This special feature on subscriber acquisition has four sections:
The big picture
In this section:
“The biggest trend has been around the change from lead gen to demand gen strategies,” says Robert Jay, board member, Realfin, “although don’t worry,” he continues, “this doesn’t mean you need to change your whole marketing team and tactics as you may think. It’s more a change in mindset in how you use your content and communicate with your prospects. What hasn’t changed, is the need for unique, valuable content.”
That content can come in all shapes and sizes, including the “generation of bespoke content and summaries, especially based on back issue content,” says Patrick Lidstone, managing director, The Engine Shed.
“For many publishers,” adds Lucy Davis, growth partner, Atlas, “content marketing has been a successful strategy, particularly in the news and current affairs sector. We see this as a great way of engaging colder customers and proving the value of your editorial content. It’s a strong option to get the right prospects into your customer funnel, ensuring your target audience self-selects from the content that your brand has to offer.”
At Immediate Media, says Seema Bilimoria, head of acquisitions marketing, they have been “focusing on upper funnel activity to build a marketable data pool through promoting valuable content to drive awareness and getting consumers to engage with content.”
Going hand in hand with this is an increased focus on engagement metrics. “Having a big audience is still important,” says Sam Shedden, head of customer loyalty, National World Publishing, “because you need people at the top of the funnel. However, high page views do not always translate to high subscriptions. Publishers are now paying closer attention to metrics like quality reads, time on page, pages per session and conversion rates. A better understanding of what drives subscriptions helps acquisitions.”
Another form of content marketing that’s on the rise, albeit not one involving a publisher’s own content, is influencer marketing, says John Sheehy, chief solutions architect, AdvantageCS: “Currently dominated by TikTok, influencer marketing was initially used for classic product marketing (eg. clothing) but is now moving into other markets like subscriptions.”
Graham Elliott, managing director, Gordon & Gotch Publishing, notes publishers’ increased tendency to “personalise offers or content”.
In large part, says John Sheehy, this has been facilitated by the “emergence of generative AI which is impacting analytics to provide enhanced data-driven techniques as well as personalisation.”
“Personalisation seems to have been a trend that newspapers have been adopting for a while but magazines are also now adopting,” adds Mike Halstead, managing director, HH&S: “Tailoring content based on what a customer has viewed in the past and their behaviour is being used as a way of generating new subscribers.”
Lucy Davis says, “We have seen real success stories from publishers using AI to improve on-site conversion. The beauty of AI is that it allows far more complex testing in shorter time scales – short cutting the learning curve. It helps deliver the right message to the right consumer at the right time; something we should all be striving to achieve.”
Angus Chenevix Trench, managing director, dsb.net, agrees that “data-driven decision making,” is a key trend, specifically the “use of recommendation engine / AI technology to inform decisions and present relevant and personalised content and / or offers at any customer touchpoint.”
Lucy Davis has noted “a shift towards improving first party data strategies with the impending cookie-less future. Publishers are capturing increasing levels of data on their audience and developing audience engagement strategies based on that data. This requires consideration of the full customer funnel and a broadened KPI suite beyond pure conversion metrics. This will pay dividends in future by allowing more tailored and sophisticated communications.”
Realfin’s Robert Jay says: “We need to be smarter in how we understand reach and target users. Predictive analytics and customer segmentation will play a big part in this and there are many tools now to gain a deeper understanding of customers to target and personalise (even as anonymous users), leading to better conversions.”
“Publishers have always purchased large data sets and created direct marketing to convert potential prospects, but we are seeing more and more of this as the use of data becomes more advanced, and allows more intelligent and targeted marketing,” adds Tom Mullen, head of B2B client services, Air Business Subscriptions.
Being able to target more intelligently, says Steve Russell, client services director, Circdata, requires good martech: “It’s no good driving acquisition if you don’t have the tools to understand your current audience and profile your potential new subscribers against them.
“Look for tools that enable you to integrate with your social campaigns and digital properties. Use the content that people consume to guide your segmentation and build interactive dashboards that provide easy to access insight.”
Increasingly, publishers are trying to get prospects to register.
“As well as being vital for first party data collection,” says National World’s Sam Shedden, “the conversion rate for registered visitors is 9.88% versus just 0.22% for anonymous readers. Publishers are now doing more to encourage registrations via regwalls by offering additional benefits like exclusive newsletters and a small allowance of gated articles.”
