Every news publisher struggles with subscriber churn. The challenge is universal, and the recent INMA Digital Subscriber Retention Master Class showed the heart of it may lie in nurturing engagement.
“Nurturing the value of your subscription is science and art, Greg Piechota, Readers First Initiative lead, summarised after the event. “Experts urged us to speed up the time new subscribers see value, help them reach the retention threshold of engagement, and plan personalised journeys when they get on- and off-board.”
During the class, leaders from Arizent, Amedia, Público, Media24, and Ringier Axel Springer shared tools and strategies they are using to encourage subscriber retention throughout the customer lifecycle — from onboarding to cancellation.
At U.S.-based business information company Arizent, connecting professional communities is done both through live events and subscription products. During the pandemic, the company escalated its plans to provide more digital offerings, and it has seen the value of building communities around its subscription products, Jeff Mancini, chief strategy officer, said.
Arizent has created a team focused on its customer engagement strategy to ensure customers are getting the best possible experience from the product from day one.
“We’ve started with the welcome journey, which is immediately when someone comes on board,” Mancini said. “There’s a three-part series trying to get people to understand the breadth of the product, make sure they’re signing up for all the benefits they have. And we watch that very, very closely in that first month. If they’re not engaged at all in the first month, they’re going to get an outreach call.”
That careful watchfulness over customers has paid off. Standard memberships have about a 73% retention rate, and premium/all-access memberships are enjoying an incredible 95% retention rate.
The first 100 days are a crucial time for preventing churn, Haakon Johansen, founding partner of Ageda in Norway, said. There should be a lot of communication during that time. Johansen said during his time at Amedia, they used newsletters as a churn prevention tool: “Newsletters are nothing new, but we said that we don’t want to communicate with people if they are already engaged.”
The team began checking every other day to see if new readers had visited the homepage. If they had not, they received a newsletter with the top stories. Those who had visited the homepage did not receive a newsletter.
As Amedia gained more data on the users, it was able to tailor those newsletters to their personal preferences and interests.
Working with the newsroom is also crucial to reducing churn — the more stories readers consume, the lower the churn rate, Johansen said: “The more you read, the more the churn rate goes down, so that gives you great incentive to work with newsrooms.”
Público in Portugal has optimised its subscriber retention strategy by creating a new platform specifically for their readers, Inês Espojeira, product manager for subscriber engagement and retention, said. The platform is called Área De Leitor, and it serves as a personal area or profile for readers, allowing them to manage their subscriptions, personal information, the articles they saved for later, newsletters, and curated content.
“We know investing in Área De Leitor is an investment in the future,” Espojeira said. “It’s an investment in the team’s efficiency, and giving autonomy to the reader is something that will retain them and will free our team to do the things that we actually need to do.”
So far, it has been a success. In the first four months, the amount of personal information collected in their database increased by 17% for registered subscribers. The team also saw a higher conversion rate compared to the traditional paywall, with 59% of the conversions being renewals from ex-subscribers.
Engagement e-mails for News24 in South Africa initially focused on informing readers of platform features like the bookmark feature or the “listen to article” feature. Soon the team realised the e-mails should actually be focused on content, TinaShe Makwande, the general manager of digital subscriptions and transactions at News24 parent company Media24, said:
“Content gave us the best value proposition. It gave us the best positioning in order for us to try and win back or try to keep customers on our platforms.”
News24 has been able to successfully onboard 50,000 readers using their e-mail sequences. With a high completion rate, Makwande said they began to focus on their e-score levels, which is a metric that determines a reader’s potential value as a customer.
Currently, News24 is experimenting with trial onboarding journeys and testing new e-mail sequences that engage readers with different sequence timelines, retention e-mails, engagement e-mails, and recommended content.
Ringier Axel Springer
Tomasz Gawet, managing director of subscriptions at Ringier Axel Springer in Poland, said there are two moments when publishers give subscribers 100% of their focus: “One is when they decide to subscribe, the other is when they decide to cancel.”
The company has put a lot of effort into making the payment process easier by providing multiple payment options. However, when subscribers cancel, it has also been easy — perhaps too easy, with a one-click cancellation process. Gawet noted that 17% of subscribers were leaving right after their purchase.
“It is impossible for us to introduce the user to the product in such a short time,” Gawet said. “The user cancels a subscription by turning off auto-renew so it ends with the end of the billing period.”
The company replaced the quick one-click process with a wizard consisting of three screens. Users were required to click through the screens to reach the cancellation screen. With the rollout of the new screens, 22% of subscribers abandoned the process and remained customers. Adding a fourth screen revolving around content has really paid off, Gawet said: “The results were spectacular for us … . We nearly doubled our results and are very satisfied. It’s pretty astonishing.”