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Just Say No to Forced Continuity

Aug 28, 2008
Memberships are an increasingly popular way for marketers to receive a continuing stream of income from just one sale. Memberships are also called "continuity programs" since they have a continuing stream of income.

Typically, members pay a monthly fee for information and/or support. The deliverable can be as simple as a digital report each month, or as involved as a package of materials, teleclasses, and one on one coaching. Some high end memberships even include live meetings. I've seen memberships costing from $10/month to $297/month and more for "platinum" levels.

I think memberships are great for both providers and members when the content is high quality. There's a technique being used to enroll members, though, that I'm not so keen on. I've seen it employed by a number of internet marketers lately and actually seen it taught by one marketer I admire.

The practice I'm referring to is known as "forced continuity". It usually looks something like this: You receive an email (or dozens of them) pulling you to a site offering some amazing content for a pittance - often just shipping and handling. Either at the bottom of the first sales page or at the top of the order page, you're told that part of getting this content involves becoming a member of an ongoing program and you will be charged monthly. If you want the aforementioned amazing content, you must join this membership. That's the "forced" aspect of it.

Of course, you can cancel the membership at any time after you place the order. The marketers are betting in the best case, you'll find the membership content valuable enough to continue, or in the worst case that they'll get several month's payments before you remember to cancel.

This example reflects the "ethical" version of forced continuity. Some less than stellar characters notify you that you've been enrolled in a membership AFTER you've paid. Clearly, this is not cool.

But I think even the "ethical" version is uncool. It feels like bait and switch advertising to me. All the promotions and the bulk of the sales letter is talking about the amazing content for an incredibly low price. (That should be our first clue, right?) It's only after you've gotten excited about the amazing content that you learn about the membership and the marketers are hoping you're excited enough to go through with the sale anyway by then.

I'd rather see what marketer Jimmy Brown calls "persuaded continuity". He suggests selling an inexpensive product upfront, like the other marketers. After the sale, on the product download page, is where customers find out that due to their purchase, they're ENTITLED to a free trial membership. But they are NOT automatically enrolled. They have the choice to join or not.

So, while visitors are initially attracted by the low price product, they are only introduced to the membership after purchasing the product, and it is THEIR CHOICE whether or not to accept the free trial.

Jimmy's purpose is still to get people to sign up for memberships, but his preferred method is to get their attention with the lead product and then persuade them to join the membership rather than to get people excited about the lead product and then threaten to take it away unless they join the membership.

The persuasion method feels cleaner to me. It's less coercive, and let's be honest. If your membership offers great content, you should be able to sell it on its merits without needing to "force" people into it. By offering a free trial, members can check it out and will stick with it if they find it worth the money.

I also believe you will build a much stronger relationship with members who have freely chosen to join than those who have been coerced into joining. It's better business and better karma!
About the Author
Peggy Champlin's web design business has been providing a full suite of services and products to help small companies build their businesses online since 2002. Visit Success With Ease to subscribe to our list and receive an article like this every week.
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