Madeleine White, head of international, Poool, agrees: “Registration has finally become a priority for media houses looking to maximise the value of their readers online, acting as a soft conversion step prior to subscription, increasing a reader’s propensity to subscribe by up to 40%…
“Jo Holdaway, CMO at The Independent, has shared how their anonymous users consume an average of three articles a month, registered users 33 and subscribers 185. Registration, therefore, already plays a vital role in moving readers through the engagement funnel towards converting into a subscriber.
“Whilst registration walls are gradually making their way onto publishers’ sites, some are going a step further to offer registration while promoting subscription simultaneously – a double-edged wall, if you will!”
But, Madeleine White continues, “perhaps the greatest advantage of registration, and why we see it to be a developing trend, is that it supports a sustainable, diversified business model.”
Madeleine White says: “A dynamic paywall is one that adapts to the reader’s profile or context, ie. there isn’t just one paywall that is presented to all visitors to the site. Instead, the publisher segments their audience, building and testing various paywalls for different audiences.
“In terms of performance of this type of paywall compared to standard models (freemium, metered or hard), dynamic paywalls present users with a conversion journey, wall messaging and design that is most optimal for converting that specific type of reader into a member or subscriber. For this reason, a dynamic paywall is increasingly recognised as the optimal model for increasing conversion rates and ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).
“Despite this, many publishers are still employing a “spray-and-pray” one-size-fits-all model. This may be due to the misconception that you need an expensive, complicated machine learning algorithm that takes time (and money) to implement. And whilst these AI models that learn and adapt over time without human intervention are incredibly valuable for publishers, they aren’t the only way to be dynamic.
“In fact, implementing a dynamic model can start with some very simple strategies that will still make a significant difference to your overall conversion rates.”
“We continue to see trial subscriptions being very common,” says Air Business Subscriptions’ Tom Mullen: “these can be ether paid or free. The lifetime value of these subs is debatable, and there are also concerns over how running too many of these types of offers could undermine the value of the brand in both the subscribers’ and advertisers’ eyes.”
Lorna Fenimore, senior VP, audience, ePublishing, has noted an increasing trend towards offering “inexpensive, digital monthly trials that auto-renew to full price. With this offer, media organisations can offer varying terms to meet the desired spend level for the subscriber – 1-month, 3-month, 2-year, 3-year, etc. Another key trend is recurring billing subscriptions. These are at the forefront of what subscribers want to buy and what publishers want to sell.”
This trend would address what dsb.net’s Angus Chenevix Trench sees as a particular challenge: “Fixed annual subscriptions are a barrier to trying the product.”
“Membership models are also something which we’ve been seen coming through,” says Atlas’s Lucy Davis, “although I’d suggest there’s a job to be done in understanding what the audience is seeking from your brand so the value of a membership can be clearly communicated versus a more traditional subscription offering. A subscription and a membership aren’t the same thing, and the latter needs to be understood carefully as a far broader product offering with focus on the community element.”
HH&S’s Mike Halstead has seen publishers “presenting prospective subscribers with a value exchange of more than just a simple subscription offer and more of a membership to a wider content and experience proposition.”
Membership can cover a multitude of added benefits, says Gordon & Gotch’s Graham Elliott, “including discounts to related products, access to events, website access alongside print etc” and, adds David Coveney, director, Standfirst, in the B2B world, access to “data products and other resources”.
In a related trend, Angus Chenevix Trench has seen an “expansion of flexible subscription models – print / digital / bundle subscriptions, sometimes including access to additional archive content. This is part of a general movement to enrich the customer experience and justify premium pricing.”
These might involve, says The Engine Shed’s Patrick Lidstone, “multi-channel packages – not just print and online, but also including podcasts and video generated content.”
“It’s 2023 and everyone is internet savvy at this point,” says Sam Shedden: “People have high expectations when they interact with websites. Slow load times, jumbled nav bars and too much inventory on the page will hurt acquisition rates.”
This expectation flows through to the checkout process, he continues: “more publishers are simplifying their checkout process to reduce the number of clicks required to make the all-important payment.”
Dramatically improving the usability of the “sign-up process makes it easy and stops abandonment,” says David Coveney.
