Membership Struggles: Insights from The Product Purchase Cycle

  • October 3, 2019 by Andrew Watt, ACG, ALB, LD4, IP1, District 53 Program Quality Director

In Tracy Arrington and Matthew Frederick’s book, 101 Things I Learned in Advertising School, the third thing on the list is the product purchase cycle. Without copying their list exactly, their steps are:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Investigation
  4. Enjoyment
  5. Preferment
  6. Purchase

The basic idea is that before someone decides to buy a car, a stick of gum, or anything in between, they go through all six steps of the purchase cycle. First, they have to be aware of the option — a new brand of gum or a new car. Once they know a need exists, they have to consider several options. Then they investigate those options, through test-drives or walking into a convenience store. Enjoyment means that the experience has to have some level of pleasure involved. However, once they’re on the car-lot or in the store, they may see an option they like more … which means that they have to prefer your option over everything else. Only then will they purchase your product.

Your Toastmasters club is going through the same process when it comes to guests becoming new members. It’s not enough for a person to be aware of Toastmasters… they also have to know that your club exists. Most members didn’t go far out of their way to join our organization the first time — the first club was likely less than a half-hour from work or home. I like to say that Toastmasters is the only international organization that you join where you hire your lawnmower service: off a bulletin board in your own neighborhood, or through word of mouth.

When a visitor considers their options, does your club look like a great place to learn speaking and leadership skills? When they leave home and investigate your club, are they going to be impressed by what they see? Will they enjoy the range of speaking options and experiences that your club offers? Will they prefer your club to all the other clubs they could go to? Will they prefer your club over what they normally do at that time? Can they see the value the club has to offer them over the value of the other options? If they don’t… no amount of salesmanship will convince them to purchase.

Enjoyment and Preferment are going to be different for every potential new member; they’re also going to be different for every existing member of your club. Yet you and your club can still provide experiences (through quality public speaking and strong evaluations) that are likely to be enjoyable, but guests will prefer a night at home watching TV to a chaotic and disorganized meeting of dull speeches. The only way to fix meetings to be more enjoyable, more preferable, is to improve your speaking, leadership and managerial skills so that the meeting itself is an amazing experience.

Where does your club need to focus?

If your club has relatively few visitors, that means that your club probably has an Awareness problem. People can’t consider attending a meeting they don’t know about. It’s important to boost your publicity and get the word out.

If your club has visitors, but they don’t come back or join as members, then your club likely has an Investigation, Enjoyment or Preferment problem. Perhaps it wasn’t fun or enjoyable to them. Or maybe they can’t see the value of the program or enough value to choose Toastmasters instead of something else in their life. It could be helpful to look at the meetings themselves for how you could boost interest or engagement.

If your club has visitors who join but don’t renew, then your club may have an Enjoyment or Preferment problem. Find out why they aren’t returning and see if there are patterns you can address.

If you are struggling with membership, new or returning, then consider that there is a stage of the product purchase cycle that could be tweaked to improve their experience and your club as a whole.