Determining the best marketing mix for your membership site can feel like an insurmountable feat — especially if marketing and sales aren’t in your wheelhouse. Keeping a steady flow of leads coming your way month after month, year after year, in addition to every other task you’re required to perform as a membership site owner is a tall task.

I’m going to break down 3 of the most effective customer acquisition channels for membership websites and how they relate to one another so you can form a cohesive, effective marketing strategy. There are 21 channels in total that I recommend, and you can read about the 18 that aren’t here by downloading my free ebook.

As you’re reading through this list, consider which acquisition channels you’re best suited to try. Make a commitment to yourself and to your business to follow the steps below to find the most viable marketing channels for your membership site.

Determine viability

Once you’ve chosen the channels you’re going to try, you need to find out which ones are most viable.

Your most viable acquisition channels are both profitable (your CAC MUST be lower than your cLTV or you’re dead in the water) and reliable (provides a steady stream of leads rather than working once but never again).

  • CaC stands for customer acquisition cost and is the amount of money it takes to bring on a new member to your site. A simple example is if you run a Facebook campaign for $2,000 and at the end of the campaign have acquired 20 new members, your CaC was $100.
  • CLTV stands for customer lifetime value and is the total amount of money a customer pays you from their first to last transaction on your site. Put simply, if your membership costs $25/month and the average customer stays with you for 6 months, your cLTV is right at $150.

Here’s how to determine the most viable acquisition channels for your membership site:

  1. Pick a channel
  2. Conduct a simple test
  3. Assess your results to see which channels are in fact most viable
  4. Repeat until you find the 3-5 most viable channels that will help you scale

(This is an approach outlined in Traction as well, for further reading.)

Be mindful that the data you collect while running a simple test doesn’t always have to be statistically significant to provide valuable insight or at least a starting point from which to build.

Back to science class for a sec…

Just like elementary school science, your test should have a hypothesis, defined parameters, and a way to assess your results.

  1. So, first, make an educated guess on what results you should expect from your marketing test.
  2. Second, define the scope of the test. For our purposes that can just include timeline and budget.
  3. Lastly, make sure you are able to access success metrics when the test is complete.

A “do or die” litmus test for a marketing acquisition channel is, “can I assess my results when this thing is done, or is this a shot in the dark?” If it’s a shot in the dark, don’t proceed — this isn’t a great channel for you to start with.

Acquisition channels must be both profitable and reliable, and you won’t know which ones are unless you run the numbers. While this work can require painstaking detail, it’s foundational to having even moderate success, and absolutely imperative for scaling your membership business.

Now that you have a framework for conducting the tests necessary to find the most viable channels for you, let’s break it down!

Content marketing

Simply put, content marketing is the process whereby you provide valuable content to prospects across various platforms. Content marketing can include any or all of the following: blog posts, articles, helpful guides, video tutorials, photos, graphics, webinars, and so on. This should be calculated, strategic, and measurable.

Unless your membership is highly visual and your content sharing consists mainly of pictures and short videos, you need to decide which and how much written content you’re going to make available to non-members. The easiest path to successfully producing free, ongoing written content is to strip down content from your paid membership and release it for free. Callie Willows of The Membership Guys recommends leaving in the “what” and the “why” parts of your content, while removing the “how.” You want your prospective members to see you as the expert in your field, while yearning for more – which, of course, is what’s behind the paywall.

Alternatively, you can build a mix of content types like helpful guides, short courses, video tutorials, evergreen webinars, and so on, that you promote on a fixed schedule through your social channels and to your email list. This content does not need to align with exactly what you’re teaching behind the paywall at the time, but naturally needs to have a high relevance to the problem your members come to your membership site to solve. The trick here is making sure that content doesn’t get stale: you still need to update those shelf stable content pieces a few times per year.