Indeed, the need for good UX goes beyond the acquisition stage, notes Angus Chenevix Trench: “self-service portals with the ability to cancel (with dynamic cancel / save options) or switch products are becoming more available.”
And UX needs to be regularly reviewed. Tom Mullen has observed publishers “reskinning acquisition sites more regularly to keep up with current design trends; this is to keep them fresh and easy to use, to ultimately increase visitor conversion.”
When advertising-driven volume was the priority, says Jamie Wren, commercial & marketing director, InterMedia, there was a tendency to “pile them high sell ’em cheap. Due to the cost pressures in recent years and the pressure on advertising revenues, there is a greater focus on return on investment of subscription promotions.”
Those increased costs are driven in part, says Robert Jay, “by recent changes in how we can acquire and use data (with GDPR, consumer rights, upcoming cookie changes etc), which means that the cost of acquisition and paid media has gone up.”
Lucy Davis points to the post-Covid effect, saying, “as the Covid surge in demand has waned and acquisition has become more challenging, there’s been a shift to publishers focusing on shorter term campaign profitability. This is alongside a noticeable move towards selling digital-first and bundle products, no doubt driven by rising production and postage costs for print magazines as well as changing consumer behaviour.”
Tom Mullen adds that, “shorter term subscriptions are becoming more prevalent within campaigns, due to the sharply rising price to publishers of physically producing and delivering the product, and also the gifter’s disposable income to allow them to make the purchase.
“We have seen movement recently towards sending free gifts only once the subscriber moves onto the follow-on paid term of a trial, rather than sending immediately after sign-up.”
According to Sam Shedden, publishers should focus on “content quality, marketing and data: The content needs to be worth paying for, the website and the value of the subscription needs to be promoted and insight is needed to understand what works and what does not.”
When it comes to marketing, adds Seema Bilimoria, “look at a complete multi-channel strategy that focuses not only on direct to subscription channels and promotions, but also on layering in upper funnel activity to expand reach and seek out new audiences.”
The goal should be, says Andrew Parkinson, head of client relations, NewsTeam Group, “to build the habit. The ultimate aim here is for your product to become part of their habit over the introductory period, then it is less likely the subscriber will give up when the price increases.”
Invest in research & insight
“Simplifying and automating the collection of audience data and using this information to engage your subscribers should be a top priority for publishers,” says Lorna Fenimore: “Analysing which content is most read by each subscriber will help you more effectively create future content and develop new products. Additionally, knowing the content that is consumed by each individual subscriber will help you target messages and your product offerings specifically to that subscriber.
“Most CMS systems utilise a taxonomy or category structure to indicate the type of content for each story / article / download. You can use these taxonomies to develop a scoring system that will help you determine the levels of engagement with your various types of content.”
One hurdle for publishers, notes Lucy Davis, is that “research teams are generally focused on commercial outputs, rather than to support product and marketing decisions. Without a true understanding of the consumer and their changing needs, publishers can’t ensure that products and messaging are adapted to solve those needs.
“Customer and market research isn’t just for big brands – there are a lot of accessible routes to deepen understanding of your audience and what matters to them. Whether that’s small scale phone calls to active or lapsed subscribers, hosting an event to get feedback or simple quantitative research surveys, a quick question popping up on site or tracking NPS satisfaction scores – invest the time and reap the rewards.
Once you understand your audience, then shift your focus to the bottom of the conversion funnel and onboarding processes. This ensures any media investment is given the best opportunity for success.
“A common misconception is to target new audiences as the solution to slowing customer acquisition. However, without due diligence in terms of understanding this new audience and being clear whether your product fits the needs of that specific segment, it can be a mistake compared to focusing on improving efficiency to a proven profitable target.”
Insight is therefore needed to identify audiences and hone marketing strategies; it is also critical in gauging the success of those strategies.
So, says Patrick Lidstone, publishers need to have in place “performance metrics, so they know what is getting eyeballs and what isn’t, and can then refine content to match.”
Angus Chenevix Trench agrees, quoting Peter Drucker (the father of management thinking): “You can only manage what you can measure”.
“Only with accurate and ongoing intelligence,” continues Angus Chenevix Trench, “will you be able to identify your sweet spots and areas that need optimisation – this is especially true with the explosion of marketing channels – blog posts, webinars, social, affiliates, referral programs, partnerships, short form videos on YouTube; TikTok, Instagram.”
