Subscriber-led growth is key to sustainable business

By Chris Petitt


London, United Kingdom


Subscribers are the lifeblood of any subscription business. But keeping them happy and loyal is not always easy. Digital publishers need to understand their needs, deliver value consistently, and offer packages that resonate and “meet them where they’re at.” Without doing so, publishers risk losing out to competitors.

But how do you actually build strong subscriber relationships that increase customer lifetime value (CLV) and drive revenue growth?

Insight from the Subscribed Live event found that leading subscription businesses harness subscriber-led growth models.
Insight from the Subscribed Live event found that leading subscription businesses harness subscriber-led growth models.

At our recent Subscribed Live event, we learned from our partners and Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo how leading subscription businesses like GoPro, iRobot, and The New York Times are building strong subscriber relationships by making their products more accessible and engaging. Put simply, they put their subscribers at the centre of everything they do, creating a flywheel that increases CLV and helps them stand out from competitors.

This is what we call subscriber-led growth.

Subscriber-led growth is a strategy that enables subscription businesses to deeply understand their customers, craft tailored subscriber journeys, and create targeted offers that resonate with audiences.

Here are two of the key findings from our subscribed live event that explain how to get started implementing subscriber-led growth in your digital publishing business.

Let’s take a closer look at the two factors that make these businesses stand out:

1. They know their customers better than competitors

The first step to subscriber-led growth is to know your customer better.

Using subscriber experience tools with rich data on subscriber history, usage, preferences, and behaviours can help create more relevant offers that match user needs and interests. These tools can help to collect more data at the right moment with free registrations, trial sign-ups, and multi-step journeys.

They can then be connected to a customer relationship management (CRM), data, or analytics tool in your tech stack, and that data can then be used across your tech stack to build lasting relationships that deliver immediate value.

With a richer tapestry of data on users, publishers can segment audiences by different criteria, such as device type, location, or age demographics. They can then launch offers and content that engages with the right customers instantly.

“Our data shows that the most engaging features are the features that are aligned to the strongest retention,” said Ken Houseman, vice president of product management at The New York Times. “The more engagement we drive within our products, connecting them across the ecosystem, the more value our subscribers find in our bundle and are willing to pay for it.”

2. Experiment faster with subscriber journeys

The second key takeaway from our subscribed live event on subscriber-led growth was that those who lead tend to experiment faster.

Often, that means publishers need to use tools that allow them to test different subscription strategies without relying on technical teams, choosing low-code solutions that are intuitive to implement. This helps reduce time to market and allows for time to iterate on experiences resonating with subscriber segments.

It goes without saying that a big part of rapid experimentation is split testing. But split testing doesn’t just have to involve on-site content experiences, images, and messaging. It can also mean experimenting with flexible, dynamic offers, product bundling and unbundling, and strategic pricing.

For example, by unbundling products, modern businesses like The New York Times can offer subscribers smaller, more consumable units that are more likely to meet their customer needs.

You can create offers appealing to your subscribers, then present them with the right offer at the right time. For example, leading subscription businesses might try to reduce churn with smart win-back offers and test when to launch them to the right customers at the ideal time.

Sustainable growth for the future

In summary, the more publishers know their customers and act on that information, the more they can personalise products, give customers tips for getting the most value out of their subscriptions, and effectively target customers with complementary offerings. This can all lead to smoother experiences, more satisfied customers, and more reliable revenue with lower churn.

But to do all this, publishers and subscription businesses need a subscriber-led growth engine enabling them to act on a deep data-driven understanding of each subscriber.

About Chris Petitt

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