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Associations Now

Three Engagement Tips From For-Profit Clubs

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, March/April 2014 Membership

By: Joe Rominiecki

Summary: A strong focus on benefits and customer experience make clubs like Costco masters of member engagement. Associations can take a few cues from their for-profit kin.

Clubs—like Costco, AAA, and Wine of the Month—are not-so-distant cousins of associations, and Ozair Esmail knows both sides of the family.

President and chief marketing officer of The Clubs Group, Esmail led the launch of the Montgomery Ward Auto Club in the 1980s, early in his career. Today he consults for both for-profit clubs and associations on membership marketing and growth.

Here's what he says associations can learn from the "lean, mean, membership-marketing machine" world of clubs:

  1. Engagement is all about benefits. "In for-profit clubs, the engagement of a member is clearly based on a fulfillment of a benefit or a need," Esmail says. "When they come for one of those benefits, the club's main objective is to fulfill that benefit par excellence so the member walks away with a 'wow' feeling."
  2. Eliminate red tape. Clubs know member engagement must be trouble-free. For instance, if a member called about a hotel not honoring an auto-club discount, "I just gave them the check and I dealt with the hotel later on to recover the amount we paid," he says.
  3. An excellent experience breeds loyalty. Members may not engage with a club very often, so every interaction counts. "Clubs do everything they can to make sure that what the member signed up for is delivered. They make sure that their limited engagement is solid, so that members remember it and remain members for a long, long time because of that experience," he says.

Joe Rominiecki is a senior editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email:

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Join the Club."]

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