Therefore, adds Jamie Wren, publishers need to ensure that “time and resource are spent on data tools and a team to analyse this information along with a team to focus on the optimisation of web traffic through SEO / PPC.”
Circdata’s Steve Russell urges publishes to embrace data democratisation: “everyone involved in your product – publisher, editorial, sales or marketing – should have access to tools that provides them with information and insights that enable them to easily understand their audience and help them contribute to the overall strategy.”
Establish a testing culture
“Gaining new subscribers is an ever changing process so you need to continuously evaluate your efforts and adapt to changes in the market and customer behaviour,” says Mike Halstead.
Timeliness is a critical factor adds AdvantageCS’s John Sheehy: “The strategies need to be analysed within days and weeks of execution, not months. If the analysis shows a strategy not working, then move on to the next one to maintain momentum.”
Segmentation sits at the heart of a testing culture, says Poool’s Madeleine White: “it is essential for optimising subscriber acquisition. You should split your readers into groups based on their profile or context and test different journeys for each segment to find the one that best converts them into paying subscribers. These dynamic models that prioritise personalisation and experimentation are the most successful in the industry.”
“Customer acquisition outside of the publishing industry for recurring revenue models is becoming increasingly competitive and nuanced,” says Jamie Wren: “We are all speaking to the same audience to entice them to spend their money with us over and above other services. And with the global impacts on consumers’ purchasing power and decision making, it is imperative that publishers remain in tune with how others are performing.
“Regardless of the product – be it Netflix, HP ink, beer packages or razor blades, there are lessons to be learnt.”
The Power of personalisation
“The power of personalisation from the streaming giants,” is something publishers should learn from,” says Sam Shedden: “This might seem more of a retention benefit, and it also is, but personalised user journeys are expected a lot more, particularly with Millennials and Gen Z and can boost a subscription’s value. This can take the form of on-site content recommendations based on user activity (like Netflix) or the ability to customise an app experience.”
Immediate Media’s Seema Bilimoria agrees that publishers should “offer personalised content recommendations based on user behaviour and target new subscribers with the relevant content to get them to engage with content across a variety of platforms.”
The importance of consistent brand marketing
“The global apparel market is $1.5 trillion with incredible competition and is highly dynamic. Acquisition is everything to those companies and publishers can borrow a few tips from them. Three key ones that can easily be co-opted by publishers are brand recognition, influencer marketing and lifestyle marketing,” says John Sheehy.
“Magazines’ brand equity is often underrated,” adds Lucy Davis: “Many magazines have gained consumer awareness through newsstand presence and making their sought-after content discoverable online (something other industries dream of!).
“Outside publishing, lots of time is invested into how the brand is presented in customer acquisition communications. This means being consistent with a tight set of brand codes (visual cues including logo, colour palette and creative styles) plus a consistent approach to communicating the brand’s customer value proposition. There’s a tendency for marketers to get bored of their own work, leading to frequent changes in messaging and creative. The result of this lack of consistency will likely dilute the impact of the campaign for a consumer. Acquisition marketeers’ jobs are to make communications eye-catching, but also for our brand to be distinctive and easily recognisable to our target audience to allow it to become familiar and prevent it being confused with competitors.”
Putting the subscriber in control
“In the digital media landscape,” observes David Coveney, “I’ve noticed a move towards making subscribing and unsubscribing easy. The minute there are reviews out there that say, ‘found it hard to unsubscribe’, many people will become wary.”
“Subscription flexibility,” is now expected, adds Angus Chenevix Trench. Publishers should “allow users to easily pause, upgrade, downgrade, or cancel their subscriptions. This ensures user independence and builds trust and confidence in the brand.”
“A monthly rolling charge for customers is becoming increasingly recognised by consumers as the most flexible and manageable payment method,” says InterMedia’s Jamie Wren: “It allows them to cancel at any stage of the year and keeps them in control of their finances. Customer expectations of magazine subscriptions are dictated by their experience from other industries. The ability to pay directly via Instagram in one click, the ability to spread payments using Klarna or similar services along with the ability to manage the cancellation at any time are now engrained in the psyche of our customer base and it is key to avoid being seen as old fashioned or antiquated in the modern world of payment solutions.”
