fits In)

Scaling your membership program is about making money in a cost-efficient way by turning your focus inwards and making retention the top priority. 

Retention is about strengthening relationships with your current members, instead of using all your resources to gain new ones. The goal is to make them happy. This means spending more time listening to them, instead of spending more money on acquisition. 

You’re investing little-to-no money for a steady income. 

For example: offering special member benefits like webinars or a community where they can interact. 

On the other hand, growth requires investing more money and attention outside your platform to make a profit. For example, running marketing campaigns for prospective members with paid search engine or social media ads.

Your approach reflects the bigger picture of what you want to achieve with your business. This means it’ll also have a huge effect on your membership marketing plan.

So you have to pick one, and commit to it. 

With that in mind, ask yourself…what is it that you really want from your membership site

Your goal could be to grow a huge subscriber count. And if that’s the case, we’ve got all the tools to help you do it. 

But more often, we find that creators really want freedom, flexibility, and scalable income that supports the lifestyle they want. The goal is to be comfortable. 

If that sounds like you, it’s time to talk about retention. 

The Scaling Approach to Membership Marketing

Retention is how successful membership businesses thrive. 

You can grow your business from the inside out by keeping existing members happy and loyal. A solid base of satisfied customers sets you up for long-term success. 

On a financial level, retention matters because increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25-95%, and it’s 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one.

And on a personal level, membership growth is hard, and takes a lot of time and money.

A growth mindset can even lead to creator burnout, especially if you’re a new business owner who’s just starting out. You could end up self-sabotaging if you try to grow too much, too fast, and end up frustrated with the whole operation.

Shifting away from the idea that more customers equals a more successful business can be a big change, especially if you’re a new business owner who wants to start earning as quickly as possible.

But having a solid foundation of dedicated members will change your business for the better.

Plus, you can make just as much money (if not more!) 

Here’s how.

Using the 80/20 Rule

Make your member retention plan profitable with the 80/20 rule

For the purposes of membership marketing, it means that 80% of your income comes from 20% of your target audience. And that 20% is the core group of existing members you’ve focused your retention efforts on.

You can also use the 80/20 rule to guide your marketing outreach strategy, with questions like:

  • Who are my most valuable and loyal members?
  • Where are the majority of them coming from?
  • What are the most popular parts of my service? 
  • What’s the most common feedback I get?

Find the top 20%, and focus 80% of your efforts in those areas. 

The 80/20 rule helps you generate steady income, month after month, from a small group of loyal members.

For example, Clara Roberts Oss has a relatively small audience, but she’s been able to scale by focusing on the wants and needs of her core 20%.

She committed to learning about her members, and found that they shared her passion for community. So she zeroed in on it and built an exclusive forum where they can all engage and interact with each other.

“If you come every day and I come every day, all of a sudden we’re more likely to show up because we know that other people are showing up,” she said. “So we leave comments and ask questions that keep people inspired to keep showing up.”

A screenshot of Practice By Clara's

This dedicated space is now featured in her membership marketing strategy, and it’s a great selling point for potential members. 

But more importantly, it adds value and creates a great experience for the existing ones.

And she continues to find new ways to offer them more, with benefits like live streaming classes and 30 Day Challenges that bring a personal touch to the platform. This has helped her build reliable, long-term revenue from this 20% core group.

“A lot of these people have been with me since the beginning, and they get excited for it because we’re doing it together,” she said. 

However you use the 80/20 rule for your membership business, the important thing is to find your own superfans and figure out the best ways you can appeal to them.

Loyal members will make up the majority of your income and they can also become ambassadors for your brand. 

The Practice With Clara homepage features a variety of testimonials from members who love her service –  and this type of social proof is one of the most effective marketing tactics. In fact, 92% of customers trust personal recommendations over any other form of advertising or marketing efforts.

A screenshot of Practice By Clara's testimonials.

Word-of-mouth marketing is invaluable to a growing business, and means that your retention efforts are paying off. So find ways to put your stellar testimonials front and center.

Plan Now to Grow Later

The idea is to find stability now, and then work your way up.

If you’re just starting out, you might feel like you have to set a high price point or wrangle as many customers as you can to make a profit quickly.

But stable income comes from a stable membership base. 

To build an audience of members who continue to subscribe every month, you need to give them:

  1. A reason to try your service.
  2. Enough time to experience your value.

This can mean: 

  • Charging less. 
  • Focusing on user experience more.
  • Shifting your mindset from “How can I make even more money?” to “How can I make my members happy?”

For example: Practice With Clara took about 6 months to become profitable. Clara Roberts Oss set a lower price point and offered free trial periods, with the understanding that it would pay off in the long run. 

“I just wanted to make pricing accessible, but still honor the fact that I’ve put 25 years and a lot of money in terms of my education to offer the content I have.”

Her goal was to make enough money to live comfortably while doing what she loved – the rest was a bonus.

But as she added more value and created more demand, she was able to increase her prices.

“We started off at $14, and we’ve gone up $1 or $2 a year ever since.”

Scaling a new membership site is far from a get-rich-quick scheme. But providing a great experience for an affordable price does 2 things:

  1. Get people in the door.
  2. Help them fall in love with your service. 

Ultimately, this makes transitioning from part-time to full-time creator much easier.

Earn and Enjoy the Process

The important thing to remember is that scaling is a great way to earn and build your business, even if it doesn’t happen overnight.

While it may take a little longer, you can make what you need while you grow.

Focusing on customer count instead of customer satisfaction can lead to high churn rates. If you’re gaining new members but quickly losing most of them, you might make some money, but it will be inconsistent and unsustainable. 

That’s why you need to start with a philosophy and a clear end goal. 

The Takeaway

As a creator with a membership site and business, making your existing members the priority can help you love what you do, and earn a good living doing it. Before you start focusing on growing your membership through SEO, social media platforms and podcast sponsorships, consider why you want to grow – and whether it’s even what’s truly what you want.

As Clara Roberts Oss explains, “We’re a very small community of people. You can make a living doing many different kinds of things without having 100k followers. There’s space for everybody.”

In fact, we help creators successfully scale their membership platforms every day. To see what you can build, request a free personalized demo here. Our philosophy says it’ll be the best business decision you ever made.

How will you be benchmarking your success?