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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How to resource your team for effective subscription marketing

November 9, 2022 | By Matt Broad, Director of Optimization Services – Piano@piano_io

As we approach the end of 2022, it’s never too early to plan promotions and set an end-of-year calendar for your organization.

These initiatives often require buy-in from the whole company. While editorial and marketing teams often lead the effort, product, technology, ad sales and senior leaders all play important roles. That’s especially true when an organization is shifting from an advertising-first strategy, focused on pageviews and engagement, to a user-centered strategy. The entire team will need to be aligned on KPIs and work together to execute the digital subscription strategy.

Key roles for successful subscription marketing

The most successful subscription publishers have dedicated resources for their digital subscription business that allow them to market their offerings nimbly, and continuously optimize their efforts. For those building or growing their teams, the following roles are foundational for success:

Head of consumer revenue

A senior revenue leader directly influences the future of the company and its business model, focusing on sales and everything that drives them, like marketing campaigns and product pricing.

This individual sets group goals and KPIs and typically is not executing day-to-day efforts, but does ensure campaigns are focused on the proper channels and customers, using the most impactful messaging. The head of consumer revenue usually has product knowledge and understands what makes the product unique and valuable to users in order to monetize it.

Marketing manager

A marketing manager is typically the person who oversees day-to-day marketing campaigns.

They possess experience identifying target audiences and executing campaigns that target, engage, and convert users throughout the customer journey.

This person should have a background in digital marketing or audience engagement to be most successful at understanding the audience and how to serve them with the right message at the right time in the most impactful way. Their goals are to enhance sales and remind existing users of their benefits. Subscriptions aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it business, so the marketing manager is also important for testing different aspects of the user experience to constantly be iterating and improving campaigns.

Creative team

Every publisher needs a resource with a creative mindset to help provide a frictionless UX while adhering to company brand guidelines. In many organizations, copy comes from the marketing manager and then designers ensure the look, feel and messaging of the campaign are aligned.

When design and copy are complete, a front-end developer may build templates to use with the software that’s serving promotions. Developers are often shared resources, so we always recommend creating templates with content fields whenever possible so that others on the marketing team can create variations—updating messaging, changing headlines, moving forward with new tests or promotions, etc.—without that technical background.

Data team

It’s helpful to have data analysts working closely across functions to help marketers understand what audience segments they are looking at and what information they have about them. Based on this performance, data experts can then help enhance segmentation and build out additional campaigns. They can answer questions like, where are the low-hanging fruit? Where can you drive business? How are campaigns performing among specific audience segments? Where is there an opportunity to iterate and improve results?

As a subscription business grows, the data team ultimately plays a critical role in benchmarking KPIs like cost of acquisition, customer lifetime value, retention rates and more. More sophisticated data scientists can also provide attribution models, revenue forecasting, or even come up with creative algorithms to segment your audience.

Tech team

Although they might not be needed on a daily basis, having a technical team that can support your business is very important. This group is aware and understands the technical objectives and gains knowledge of systems and processes, learning how relevant data is leveraged throughout the organization. They can also make sure integrations are functional and that data is passed correctly between systems, which is important for making strategic recommendations around price, revenue, etc.

If there’s a single most important factor in successfully marketing a subscription program, it’s having a top leader in the newsroom and someone on the business side engaged and in agreement that subscriptions are the priority. The group can build a marketing team to be responsible for executing this strategy.

How trials & promotions can help

Depending on how complex your organization’s audience segmentation is, trials and promotions can be worthwhile for all segments if they’re well-planned and used appropriately. How can you plan now to offer the right trials and promotions in the coming months?

Trials are a way to offer sampling; in other words, trying the product before a user makes a long-term and possibly expensive commitment. In subscription, these can have a big impact on conversion rate: At Piano, we’ve seen between a 20% and 150% lift in conversions after users enter a trial period.

However, free trials on annual subscriptions are not recommended. These typically result in very low retention rates and negate much of the benefit of offering a trial in the first place. One exception is to offer introductory pricing for annual subscribers. This can be an effective way to incentivise choosing a longer subscription.

Nonetheless, promotions are a way to encourage conversion among users who might otherwise consider a product too expensive, or who previously passed on an offer to subscribe. Through pricing research, you should be able to map out a revenue curve that helps you understand what different user segments might be willing to pay and how that impacts your overall revenue projections.

Running promotions creates a sense of urgency and pushes users to convert: At Piano, we’ve seen a 64% lift in revenue during a month with promotional offers, relative to the month prior. But the key is making these promotions targeted, temporary and irregular. Keep the offers in the market for a week or two at most, allowing the most motivated, price-sensitive users to respond.

The right team will help guide you on the effectiveness and performance of trials and promotions. With strong leadership, there’s still time to put in place a strong subscription marketing plan for the rest of the year and beyond.

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