“Publishers can learn from the onboarding process of other industries to ensure that transparency and clear messages are delivered,” says Jamie Wren: “Welcome communications and the explanation of what they are getting for their subscription, and when, need to be clear and aligned with expectations. Over-delivering on the expectation is a clear way of ingratiating ourselves to the customer in the early stages of the relationship – but equally important is reminding the customer of what they are getting through the early stages. Publishers should not be afraid to repeat themselves either – a communication strategy that is geared towards regular contact and positive reinforcement of the benefits should be built into a welcome stage – the customer can always opt out if they wish of course!”
“Feedback loops” are important adds Angus Chenevix Trench. Publishers should be “constantly asking for feedback to make sure their service levels are high, and content remains relevant to the audience.”
Identifying customer needs
“The car industry is an interesting place right now that has parallels with publishing,” says Andrew Parkinson: “Like many publishers, car manufacturers are seeing revenues squeezed by cost of living rising, supply-chain challenges, changes to established business models such as the transition to electric drivetrains and automation, new kids on the block who are looking to soak-up market share and, dare I mention, historical lawsuits. To maintain margins and profitability, they have attempted to turn to subscription services as a new revenue stream to help fund their business transformation.
“10-15 years ago, if you were in the market for a new car, you would have expected a CD player and powered steering as standard on most base models, and features such as satnav and heated electric seats on more premium models. More recently, car manufacturers have tried with varying degrees of success to get consumers to buy into subscription services. Where the subscription is for something that is hard-wired into the car, such as heated seats or heated steering wheel, the subscriber is left scratching their head wondering why the electric seats that they have already paid for only work if they pay their subscription. The functionality will always remain in the vehicle; the subscriber is effectively paying to turn off an electronic blocker to activate that function. Where car manufacturers are seeing more subscription success is on software updates that evolve such as maps, live traffic and streaming services. The difference here is that consumers want to get from A to B as quickly as possible and may choose to be entertained whilst doing it.
“The takeaway for publishers here is that subscribers are willing to pay a reasonable fee for services / content that they need or indeed want but are much less inclined to pay for services that they expect to get as standard. Therefore, publishers should be asking themselves, ‘Are we offering subscribers that they want or need?’”
Emphasis on community
“Instead of investing in advertising, traffic acquisition or even the product, many non-publishing brands are seeing the value in focusing on the customer experience and building a strong community strategy,” says Madeleine White.
“Sephora, for example, has created the Beauty Insider community in the US, bringing together 17 million cosmetics enthusiasts who are now responsible for 80% of the company’s sales.
“Most members don’t pay for content, but to feel part of a community of like-minded people. This intensive contact can also provide valuable impetus for new products and marketing campaigns.
“Harley Davidson takes this a step further, organising in-person events for their community – The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been meeting for 83 years, bringing together nearly 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts for ten days every year.
“Through building a community, publishers can not only develop a unique offering to bring together like-minded people, but also get to know readers on a deeper level, building strong relationships and increasing engagement that will all have a significant impact on retention rates and customer life-time value.”
- Create exclusivity. Much like how Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ all tend to have exclusive streaming of various movies and shows, ensure that a subscription to your publication allows prospects to have access to content or features that they can’t get anywhere else. (Tom Mullen, Air Business Subscriptions)
- Publishers have already adopted successful practices from other industries such as seasonal promotions (eg. Black Friday which came from the retail sector). (Mike Halstead, HH&S)
- Referral initiatives are very underused in the magazine world. Simply encourage subscribers to refer friends / family in exchange for discounts or other incentives. Word of mouth marketing is very effective. (Angus Chenevix Trench, dsb.net)
- Gaming and gamification – leaderboards, badges – can work well for the right audience. (Patrick Lidstone, The Engine Shed)
- Another strategy from the retail sector would be loyalty schemes and memberships. The airline industry has also successfully used a memberships proposition to acquire customers for many years with schemes such as the BA Exec Club. (Mike Halstead, HH&S)
- Subscriptions no longer stand alone, but form part of a broader e-commerce strategy, with similar strategies such as abandoned basket reminders, cross-selling and tiered membership. (Patrick Lidstone, The Engine Shed)
Whether or not publishers should be offering a ‘membership’ as opposed to a ‘subscription’ “depends on the value proposition a publisher can offer to their subscribers,” says Seema Bilimoria: “The idea of a membership suggests a high level of engagement with the brand across multiple platforms and products and if a publisher can offer more than just a print subscription, moving subscribers to a membership model is a more attractive and exclusive value proposition and can improve LTV.”
