06 Jun

Belonging by Jeff Gilling

Belonging by Jeff Gilling

 Jeff Gilling explores the desire and need to belong and how it relates to business in the 21st Century. 

The desire to belong. The wish to be part of something important. A cause. A movement. A belief.

It’s a fundamental and primal human need.

It’s a need that motivates people to join church groups, sporting clubs and other associations. The desire for belonging is a main reason young men join gangs.  Many military personnel will say they joined the armed services because it gives them a sense of belonging and a shared sense of purpose.

Forward-thinking businesses have understood this facet of human psychology. Do you remember the American Express strapline in the 1980’s and 1990’s? That’s right, ‘Membership has its Privileges’. Don’t just sign up for a credit card. Become a member of Amex and you’ll enjoy access to privileges.

When banks were treating their customers shabbily it was something that Credit Unions did well too, when providing essentially the same service as banks. You weren’t a customer of the Credit Union.  Rather, through common employment or industry association you became a member of your Credit Union.

Airlines have well understood this point with their Frequent Flyer programs. Become a Qantas Frequent Flyer and you’ll get access to member-only deals, specials and experiences. Oh, and you’ll likely think twice before booking a flight with a competitor’s airline.

The lesson for business owners is clear: treat a person as a member rather than a number and you build a loyal sticky customer who can add increased value to your business over the long-term.

Now it’s the newspapers who no longer want customers or subscribers. They want members.

This is an industry that has been haemorrhaging red ink for the past decade and a half. Declining revenues as a result of the shift from print and classified advertising to online has meant newspapers have been forced to rethink their traditional business models to avoid having their very own Kodak moment.

Just this month the Herald-Sun launched a drive to build a community of members rather than subscribers and to offer the members “unbelievable rewards” and “exclusive experiences”. They’re banking on tapping into the fundamental human desire for belonging.

Building a membership base is a strategy that is not confined to the realms of big business.

It’s a strategy that has worked for businesses in the Network Marketing industry, and more recently the proliferation of women’s business networking groups and entrepreneurial training organisations. The message is this: “Become a member. Believe in our mission. Enjoy these benefits. Share these experiences. Feel part of something special. Belong.”

Will it work for a rag like the Herald Sun? Time will tell. Is this an organisation with a mission or purpose that can capture the imagination of its members? I’m not so sure.

The 20th Century was largely characterised by a transactional approach to business. Find a customer, make the sale and perform the service. Rinse and repeat.

Really successful businesses in the 21st Century have eschewed the transactional approach and are focussed on an experiential approach instead.

If you’re in business already ask yourself what membership strategy you can bring to your business. What can you do to tap into your customers need to feel a sense of belonging and have them share the special mission and cause of your business?

If you’re not yet in business, consider what you can do to create a community.

In his book ‘Tribes’, Seth Godin argues that today everyone has an opportunity to bring together a tribe of like-minded people and do amazing things.  Yet, too many people ignore the opportunity to lead because they are “sleepwalking’ their way through their lives and work. It really is one of the greatest tragedies of life that most people simply tiptoe through life hoping just to make it safely to death.

Tribes is for those people who don’t want to be sheep and instead have a desire to do fresh and exciting work.  If you have a passion for what you want to do and the drive to make it happen, there is a tribe just waiting for you to connect them with each other and lead them where they want to go.

Go on. Be bold. Believe in yourself. Start something magical. You can do it. You’ll find there are people just waiting to belong to what you have.

Jeff Gilling is a social researcher, commercialisation futurist and father of two. He is the founder of the student eMagazine LeavingSchool.com.au and later this year will launch the Better Health Network, a community for people interested in experiencing, achieving living and sharing Better Health.

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