There has been an idea rolling around the association space that members sign up for economic reasons.

The gist of it is that you need to look at all your benefits and calculate a market price for each to present as the value of membership in your offer.

For example:

  • Advocacy is worth $a because a lobbyist costs $b
  • Our benefits program offers potential savings of $c
  • Our help line is worth $d

After this analysis, you pitch membership as:

"Membership is worth $5,700 and it only costs $300 a year. You'd be crazy not to join up!"

There are a couple serious errors with this approach:

First off, people do not value things the same one person to the next. They will immediately discount all that they don't value and put a question mark about worth next to the items they do. "I don't go to the conference so who cares that you're offering a 20% discount for members... and I wouldn't pay $500 to a lobbyist if I weren't a member."

Secondly, people are not rational. Even if they did believe your calculations and had your same perception of value they still won't buy based on that.

Human beings don't marry the person who "makes sense," they want to fall in love. They don't go to the court house and save $15,000 on a wedding, they try and get everyone to fly to Puerto Rico for a destination wedding (thanks Antara.)

What Part of "You" Chooses?

People buy because of emotions: pain, desire, fear.

When we talk to each other, we sound like Spock from Star Trek, intelligent and logical. But inside of us it's, Days of Our Lives, "It was you!!! You murdered my psychic half sister because she divined that you were the owner of the ice cream parlor that fed my allergic yoga instructor rum raisin and put him into a coma... How could you!?" 

A 2008 experiment using brain scanning technology found that people's brains made a decision up to a full 7 seconds before they consciously decided. They made their choice before they had the conscious experience of choosing. (Soon, C., Brass, M., Heinze, H. et al. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nat Neurosci 11 543–545 (2008) doi:10.1038/nn.2112).

The unconscious part of you that wants and fears is driving the car. Spock is just sitting in the passenger seat, glaring at his GPS, and trying to make sense of where you're going.

Does all this mean that your shouldn't list the potential economic value of membership?

No. You just need to understand the difference between a persuading benefit and a rationalizing benefit.

Persuading Benefits vs. Rationalizing Benefits

A persuading benefit is any benefit that makes people want or fear. It drives behavior.

A rationalizing benefit is anything that makes them feel good about their decision to take a risk. It's how they explain why it was a good choice. The dollar value you put on membership is a tool they can use to rationalize their choice.

Research has shown that people feel regret over bad choices more deeply than positive feelings over good choices (Rozin, Paul; Royzman, Edward B. (2001). "Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 5 (4): 296–320. doi:10.1207/S15327957PSPR0504_2).

This negativity bias influences their decisions. A rationalizing benefit helps to defuse some of the risk by letting them know they can look back and say, "I made a reasonable choice."

Always lead with and emphasize persuading benefits and, if possible, follow with rationalizing ones.

For example:

Book Yourself Solid With APSA's Business Mastermind (Persuading)

Then, further down in your offer:

Membership Makes Sense! Therapists Get Access to More Than $2,100 Worth Of Representation, Discounts, and Benefits. (Rationalizing).

People buy for the first reason and justify it using the second.

One final note: rarely, but still occurring, certain economic propositions *are* persuading benefits. This happens when the financial value is extraordinary, believable, and closely tied to a person's desires. E.g. Powerball numbers sell tickets.

In general though, just remember to speak to the stomach before you speak to the mind.

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.