Memberships are not the right fit for all brands, cautions Angus Chenevix Trench: “If a brand has a sense of community, shared values, mutual experiences, then memberships will have more authority and meaning. You “take out” or “buy” a subscription – the choice is yours, whereas you “become” a member – suggesting that you are joining a group of like-minded people who already share experiences that you might be missing out on.”
“Ultimately,” says Sam Shedden, “the choice between a subscription model and a membership model depends on the nature of the content, the target audience and the competitive landscape. If the focus is on broad accessibility and simplicity, a subscription model might be preferable.
“If the goal is to foster a community, increase engagement and offer unique benefits that justify a higher price point, a membership model might be the better choice.”
Patrick Lidstone adds, “A subscription implies a user, membership something more exclusive. In order to do membership properly, there must be benefits to build loyalty and the community. Membership will become more important for many publications as they diversify their content and content platforms. Multi-channel subscriptions + community + loyalty = membership.”
“If the publisher can offer benefits to the customer beyond the content, then a membership is a great way to drive prospects into their products and services,” says John Sheehy: “A member is often linked to a higher LTV, so if the opportunity arises, this can drive revenue. However, publishers should be ready for the tonal shift in servicing members vs. serving subscriptions.”
“For a publisher to bill their offering as a membership,” adds Mike Halstead, “the overall package needs to include additional benefits not available to a casual reader. This could include such things as access to additional content, rewards, events, exclusive newsletters, podcasts etc.”
Jamie Wren encourages publishers to explore any “opportunity to deepen the relationship with a customer through additional content delivery through events, additional products, podcasts, access to websites.”
Steve Russell agrees that publishers should be “treating their audiences to different packages based on their desire to consume their product, offering different ways to consume and get involved.”
‘Membership’ vs ‘subscription’ is not a zero sum game believes Sam Shedden, who says publishers can “offer membership perks within a subscription. The New York Times now offers an ‘All Access’ subscription which gives access to news, games, cooking, The Athletic and their product review site, Wirecutter.”
According to Mike Halstead, this is part of a “subscription plus” approach of “creating a wider package of content and brand experiences”.
“Depending on what a publisher has to offer,” says Graham Elliott, these wider packages might include “related products, related events, more online content or early access and forums”.
One good example, says Blake Pollard, co-founder and CRO, eMagazines, is “Outside Interactive, which rolled out Outside+ that includes other publisher services and discounts on outdoor travel experiences. These features were in addition to a member’s premium web access and a print subscription to Outside Magazine. On top of those things, members also get access to an archive of digital editions of Outside Magazine, which began publishing in 1977, along with access to its legacy brands: Backpacker, Climbing and Yoga Journal.”
Another example is Business Traveller, says Standfirst’s David Coveney: “They created The Club. This came with tangible benefits – in this case, access to unique discounts and a voucher system. In many cases, savings can outweigh the cost of the subscription.”
The ultimate manifestation of a ‘membership’ model is community.
“A membership model typically includes access to other ‘members’ as well as additional benefits beyond just access to content,” says ePublishing’s Lorna Fenimore: “So, if you’re providing a highly-engaged community with lots of additional benefits, a membership model could offer great value to your subscribers.
“Additional features you may consider offering might include podcasts, panel discussions moderated by the publisher, online groups for easy communication among the members, and directories of users and / or suppliers to the industry. Frequently, these features can be added on easily by your CMS platform.”
“Memberships,” agrees Tom Mullen, “will primarily focus on engaging with other members, enjoying content together, connecting with new people and feeling part of an exclusive community.”
Ensure proper resourcing
A membership model can bring tangible benefits to both customer and publisher but, cautions Mike Halstead, “they are more costly to run as well as being more resource heavy as more content is required.”
Before heading down the membership route, advises NewsTeam Group’s Andrew Parkinson, “you will need to have a properly thought through content and communication strategy; otherwise, you may end up driving subscribers away.”