Shorter content, like blog posts, articles, and very short videos, should not be gated (don’t require a visitor’s email address for access). These pieces should always include two things: links to other similar content you’ve produced and a call to action to download a lead magnet, which is an additional piece of content or resource of high relevance and value that you provide to your prospect in exchange for their email address. The prospect should immediately receive the promised content via email and be added to your email list.

An example lead magnet from jilt.blog

More complex, higher value content, like courses, in-depth guides, and evergreen webinars should be gated – require an email address for access if you’re offering them for free.

But don’t just add this reader to your generic newsletter list. Instead, have a strategy in place for converting that new lead into a paying member of your site! You achieve this by preloading a lead nurturing email sequence that automatically kicks off when someone downloads your lead magnet. Find more about nurturing your leads in this podcast or blog post. And yes, this is time-consuming work, but this is the best set-and-forget sales tool at your disposal. Do it once, and review your nurture email sequence every six months.

Paid advertising can be just about anything, but most common opportunities for membership sites include: Google AdWords, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, within an influencer’s channels (sponsored emails, podcasts, via social, etc.), paid content, a traditional advertisement in an industry publication, and anywhere else someone will take your money in exchange for promotion.

If you can’t track the success of a paid marketing campaign, it’s easy to lose marketing dollars into a black hole. While larger companies may run ads simply for brand awareness, if your site nets under $5 million ARR, you shouldn’t be advertising for brand awareness – you should be advertising for trackable conversions.

Paid advertising should be the easiest channel to track, so it’s a great channel to experiment with early. At the same time, it’s important that you have realistic expectations of what paid advertising will do for you: not every channel will print more money than you feed into it. Expect to find 2-4 acquisition channels that are profitable and reliable for a period of 6+ months. Then, expect to have to pivot your marketing approach from time to time.

If an advertisement is the first exposure your prospect has to your membership offering, your CTA should ask this lead to payfor your membership. If you reach the right person at the perfect time, you can offer a free trial to gather contact details, but this is almost never the case.

The same principles apply in your marketing outreach as they do in your nurture sequence (which is the pre-loaded series of emails someone receives over time after downloading your lead magnet): make the right ask to the right person at the right time.

If you ask for too much or too little at the wrong time, your qualified lead might ignore you forever because you came on too strong, or your offer just wasn’t compelling enough to warrant action on their part. Would you ever ask someone to marry you on the first date? Right, don’t go for the hard sell in your first customer touch point, either. 🙂  Conversely, if you had sparks fly on a first date, would you avoid calling them for 3 weeks? Of course not — sales must be timely. Your ad must attract your target audience by providing the right offer at the right time.

To test paid advertising, I recommend starting with Facebook ads. Their platform offers an unbelievably broad reach, is affordable to try, and provides a level of customization that is virtually unmatched by any competitor with a similar pool of people (2.3 billion) for the price. Not to mention, their tracking data easily shows how much your advertising campaign was worth. All you have to do is log in to Facebook Ad Manager and check; no math required.

Install the Facebook Pixel on your site if you haven’t already and set up a 3 month, budget limited, retargeting campaign. (Retargeting means showing advertisements to those who have been to your website and interacted with your brand on some level.) You can expect a higher ROI (return on investment) by showing ads to those who have already visited your website and likely have a general idea of who you are and how you might help them, rather than an advertisement on Facebook being their first exposure to your brand.

Do not show the same ads to the same people over and over and over again during the 3 month test period. Test a handful of ads – both video and static – and assess the results of each. If you’re keen to learn more, here’s a great guide on getting started with Facebook ads.  

Trade shows, industry conferences

Creative marketing opportunities abound at trade shows and industry conferences: pay for a booth, buy a sponsorship through the organizer, host a spin off event in conjunction with the show/conference, and more.

If you’re lucky enough that someone in your industry organizes an annual conference where your target audience comes together, you need to be there. Relative to hosting your own event, attending a conference that someone else is putting on is like hitting the easy button. BUT, if you just show up, sans strategy, you might as well stay home.

