Just Say No to Forced Continuity

in Marketing

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. In fact, I’m preparing one myself that will launch in a month or so. (Stay tuned…)

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!

I’d be interested to know if any of you have run across these forced continuity offers. If so, did you buy the product and join the membership? How did you feel about this technique? If you didn’t buy, why not? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tammy Biterly August 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

Several times I have gotten caught up in forced continuity. It doesn’t take much to get out of them, if you realize it in time, but it sure does limit the credibility as far as I am concerneed and hesitant about future offers. You really need to read the Terms of Agreement carefully especially on offers too goo to be true.

Suzanne Holman September 5, 2008 at 12:51 am

I appreciated reading about Jimmy Brown’s “persuaded continuity”. I hadn’t heard the name for it. This is what I am doing with my Million Dollar Life Membership Program. For those who purchased one of the upgrades for the free 12 call series, I am offering the opportunity to have two free months of the program, followed by 10 months of 1/2 price membership.

I have been so annoyed by the membership programs that are kind of “slid in” to you. I have done well at not keeping most programs longer than I care to, but it means marking my electronic calendar with the expiration dates. I wanted to offer something wonderful and wanted those who are interested to join because they really want to join.

I also decided to offer a forum to ALL the 1300 registrants to the program rather than limiting it to just those who purchased the upgrades. For those with upgrades, they will have several live call events each month: coaching call, information call, productivity workshop.

Thank you for your great articles!
Donna Gunter pointed me in your direction and I believe I remember you from practice pay solutions or 1 shopping cart???

Suzanne

Suzanne Holman, MAEd
http://www.YourMillionDollarLife.com

Peggy September 8, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Tammy,
You’re right, we really need to pay attention to the terms of these offers.

Suzanne,
It sounds like you’ve got a good plan. I’m glad you’re enjoying my articles. I actually like writing them! And yes, I did work with Practice Pay Solutions and support the customers of their private label version of 1shoppingcart.com, so we may well have connected then. Good to hear from you.

Peggy

Scott Brooks - How to Write Ebooks August 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I think anyone who runs a forced continuity business just needs to go over and beyond to make the terms clear. Merely including the billing schedule in the terms of service is unacceptable to me. It needs to be clear throughout the sales copy and on promotional videos.

Glad you mentioned Jimmy D Brown’s model. I’ve read his stuff and I have a lot of respect for him. I believe Jimmy’s persuaded continuity model definitely produces “stickier” members than most forced continuity programs.