Robert Jay cautions: “Be wary of 1) adding products, events for the sake of it and calling it a membership and 2) selling a subscription and calling it a membership by adding in a free event.
“This will just lead to cannibalisation of your revenue, poor engagement and low event attendance. There needs to be clear and significant value to signing up to a membership.”
To make a community membership model work, says Tom Mullen, publishers will need to ensure that “the functionality and infrastructure are present to enable community engagement and connectivity (comments sections on online articles, member stories in the publication, branded shows / events where members can gather).”
Angus Chenevix Trench advises publishers to be “careful if you do go down the membership route. As part of your membership packages, you may be offering discounts on events and products, access to content, exclusive services etc. Some of these will probably be managed by another company or via a third party website. Every one of these membership features has the risk of damaging the brand if it does not fulfil members’ expectations. A specific ‘Membership Support’ helpline is a way to monitor and quickly resolve the problems that will inevitably arise.”
“Be wary of always chasing low CPA / high LTV outcomes!” advises Lucy Davis: “This will likely lead to a laser focus on a warm pool of prospects who will shrink over time. An ongoing strategy to nurture customers from low awareness of your brand through to advocacy is required to deliver ongoing efficient performance outcomes.
“Unifying behind a metric such as LTV can galvanise finance, leadership and marketing teams, allowing an understanding of both past acquisition performance and predicting future profitability. Subscriptions is a long game, and measuring success on in-year metrics will rarely, if ever, deliver long term growth.”
Low CPAs are not always best, agrees Andrew Parkinson: “Ask yourself, would you like 100 cheap orders that stay with your brand for 10 weeks? Or 50 that stay with you for 5+ years?” (The key to achieving a high LTV, he adds, is to ensure that all subscriptions are continuous.)
Similarly, Jamie Wren agrees about the importance of taking a longer term view: “Acquisition strategies that focus entirely on the return on investment for the initial contract will likely ignore the huge potential for a longer more fruitful relationship. Modelling the marketing projects should include a minimum of three years’ LTV calculations – taking into account price increases through the process and also any potential step up into higher price, deeper membership levels too.
“With good quality historical data from the system or bureau to assist in the modelling, it is possible to accurately outline the ROI on any budget and this will allow the acquisition team to make a better case to those setting and signing off the budgets to increase the spend.”
Seema Bilimoria adds: “With any new acquisition strategy, CPAs and LTVs are both important metrics to consider when building out a new acquisition strategy, however with more publishers exploring upper funnel activity, direct to sub promotions should not be looked at in isolation and when considering CPAs, looking at attribution and blended CPAs is vital to ensure publishers achieve the right marketing mix and don’t discount channels where CPAs may appear too high.
“A perfect example of this is direct mail which traditionally was considered to be a direct response channel, however, more recently is being used to drive traffic through PPC, which ultimately results in higher CPAs when looking at this channel in isolation. In the past, having pulled back on offline marketing activity such as onserts and DM, we found that this had a direct correlation to the fall in volume of traffic we were driving through paid search.”
John Sheehy advises publishers to “be realistic. The CPA probably needs to be higher than publishers would like – sadly, it’s not going to be zero. And LTV probably needs to be lower than publishers would like – sadly, the average lifespan is not ten years. These metrics are still useful but need to be adapted through the lens of the current market.”
- John Sheehy, chief solutions architect, AdvantageCS
- Tom Mullen, head of B2B client services, Air Business Subscriptions
- Lucy Davis, growth partner, Atlas
- Steve Russell, client services director, Circdata
- Angus Chenevix Trench, managing director, dsb.net
- Blake Pollard, co-founder and CRO, eMagazines
- Lorna Fenimore, senior VP, audience, ePublishing
- Graham Elliott, managing director, Gordon & Gotch Publishing
- Mike Halstead, managing director, HH&S
- Seema Bilimoria, head of acquisitions marketing, Immediate Media
- Jamie Wren, commercial & marketing director, InterMedia
- Sam Shedden, head of customer loyalty, National World Publishing
- Andrew Parkinson, head of client relations, NewsTeam Group
- Madeleine White, head of international, Poool
- Robert Jay, board member, Realfin
- David Coveney, director, Standfirst
- Patrick Lidstone, managing director, The Engine Shed
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.