In life, I think there are two kinds of people – those who adore the frosting part of the cake, and those who prefer their cake without all that sugary fluff on top.

My husband is a just-the-cake kind of guy while I would take a whole plate of frosting, if I could.

One time, we attended a wedding and my husband picked up a slice of cake from the dessert table for me. When he handed it to me, virtually frosting-less, the only response I could think of in the moment was, “Seriously?! How long have we been married?!?”

The man should know that I love my frosting, right?

Similarly, I believe there are two layers to member experience.

You first have the “Operational Layer”. This is the functional part – it’s like the cake.
This is where we pay attention to the structural elements that make your membership work.

How you process payments
How you create, store and deliver content
How people know when it’s time to renew
What information gets stored in the database
Are renewals automatic or manually processed

On top of the operational layer is the “Value Layer”. This is the mmmmm… frosting part.

The value layer is where you spread on the things that show you’ve been paying attention to member needs, that you understand those needs, and that you care about helping him/her reach goals.

Most organizations pay a little attention to the organizational layer and a little attention to the value layer. The result is a cake that is inconsistent… it’s dry here, but better there. There’s a mound of frosting in this corner but the frosting got completely left off in that middle section.

The only way to avoid this problem is to intentionally pay attention to BOTH layers through every aspect of your experience design.

I use an 8-stage model when I'm working with clients. This means we specifically talk about:

  • Discovery – what you do to help new members find you
  • Contemplation – what you do to help new members choose to join
  • Activation – what you do to help the joining process go smoothly
  • Onboarding – what you do to help the new member access benefits
  • Early Engagement – what you do to help the new member get involved
  • Extended Engagement – what you do to help a member stay connected
  • Pre-Renewal – what you do to help a member recognize value received
  • Post-Renewal – what you do to help a member deepen the relationship

There is an operational layer and a value layer involved with each of these stages.

By skillfully addressing both, you can always be certain that members will be served the perfect slice of cake every time.


How I Can Support You:

When you're ready to dive deep into your member experience design (or redesign), I can help in 3 ways:

1) Strategy Only – where we map out your best approach and you implement on your own; or

2) Strategy + Team Support – where we map out your best approach and my team helps you implement;

3) Strategy + Group Support – where we map out your best approach and you work alongside other organizations who are working on the same thing.

The best way to get started is by scheduling a quick call.


Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.