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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How pricing flexibility and personalized offers will win the subscription wars

November 23, 2021 | By Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst – Mobile Groove @peggyanne

The subscription economy is firing on all cylinders and across all verticals. However, an avalanche of subscription offers turns up the competition for audience attention. Content companies must find innovative ways to drive customer connection and conversion to rise above the noise. 

The stakes are high and so are the profits. The 2021 Subscription Economy Index published by subscription technology platform Zuora, reveals an impressive 21% uptick in subscription revenue growth in Q4 2020 alone compared to the previous quarter. That’s yet another data point in a growth trajectory that has seen subscription revenues increase 6x over the last nine years. 

But cashing in on the boom requires publishers to embrace flexibility and customer convenience, even for cancellations. It’s not enough to build the capabilities to sell as a one-time transaction to readers. Publishers must reach potential subscribers in the right context, and at the right stage of the customer journey, to reinforce the decision to commit to recurring costs. 

Personalize pricing and paywalls 

Each customer is an individual, not a generalized demographic. Their willingness to subscribe also differs widely. Most efforts focus on moving consumers from free trials to the full-meal deal. However, an increasing number of content companies are experimenting with flexible pricing and new subscription billing models.

Some publishers offer readers the option to commit to smaller, more frequent payments instead of annual subscriptions. Others remove friction by providing options that allow consumers to manage or upgrade their accounts quickly and easily. While these efforts to convert consumers deeper in the funnel can yield impressive results, they bypass the business benefits publishers can gain from customizing pricing earlier in the consumer journey. 

Publishers are “leaving money on the table by not changing subscription offers and upsells based on acquisition source,” according to Andy Carvell, CEO and partner at Phiture, a mobile growth consultancy that specializes in app engagement and retention

Keynoting at CleverTap Quarterly, Carvell advised publishers to use data to optimize pricing and advertising based on acquisition source. At a basic level, this means showing consumers a different offer or pricing depending on whether they come into the app via paid advertising versus if they discover your app organically.

Customize for customer wins 

Different platforms attract different audience segments. But publishers should resist giving away discounts based on generalizations. “The theme here is: Go in high and then drop prices after they [consumers] have resisted a few of your paywalls,” Carvell says. However, rather than assume a GenZer exposed to your content via a TikTok ad can’t afford a subscription, check the data. Metrics such as low time-to-install or time-to-conversion suggest high intent and signal a strong willingness to pay. 

Consistency across the funnel is critical. Align the pricing on the paywall with the ad campaigns and copy currently running on your acquisition channels and ad networks. That way, Carvell says, “the user feels like the subscription is right for them because you’re speaking the same language as you did in the app.” 

Cancellations and connections

Customizing top-of-the-funnel communications can attract and convert subscribers. But what do you do when your audience makes the conscious decision to cancel?

This is the cue for most publishers to show apologetic pop-ups or send emotional emails asking for a second chance. Granted, a sincere message to remind consumers their subscription matters or helps support quality journalism can be convincing. But if publishers are delivering this nudge after consumers click the button and prepare to make their exit, it may be a moment too late. 

A better approach is to preempt the decision altogether by playing to FOMO fears and showing consumers upcoming content they don’t want to miss. It’s the strategy Sasha Kurdiuk, head of customer experience at Shahid MBC, has followed. Shahid is the leading Arabic language video-on-demand service globally known for the largest library of Arabic movies, shows and dramas – including two Emmynominated series.

In a podcast interview, Kurdiuk told me how he uses personalized perks and content shorts to stop churn before it starts. “Rather than pop-up and ask you not to go, which is a message that could enrage you if you are determined to cancel, we asked ourselves what might happen if we showed you a bit of the top content you haven’t watched.” 

Drawing from behavioral and analytics around what subscribers view and enjoy, Kurdiuk’s team personalizes messaging to influence them at this critical moment. “Contextually relevant communications convince many subscribers to think twice and then press resubscribe,” Kurdiuk says. It’s also the well-timed and highly customized nudge that has allowed Shahid to “reduce voluntary cancellations by more than 20%.” 

Given the pressure on content companies to compete for advertising, it is only good news that the subscription economy is booming. However, as an increasing number of products, entertainment, and information services compete for subscription revenue, companies must work hard to stay competitive. They will need to stretch their models and personalize offers and experiences to drive connection and conversion across the subscriber lifecycle. 

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