Consumers have migrated en masse to digital spaces to identify brands and products they trust, and at the same time, they have also moved from purchasing products to own, to purchasing products for use. This use-based subscription economy has burgeoned across physical and digital products alike – from cars and news, to clothing and music. Today’s consumers are finding trusted brands online, then subscribing to use various products without having to outright own them.
This ‘ownership-to-usership’ shift in consumer behavior has created a need for change in subscription brand development too. Brands need a strong online presence that demonstrates they are knowledgeable and competitive – cutting through the noise of market saturation and subscription fatigue and offering dynamic, relevant value that truly resonates with consumers long-term. In the digital age, building strong brand authority is essential as an indicator for success, but also as a catalyst for predictable revenue in a highly competitive landscape.
Digital brand authority for subscription businesses takes a step beyond traditional brand development: a focus on subscriber volume historically put brands at the center of marketing and product creation, but today’s subscribers expect brands to differentiate themselves by putting their customers at the center of messaging and experiences.
Brands that view their subscribers as long-term platform or product users develop tools to deeply nurture subscriber trust in digital spaces over time. Skillfully proving their niche leadership and expertise is a far better investment for brands than simply acquiring a lot of subscribers quickly, but then being unable to retain them, diversify product engagement, or maximize valuable relationships across the customer lifecycle.
Boosting this digital brand authority can be easier said than done, so how do brands curate credible experiences that are sure to stand out to subscribers?
Across their diverse audiences, brands should be able to show – not just tell about – their expertise in their niche. To do this well, brand’s need to ‘speak in each audience’s language’ and meet audience needs where they’re at, regardless of product. Actual products may be similar across subscriber segments, but the nuances of user experiences, digital content curation, and expert access may be slightly different based on audience needs and preferences. Successful subscription brands deploy a range of tactics to build and maintain this authority in online ecosystems.
Cultivating digital content, context, and customers is key to building credible brand perception:
Content or information marketing is a top strategy to organically attract new audiences and to cross-sell or up-sell products to existing subscribers. Serving relevant, useful, and engaging content experiences can extend and diversify the customer lifetime value – starting at the point of providing worthwhile digital content that can lead to profitable engagement at key points.
For example, news and digital publishing companies that rely on subscriptions for revenue generation often serve free or discounted digital experiences to new users or nudge fresh content offers to existing subscribers. As publishers improve trust by providing high-value, informative digital content up front, they will also learn more about user behaviors and can appropriately serve new product or subscription offers at points that meet genuine user interest or need. Excellent digital content is a proactive way for brands to demonstrate their customer knowledge and subject expertise.
If offering valuable digital content is a way of ‘speaking the subscriber’s language’ to build authentic brand-to-user relationships, then digital context is meeting the user where they’re at. Brands can build their authority online by serving quality user experiences in relevant digital spaces where their key audiences will easily find them and recognize their credibility. An effective cross-platform presence enables brands to establish themselves in nuanced, salient ways online.
For example, prospects and existing subscribers are already on digital social platforms like Discord or TikTok or in digital knowledge and media environments like Quora, podcasts, or YouTube. These are various digital contexts where brands can leverage different kinds of content creation, expert access, and even subscription offers to connect with audiences where they already are. Subscribers do not need to go find the brand; the brand already understands its subscribers and brings resonant, frictionless user experiences to them. This is powerful for brand authority. It’s also true that customer-centric experiences should be able to reach across devices wherever their audiences can be found.
Lastly, nurturing existing digital relationships is critical for brand authority. This requires brands to regularly test their user experiences and to act responsively when they learn new insights about their audience personas and what they find most valuable as the brand-user relationship evolves. Nurturing customers also means building transparent digital practices – such as communicating openly about a brand’s digital security, data use, and privacy values. Digital authority requires brands who truly lead with authenticity and honesty, centering their customers in ways that deliver positive, adaptive, personalized experiences. This kind of digital credibility often translates into a core nucleus of customers who become trusted brand advocates – an invaluable shift required to organically scale product reach in the usership subscription economy.
Digital brand authority can be transformational for subscription businesses, so it’s worth leveraging a range of tactics and measuring and monitoring effectiveness over time. While gauging search engine rankings is important, brands should also consider metrics like the organic virality of their content outside of search engines and across a number of digital spaces, as well as assessing earned media attention and prominence.
For usership-oriented audiences who are trying to find the right products for their unique needs at various points in their lives, digital brand authority makes all the difference. This requires a brand to cultivate custom, credible content experiences that frequently and easily reach key audiences in preferred digital environments.
Brands with strong digital authority stand apart in ways that drive product engagement, subscriber retention, and high-value customer relationships that boost market influence. Users will recognize – and positively respond to – a brand’s digital investment in them.