Subscriber win-back strategy at Washington Post is driven by engagement, location, prior rate

By Anjali Iyer

The Washington Post

Washington, DC, USA


In the ever-changing digital landscape, where acquisition strategies often take centre stage, it is easy to overlook the importance of “win-back” strategies.

However, regaining lost customers is just as important, if not more so. It’s a revenue-boosting strategy that can benefit any organisation. This article shares how to bring back lost customers and why it is critical in today’s competitive environment.

A win-back strategy is designed to re-engage customers who were once paying but have now terminated. It involves personalised communication, customised incentives, and a multi-channel approach to entice them back.

The multi-tiered win-back strategy is tailored to each customer’s personalised attributes and engagement with prior offers.
The multi-tiered win-back strategy is tailored to each customer’s personalised attributes and engagement with prior offers.

Rationale behind our investment in win-back strategies

Winning back customers is not only cost-effective, but it is also more efficient than acquiring new customers who are unfamiliar with your brand value proposition. These returning customers already know your offerings, trust the brand, and require less persuasion to subscribe again.

Our internal research and cancellation surveys provide insights into cancellation reasons. We also have an advantage with data and insights from their past interactions that can be leveraged to design personalised win-back strategies.

Evolution of our win-back approach

Previously, our win-back strategy consisted of sending two e-mails immediately after cancellation. The first e-mail had a survey to understand cancellation reasons and highlighted our key content areas, while the second e-mail included evergreen content and a generic offer to subscribe.

This year, we built an omni-channel win-back journey using our proprietary systems customer data platform (CDP) and a smart offer ecosystem (SOE). These leverage consumer characteristics, behaviours, and subscription type. Our subscription product team played a pivotal role in creating tools that allowed us to personalise the win-back journey, ensuring we reconnect with previous customers in a way that truly resonates with their unique needs and preferences.

Our data-driven approach

We invested in advanced analytics to segment our customer base according to their known attributes and traits. This segmentation was instrumental in crafting a tailored win-back strategy that targets different customer groups. By understanding their preferences, usage patterns, and past interactions, we were able to tailor the offers.

This data-driven approach not only optimises our efforts, but also enhances the overall customer experience, ultimately driving the success of our win-back strategy.

1. Engagement: Engagement is a key indicator of the likelihood of resubscription. To optimise our approach, we segmented customers into groups based on their engagement levels.

2. Location: We leveraged customer location, recognising that varying regional dynamics necessitate nuanced offers.

3. Prior rate: Knowing the previous rates customers paid is important because some might have subscribed with discounts, while others paid the full price, either on a monthly or annual basis.

Customer segmentation allowed us to distinguish between customers who are more likely to resubscribe and those who may not be prepared to return. This approach allows us to allocate resources efficiently, focusing our efforts on nurturing relationships with prior customers while avoiding unnecessary investments in the latter.

Furthermore, the chart below highlights a significant trend: As the duration since cancellation grows, the resubscription rate consistently decreases. The curve pattern indicates that the optimal resubscription window falls within the first 60 days after cancellation. This data underscores the importance of timely engagement and targeted re-engagement efforts to maximise our resubscription success rates.

High-level win-back journey

The journey starts with a thank you to the customer for their support for our journalism coupled with an offer to resubscribe. It is followed by a survey e-mail with a subtle offer call-out at the bottom. The next few e-mails are focused on engagement and highlighting top subscriber benefits, including commenting, gifting, a subscriber-only newsletter, and more.

As the e-mail series continues, each customer receives tailored offers based on their attributes and engagement with prior offers. Our goal is to ensure that customers receive communications and offers that are most relevant to them.


We identified our core measurement metrics and built a robust Tableau dashboard to monitor performance against benchmarks. Primary metrics are: resubscription rate, average days to resubscribe, average revenue per user (ARPU), and 90-day retention rate.

Since launch, our resubscription rate is 2% higher with half as many visits to resubscribe and a 5% higher retention rate compared to benchmark. This success translates into an additional US$20 per customer to their three-year lifetime value (CLV).

Given the positive results, we have expanded beyond e-mail to achieve offers consistent across channels, including on-site, in-app, and paid media.

About Anjali Iyer

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