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Could mobile apps be the key to increasing digital subscription retention?

By Justin Eisenband

FTI Consulting

Washington, DC, USA

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By Zachary Kempner

FTI Consulting

Washington, DC, USA

With increasingly saturated subscriber bases, publishers are having to work even harder to attract new readers who are willing to pay for content. Subscription economy giants like The New York Times and Netflix have seen their subscriber growth slow or decline, leading many in the industry to reevaluate where to allocate digital subscription resources.

With the dynamic shifting, publishers have moved more of the focus from acquisition to retention. To minimise monthly churn, publishers are searching for ways to build meaningful and habitual relationships with current paying subscribers. Many have doubled down on various retention strategies that help to increase perceived subscription value, including e-mail newsletters, members-only content, or other value-add benefits for subscribers.

The average smartphone user spends time on nine mobile apps every day.
The average smartphone user spends time on nine mobile apps every day.

One area where publishers may be underinvesting is one that most subscribers already have at their fingertips: the mobile app.

The world is expeditiously moving toward mobile. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 97% of U.S. adults have a mobile device and spend an average time of more than four hours per day on the device. Of that time, 88% is spent on mobile apps while only 12% is spent on mobile Web, according to eMarketer. Additionally, the average smartphone user spends time on nine mobile applications per day.

Simply put, to build habitual content consumption amongst your subscriber base, you want your publication to be one of those nine apps.

Here we are a few reasons why investing in strong mobile app experiences can improve subscriber experience and, therefore, drive improvements in retention.

Mobile apps decrease friction

While most desktop Web sites have a responsive design that adapts to mobile browsers, the experience can be slow, clunky, and frustrating as most Web sites are not fully optimised for mobile. Furthermore, it requires readers to take several steps to get to a desired result: open the browsers, type in the URL, click on an article, sign in, and then repeat the entire process when you go back to read the next article.

A self-contained mobile application removes much of the friction from a user’s experience. One push, and the reader is back to where he or she left off.

Native mobile apps increase visit frequency

Mobile apps unlock a new suite of tools for publishers to reach their subscribers. Most important among these is mobile push notifications. Much like e-mail newsletters, push notifications boost engagement by sending personalised and relevant alerts right to the home screen of readers’ mobile devices.

This can help publishers build a strong relationship with their audience and creates habits that increase the likelihood that a user will regularly return to the app and continue paying for a subscription.

Mobile apps increase brand recognition

A mobile app can be a powerful brand ambassador. For example, a publisher gains significant visibility and mindshare when they place their logo on a readers’ device. Every time the device is unlocked, the logo will be present, reminding the reader of the brand.

In addition, when readers use the app to access content, they are regularly exposed to the publisher’s branding and messaging. This constant visibility can help to build brand awareness and loyalty, leading to increased subscribers and reduced churn.

In today’s highly competitive media landscape, a mobile app can be a critical tool for publishers looking to develop their brand and increase customer lifetime value.

Major publishers have recognised the return on investment

Publishers like The Washington Post have recently increased their investment in their mobile app team and strategy to drive eyeballs away from desktop and toward mobile. This is the result of internal data that pointed to increased visit frequency and higher subscriber lifetime value for those who used the mobile app compared to those who only read The Washington Post on desktop.

Overall, we have seen the same. The benefits of investing in a mobile application can have material impact on retention and help you reach readers where they are spending their time. Applications also decrease friction for users, making it easier for them to access your content.

Ultimately, by leveraging better ways to engage subscribers, publishers will have a more engaged subscriber base that has a higher willingness to pay and is less likely to churn.

About the Authors

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