There are often conference/event/trade show sponsorships available for purchase, booths, and other opportunities to get amplified exposure to attendees over what you can accomplish on a 1-to-1 basis. The Holy Grail of event engagement at an event is to be a speaker. As uncomfortable as it might be at first, public speaking in front of your target audience is as good as gold. It’s a fast path to trust and authority, provided your speech is engaging, valuable, and relatable.

Assess sponsorship opportunities in the same way you would with any paid advertising. It should be measurable, and that’s largely on you with an event sponsorship. Your presence at the event, brand experience you create, and call to action will likely determine your success or lack thereof.

Your event strategy needs to include pre-event prep, an on-site plan, and a follow up sequence. This goes for whether or not you have a paid sponsorship, though it will likely be significantly easier if you have one.

Prep: if you can get access and exposure to the list of attendees before the event (preferably by providing value), you can move them through the sales pipeline faster. If you’re a sponsor, ask the organizers how to fully leverage the sponsorship. Ask for more than what is included in the sponsorship package if you can think of a creative way to provide value to attendees and make the organizer look good.

If you don’t have a sponsorship and you’re not an influencer in your space, you’re unlikely to get the attention of the organizers in any kind of meaningful way. Circumvent this by getting on Twitter and Instagram and use the corresponding event hashtag to try and find others who are coming. Get to know these folks and consider hosting a happy hour, meal, or off site mini-workshop in the days and hours surrounding the main event.

The day of: Sponsor or not, figure out a way to capture leads. You can definitely do this on a one to one basis by providing a relevant resource or offer to an interested prospect in exchange for contact information or permission to connect with them. Read the room and don’t be pushy or salesy. If you can help someone, tell them you think you can and ask for permission to email them. Taking a second to write a quick note about each person so you can send a contextual follow up is going to set you head and shoulders above those with generic emails completely lacking personal details.

Track the event hashtag on social media during and after the event, and use it yourself. That’s a free way to amplify your presence and make you more visible to attendees. This is also a great way to track down prospects and influencers during and after the event.

Follow up: All your prep and on-site work will go to waste if you drop the ball on the follow up strategy. Remember, lead capture during the event is key, otherwise you won’t have many people to follow up with. Oops. The day after the event, write an individual email including the personal detail you made note of when you met them (you did that, right?) and make a connection with them on their favorite social media outlet for the one-two punch.

Don’t wait around on this. You need to capitalize on event hype and momentum, and if you put this off for a week, you’ve likely missed the boat. After the personalized email, trigger the automated drip sequence you wrote before the event from your email provider (you got permission to email them, too, right?) and move them through the sales pipeline just as you would someone who visited your website. But, you’ve met this person in the flesh, so your calls to action (CTAs) should be of more consequence (attend a value packed webinar, start trial, buy) than someone who is just starting your drip sequence after picking up the lead magnet on your site.

If you are only able to hand out cards and not capture names and contact info for some reason, create a landing page with a special lead magnet offer just for conference attendees. Have a special batch of business cards made that includes the landing page URL and a quick description of the amazing free resource you’ve created just for them on it. Then, have your email capture form on that landing page in exchange for the download and kick off an automated nurture sequence to follow.

There’s a hundred ways to work this, but the main takeaway is that you need a pre, during, and post event strategy that’s measurable.

Get the scoop of the other 18 best marketing channels for membership sites right here. And if you’re not sure where to start with your marketing, how to change the course you’re on, or how to measure viability, email me, amanda@memberup.co, and book a free 15 minute call.


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Posted by Amanda Northcutt

Amanda is a revenue strategy consultant for online businesses with recurring revenue models. She is also the co-founder and CEO of MemberScore.io, the only engagement tracking and churn prediction app purpose built for membership sites. Amanda lives in Fort Collins, CO and spends her free time with her husband and son, cycling, hiking, and pretty much any mountain sport under the sun.

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