To power their digital subscriptions strategies, publishers are looking to existing customers to meet their goals.
During the recent INMA Subscriptions Growth Master Class, media leaders from Gannett, The Guardian, and Aftenposten shared their companies’ data-driven tactics to engage subscribers and reduce churn.
In his takeaways from the event, INMA Readers First Initiative Lead Greg Piechota said while listening to customers through interviews and surveys is still important, “data analytics, testing and iterating on the learnings are key to success.”
Gannett addresses payment failure
Phil Schroder, vice president of consumer engagement and revenue growth for Gannett, considers churn to be one of the most consistent metrics to measure subscribers and their stickiness to the brand.
Although Gannett provides a robust onboarding experience across its portfolio that helps keep subscribers engaged, Schroder noted churn is inevitable. One of the biggest causes of churn is payment failures, so Gannett has developed a system to address it.
“This is the largest single reason subscriptions stop for us,” he said. “So we have journeys developed specifically around this.”
When a credit card is declined, Schroder noted there are several processes in place to engage with the customer immediately and continuously.
“We have e-mail journeys, live phone calls, a lot of different things to try to capture that customer back,” he said. “We know that if we can capture them really quickly, we have a really good shot at keeping them. As we get deeper in, it becomes much harder to capture that credit card.”
One successful technique has been the use of e-mails reminding customers their payment has failed. The daily e-mails carry a similar message and look “almost exactly the same,” but Schroder said they change up subject lines, headers, and the time of the day they reach out to customers: “We’re constantly looking at how we can make the most effective e-mail possible.”
The Guardian upsells current customers
The art of the upsell — it’s the next big thing for The Guardian. Rachel Robertson-Brown, global head of retention, said the company started this upsell journey last year and started very small. Now it’s one of the largest fixtures in its annual plan.
The Guardian has two approaches to executing the strategy.
“The first is how we position upsell asks within the supporter life cycle,” Robertson-Brown said. “So we spend a lot of our time hypothesising around things like how does someone’s tenure or level of engagement affect when we should ask for more?”
The second aspect is using planned and unplanned editorial moments to maximise extremely compelling content for conversion.
The lifecycle upsell started for The Guardian with a single e-mail to their monthly supporters.
“We sent this at nine months and we just simply asked them to consider increasing their support with a relatively evergreen message from our reader revenue editor,” Robertson-Brown said. “We had a small amount of insight to inform when we should ask, but other than that we were really going on very little. So we were hoping to learn from testing this first.”
They’ve since expanded beyond e-mail to other channels like different formats on the Web, which they continue to test.
“So on the lifecycle side, the first learning that I've captured is about asking sooner. We started out by asking it nine months into the life cycle, but testing has shown us that we can convert quite well by asking much sooner than this,” Robertson-Brown said. “So based on further insights that we received after doing that initial activity, we introduced new touchpoints at weeks 19 and 33, which actually brought in an additional 16% of monthly conversions.”
Aftenposten makes cancellation easy
Making the cancellation process less painful for customers who want to leave may seem like a counterintuitive way to increase loyalty. But Norwegian daily Aftenposten has done just that and actually increased rescues with its optimised flow.
“We believe it should be as easy to cancel a subscription as it is to buy one,” Mia Baglo Skotte, Aftenposten’s head of customer revenue optimisation, said.
In studying its cancellation process, Skotte’s team found Aftenposten’s anti-churn flow wasn’t that successful. Most of the customers who started down the cancellation path did in fact cancel, with only 1% accepting the downgrade offer instead. Aftenposten also had disappointing results with its anti-churn holdback offers, which had previously only been offered via e-mail. Open rates were only 40% and few customers bit.
Aftenposten did customer research and found that customers who left weren’t necessarily unhappy — many were just trying to economise and also expressed intentions to resubscribe in the future.
“That made us realise that it’s important to have a good customer experience when you leave us,” Skotte said.
The company revamped the cancellation flow by making the cancellation button immediately visible on the user’s “My Page” tab and also changed the flow that leads the user to accept the holdback offer. The team also changed all button colours to blue instead of red and green.
Declining an offer still triggers a questionnaire, but it is simplified so that it improves customer experience while still allowing Aftenposten to prioritise valuable data — for instance, whether the customer has access through their job or through a bundle with a sister brand.
Each module is simpler and involves less information, Skotte said, with the goal of creating a nice experience for the user.
The results were impressive. Aftenposten saw a 50% increase in rescues per month (up to 900 from 600) which led to a US$344,000 bump in yearly revenue.