All you need to be a great marketer is psychic ability. What is going through your prospective member’s head? What are they thinking? Is there a process that every potential new member goes through when making a buying decision? And if so, what is it?

Dr. Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago. He is hailed by Management Centre Europe as “the world’s foremost expert on the strategic practice of marketing.” 1

Dr. Kotler teaches us that there are 5 top stages of the consumer buying process.

  1. Problem Identification
  2. Information Search
  3. Evaluation of Alternatives
  4. Purchase Decision
  5. Post Purchase Behavior

Most consumers follow these steps unconsciously. The savvy marketer knows how to identify each step and how to leverage the best outcome based on strategic efforts at each stage tailored to the product being marketed.

Let’s break down each stage and offer strategic approaches based on the consumer being a potential club member.2

Problem Identification

“This step is also known as recognizing of unmet need. The need is a source or force of buying behavior. Buying problem arises only when there is unmet need or problem is recognized. Need or problem impels an individual to act or to buy the product.”

What is the potential member’s unmet need? Is he moving and needs a new club? Is she dissatisfied with her current club? Is a semi-retired couple happy with their current club but they’ve outgrown the age demographic there or are looking for a bigger variety of amenities? A membership marketer needs to understand what has prompted the potential member to seek membership elsewhere and address those needs with feature and benefit statements.  If you can’t meet their needs, say so.  It is far better to lose a potential member who remembers your candidness with gratitude than to enlist a member who feels you misrepresented your club’s answers to their specific needs.

Information Search

“Interested consumer will try to seek information. Now, he will read newspapers and magazines, watch television, visit showroom or dealer, contact salesman, discuss with friends and relatives, and try all the possible sources of information.”

(And now, of course, the consumer has more access to information than ever before with the world-wide-web. A couple of key words entered in Google search and here comes information overload.)

How did the prospective member find you? Are you tracking this? You should. If your club is operationally sound (including the implementation of an Ambassador Program), you should be receiving a strong amount of member referrals; but there are many methods to employ so that a potential member who is searching for you, can find you. These days, you simply must have a strong online presence.  Your website should reflect the current trends so as not to look tired.  Search engine optimization should be at the top of your list of priorities.  Keep up to date on the latest Google algorithms. Are you tracking any reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor? Is Facebook right for you? Don’t invest in online communities that don’t reflect your brand but do be visible where your brand is reflected.  Your competition is. For some clubs, these are not sufficient, they need to advertise.  While not-for-profit clubs are limited in their ability to advertise certain messages, having an advertising presence can play well into a consistent reputation. Be strategic, be searchable, be where you can be found by your target demographic.

Evaluation of Alternatives

“In the former stage, the consumer has collected information about certain brands. Now, he undergoes evaluation of brands. He cannot buy all of them. Normally, he selects the best one, the brand that offers maximum satisfaction. Here, he evaluates competitive brands to judge which one is the best, the most attractive. Evaluation calls for evaluating various alternatives with certain choice criteria.”

Remember those features and benefits statements? This is where they re-enter the potential member’s mind. Did you address their needs? The potential members seek out the best value proposition and compares you against the other clubs that he or she may be evaluating or they may be comparing you to their old club.

While you may have provided a feature and benefit for every need and met no objection, now is the time to highlight the superlative features of what your club has to offer.

Purchase Decision

“This is the stage when the consumer prefers one, the most promising brand, out of several brands. The former stage helps consumers evaluate various brands in the choice set. The brand that offers maximum benefits or satisfaction is preferred.”

Pre-buyer’s remorse sets in. After a logical and careful search, the potential member arrives at a decision and will then second guess themselves.  Are they sure? This is a big step. Maybe they should wait a while longer. This is the time to instill confidence and reassurance. This is why so many companies offer guarantees on their products.  They know that even if their customer has chosen them, they could back out at any moment.  What is your clubs version of a guarantee? Maybe your joining fee is refundable. Maybe you provide testimonials at this point. Save something from the initial sales presentation to share with the potential member during this phase and you will convert many more prospects into members.

Post Purchase Behavior

“Obviously, level of the Consumer’s satisfaction with the product affects his subsequent behavior/action. If he is satisfied reasonably, he purchases the product again, and talks favorably to family members, friends, relatives, and co-workers.”

Now that you have a new member, have they hit the ground running? Are they making friends and on the course or do you rarely see them.  I know the best dues paying members are the ones you never see but they aren’t sending referrals.

What trends do you see in new member post-purchase behavior?  Is there an area of the club underperforming? New member usage or lack thereof could put a spotlight on any operational issues. The way your new members utilize their membership today develops your brand and reputation of tomorrow.


Tom Wallace, CCM, CCE, ECM is a partner with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Tom can be contacted at