Getting Customers to Commit: Streamlining Subscriber Acquisition

Inflation spikes and interest hikes are causing consumers to significantly reprioritize their bills. For publishing, that means readers are making even more calculated choices about their media consumption – and it means publishers are looking at repositioning their value propositions.
Just about everyone gets some amount of news from digital sources; for Americans, 8 in 10 people are engaging with news digitally. The challenge for publishers right now isn’t interest, but rather nurturing the right interest in the right ways to convert casual readers into committed, high-value subscribers…despite the economic uncertainty.
Publishers who effectively streamline their subscriber acquisition are more likely to weather the economic storm and build a loyal, profitable reader base for the long run. Here’s how to do it…

1. Know the real value of committed subscriber acquisition.

Despite the sweeping structural changes the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated within the journalism industry, it’s a tough time for digital subscriber acquisition now 3 years later.
Subscriber acquisition is expensive, but with a jump in both subscription fatigue and news avoidance, it’s also risky if media publishers don’t get it right.
Without a targeted understanding of digital behaviors and accurate data analysis, publishers can do a lot of work trying to acquire subscribers, only to lose them without seeing a full ROI. It’s not enough to aim for acquisitions generally, which can amount to empty vanity metrics. Instead, publishers strive to strategically focus their time and resources on acquiring the right kinds of subscribers…those who will stay committed.
In an industry like SaaS where customer acquisition costs are extremely high, the customer has to remain with the product for at least one to five years, (depending on the price or product), for the product to start earning a profit through them,” says enterprise software expert Saravana Kumar.
And for publishers who can correctly identify and capitalize on the right reader interest in the right ways at the right time, acquisition delivers big results: “…Loyal customers are 5x as likely to repurchase, 5x as likely to forgive, 4x as likely to refer, and 7x as likely to try a new offering.
Committed subscribers offer publishers increased customer lifetime value, attractive word-of-mouth referrals, and opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. For publishers, the distinction between ambivalent subscribers and committed subscribers – and how to pursue them with precision – makes all the difference for profit potential.

2. Understand unique content value to capitalize on subscriber commitment.

Committed acquisitions partially come down to publishers knowing the unique value of their content for likely long-term subscribers. Readers have countless choices online, so publishers who clearly position their value proposition through relevant, compelling content are more likely to retain paying readership.
There are so many different types of readers – from those who are tentatively testing material but unlikely to remain committed; to those picky about content but highly committed within their niche interests when delivered a consistent digital experience; to those who are civic-minded and constant across a broad range of quality content and sources. All this information about reader profiles allows publishers critical insight into diverse ways readers value their content.
Northwestern University’s Medill Spiegel Research Center and Medill Local News Initiative reports thatthis shift to subscriptions demands an understanding of what subscribers value most from these companies. [Media executives] must know what and when subscribers are reading, across devices, as well as viewing, clicking, opening, and more…
This kind of deep understanding allows publishers to optimize their content offerings for high-value subscriber acquisition, even down to how they frame a subscription offer. Publishers can leverage messaging that accurately and explicitly highlights why readers already value their content and should want to pay for more of those benefits.
Tim Groot Kormelink, communications professor and media researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam explains:
[Readers’] support and willingness to pay for digital news increased when paywalls were framed in terms of ‘financial necessity’, but decreased when they were framed in terms of ‘a profit motive’…Subscription appeals using loss-framed messages (e.g., “Don’t lose touch with news from [….]”) generated fewer clicks than those with gain-framed (e.g., “Stay in touch with news from […]”) messages, suggesting that ‘subscription decisions are motivated by feeling relatively certain about gaining beneficial information from doing so.’
What counts as beneficial – the real value gained – is unique to each reader. That’s what publishers need to know about their distinct content value for every reader in order to acquire subscribers who stick.

3. Prioritize and optimize digital experiences.

A value proposition for readers today isn’t just about content; it’s also about the quality of each reader’s overall digital experience. Many publishers aim to prioritize – and then optimize – that experience, especially for younger readers who have been exposed to digital content most of their lives. These readers expect appealing, user-friendly interactions, in addition to meaningful and relevant content.
Meredith Levien, CEO at the New York Times, described this approach as essential to the publication’s overwhelming success: “The first dollar in the place goes to the quality of the product [the journalism] and then the digital product experience…The companies that invest in a product that can be valuable in a differential way to a very large group of people – that’s the key to success and having a great business, however the market changes.”
First impressions are lasting impressions, so publishers looking to make the most out of new web traffic ought to optimize the whole site experience, well before making a subscription offer. They also can’t just depend on content and an offer, but all the intermediate interactions that build relationships with readers in between.
This kind of step-by-step attention is what today’s readers expect. Because customer loyalty is built by using the right kind of engagement over time, progressive profiling is key to earning the kind of first-party data that powers these meaningful, personalized user experiences.
Publishers who test and iterate smart registration forms, utilize intelligent paywalls, and provide access to the right content at key moments will build the trust needed to attract and acquire their base audiences. Over time, publishers will skillfully nurture high-value leads in ways that make acquisition risks and costs well worth it.
Media marketers that know the profit potential of strategically prioritizing subscribers who are likely to commit won’t waste their time and resources pursuing subscribers prone to churn. They will know why these readers are there – the unique value their content offers potential subscribers – and pair relevant, quality products with advanced digital experiences that stand out.
Publishers who approach subscriber acquisition in these ways will improve reader retention, boost revenue, and enhance their overall market effectiveness, regardless of the economic climate.
For more help streamlining subscriber acquisition in challenging economic times, take a look at our report ‘Weathering the Storm.’

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Getting Customers to Commit: Streamlining Subscriber Acquisition

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