Membership’s New Muse: Digital Tools

Capacity Interactive AUTHOR: Capacity Interactive
Jun 27, 2018
8 Min Read

In the past two years, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) has worked closely with their CI team to use digital to holistically change patron behavior around purchasing membership to their organization. Not only have memberships grown across the board, now online purchases are a key mode of membership sales.

They’ve done this through long-term campaigns that cultivate a healthy membership pipeline. Rather than short, one-off campaigns centered around immediate membership wins, MFAH’s approach has led to sustained growth and strong ROIs. Read on to learn how!

Motivating Membership

The art and programming at the core of MFAH’s mission can be experienced in countless ways and this is reflected in the many reasons that motivate an MFAH membership purchase. It grants access to special ticketed exhibitions, discounted or free access to special events, a host of opportunities for families looking for activities and outings, and forms a community invested in supporting the museum, just to name a few.

A likely input into the appeal of membership at MFAH is the relatively low cost hurdle to entry.

Memberships start at $60 ($95 for families), and the campaigns held a Facebook-exclusive offer of a $10 discount for those who completed a lead collection form online. We don’t downplay the significance of a $60 or greater commitment, yet the campaign successes suggest that MFAH is creating an authentically high value for audiences interested in the art and programming central to MFAH’s mission.

While pricing strategy is a broader strategic decision, MFAH’s value proposition is an interesting example as organizations look for ways to grow and retain membership bases via digital tools—where the conversation around what membership offers can start earlier than ever and inherently saves time by skipping the line at the membership desk (…and we know time is even more important than money to most audiences).

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Mission at the Center of Creative

As they described in one of our Ask the Industry blog posts, MFAH’s 2017–18 digital membership campaign highlighted striking images from exhibitions like Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish, and The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta. And, in their current spring 2018 campaign, they follow on that formula for success.

The spring campaign highlights the special membership offer on FB with visuals from their ticketed exhibitions.

MFAH screenshot 1

Special exhibitions draw audiences in (as with imagery from Peacock in the Desert), coupled here with the FB offer and a clear value proposition for membership.

Michelangelo and the Vatican and other exhibitions do the talking in this post that’s light on copy, but strong on interest.

MFAH screenshot 2

Using a stunning image from a recent exhibition, this post reminds audiences of the breadth of the art MFAH presents.

What’s missing from these posts? Heavy copy and a laundry list of benefits, of course! With eye-catching visuals, concise copy is all that’s needed to pique curiosity about the prime offer of online membership purchase. Not only is this authentic to their mission, it allows them to speak to an engaged audience and dispel any assumptions about membership investments. This approach of keeping audiences immersed in your mission—whether it’s art, history, nature, or science that you present—has proven strong for other museum clients, as well.

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With exhibitions at the heart of all membership messaging, there are interesting opportunities for targeting. Instead of focusing exclusively on bottom-of-funnel prospects (those who have already demonstrated an affinity for, or engagement with, MFAH), we’ve worked with MFAH to reframe the appropriate lifestage for membership communications.

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Membership throughout the Patron Lifecycle

Rather than reserve membership campaigns for those audiences with established relationships with MFAH, we included tactics to feed the membership “pipeline” and grow interest.

As with any campaign that includes targeting across audience segments and relationship stages, a critical first step we take is determining goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each segment. This allows MFAH and the CI team to evaluate success and adapt strategy as the campaign proceeds.

Attracting New Audiences

What we did.
We targeted audiences such as “lookalikes” of current MFAH members (those audiences that have interests and profiles similar to members). The KPIs for these audiences reflect a first step in engagement, including key page views (KPVs) of the custom membership discount form (mentioned above).

Did it work?
“Lookalike” audiences alone drove 30% of the membership form KPVs for the same cost per KPV as the overall average so far in the spring campaign. And, not only did they help build the membership pixel pool with interested eyes, this acquisition approach also drove 30% of the new fans of MFAH on FB during the campaign, creating yet another avenue for future targeting.

Re-engaging Past Visitors

What we did.
The goal in targeting mid-funnel audiences, such as FB fans or past ticket buyers of special exhibitions, was to move them towards sharing their leads (email addresses) for future contact in connection with membership via form submissions.

Did it work?
Fans are an important mid-funnel segment who are anything but silent observers for MFAH! They drove the second highest number of form submissions and membership purchases (without any additional messaging from retargeting!) resulting in a positive ROI and surpassing the goal set for this segment.

Retaining Invested Audiences

What we did.
For bottom-of-funnel audiences, such as lapsed members or retargeting audiences who visited the membership landing pages of the MFAH site, the goal was to move them towards making a membership purchase.

Did it work?
As expected, retargeting interested audiences resulted in the most membership purchases at the lowest cost and lapsed members converted at the greatest rate overall. ROIs are consistently positive (over 100% for membership purchases alone) and total memberships are growing for the organization!

While every organization’s targeting mix must be specific to their audience landscape, these results show the effectiveness of tuning in to the full lifecycle of patrons. The membership campaigns are constantly providing a wealth of data on which creative performs best, how audience segments are responding, and what subsets of segments (such as gender and age cohorts) are tuning in to their messaging. We adapt accordingly and learn for these and other campaigns.

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Many Touch Points Pave the Road to Conversion

Not only did membership campaigns perform strongly in their own right, but as we incorporated copy in dedicated exhibition campaigns that reminded audiences of free entry for members, we saw increased membership purchases from those campaigns, as well. It’s a great reminder that these campaigns don’t operate in a vacuum, and many meaningful touchpoints pave the road to conversion.

Data clearly support the need for smart ways to move audiences from intent to action and these campaigns act as ongoing brand campaigns, keeping the museum front of mind for audiences and members even when so many other leisure options are on the table. After all, we want all to feel they’re getting the most out of their membership!

We know membership may not be the right next step for everyone, and this approach even helps find the right path into MFAH for those audiences, too, which we see through the exhibition ticket purchase conversions that got attributed to the membership campaigns.

Ready to revamp your membership approach? Here are a few ways you can start harnessing digital today to reach your goals:

1. Check in on your digital experience. What’s your landing page strategy and how is the membership purchase path?

2. What mission-centric assets speak to your audience? Round up thumb-stopping images or video to remind audiences what they’ll experience (and why it’s worth returning many times!)

3. Get out the calendar and think long-term. How can a long-running membership campaign fit into your media calendar to consistently keep your organization front of mind for all patron segments, from attracting new audiences to nurturing those who’ve engaged in the past?