Avoiding churn in the early subscription stage

By Nico Wilfer

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Frankfurt, Germany


When it comes to paid content, we generally tend to concentrate on conversions from free to paid users and on churn rates thereafter. However, from a product strategy perspective, it makes sense to focus more intensively on the paying user’s onboarding time and process.

Mostly (but not only) for higher priced premium subscriptions, the journey from fly-by user to loyal reader to subscriber must be extended to include very engaged subscriber to prevent churn.

Just as a print reader might look in frustration at his pile of unread newspapers, a user of digital subscriptions may feel he is not making sufficient use of a subscription that is perceived as expensive.

During World Congress, Matt Murray explained how the Wall Street Journal is trying to increase value for subscribers.
During World Congress, Matt Murray explained how the Wall Street Journal is trying to increase value for subscribers.

The first days and weeks after subscribing are especially crucial. Does the user sufficiently understand what he receives for his money? Does he find exciting content, great features, and additional benefits? In the worst-case scenario, does he even remember his subscription at all — before he receives the first invoice?

At the INMA World Congress in New York, Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, announced the newspaper will extend its “follow an editor” functionality to a “follow topics” possibility soon. The goal is to increase the time spent per subscriber. The Financial Times offers such a functionality branded as “myFT.” At Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, we also offer a “topics monitor” to follow keywords as well as personalised recommendations.

The following applies to all three titles: They are among the most expensive in the market for digital journalism subscriptions at more than €20 to €50 euros per month (depending on the offer). They also have price points far above other digital content offers such as music and film.

Even if the corresponding target groups are accordingly solvent, the benefits of the subscriptions have to be proven again and again. It is not only through such personalised features that we come to consider two focus points even more strongly:

  1. How does a user behave in the first 30 days of his (trial) subscription? During that period, we have the user on the hook. However, at the same time, he reviews our products with a critical look during this test phase.
  2. The permanent support and motivation to use the purchased products on a regular basis.

In both cases, “push” channels play a special role. The smartest, most personalised e-mails, on-boarding routes, and push messages are intended to encourage users to fall in love with our brands and products completely during the flirt phase of the trial subscription. We want to repeatedly draw their attention to the most exciting aspects of our offering.

This is particularly true for some users who started a trial subscription just because of a specific topic or article. It is imperative to point out the advantages of the product beyond, especially in this phase. The arguments can be manifold, ranging from exclusive content, personalisation, and clever services to additional features and a set of community benefits:

“Dear user: Do we offer you too much content? Here are your personalised recommendations. And did you know that we have a newsletter with selected articles from your favourite department?”

“Dear user: Are you interested in digital transformation? Have you already discovered our special report?”

“Have you already discovered that we have special offers from our premium partners for you?”

“Did you know you can follow topics?”

And so on.

In most cases, digital subscription offers have so many more good arguments about why one should become and — above all — stay a subscriber than a new user can grasp during a short test phase.

We don't “just” offer a catalogue of films and television series or pieces of music but rather a whole world of clever reporting, services, and member benefits. This makes it ever more important to make users aware of this ... and as quickly as possible in order to keep them on the hook.

About Nico Wilfer

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