Blog October 13, 2023 |

Mitigating Churn and Increasing Subscriber Retention in Media and Publishing

Publishers with a digital subscription model work hard to earn their subscribers. Strategies like content metering, personalized content recommendations, newsletters, and paid media are powerful tools for getting subscribers. However, once someone has subscribed, the work of a publisher isn’t done – in reality, the subscriber’s journey has just begun! 

Subscription-based offerings have proliferated over the last 10 years. I can’t count the number of subscriptions our household has on two hands. The average US consumer has 12 media & entertainment subscriptions. With the economy slowing, consumers are reviewing their subscriptions more closely and canceling those they don’t perceive as valuable.

As a publisher, how can you increase subscriber loyalty and reduce subscription churn?

Why do subscribers churn?

Before we discuss strategy, let’s take a closer look at why subscribers churn. Each reason should be addressed with a separate strategy.

  • Involuntary churn: I recently spoke with a publisher who said that as much as 60% of their subscription cancellations are due to a declined credit card. The subscriber’s credit card expired or some details associated with their credit card changed and resulted in a failed charge. Of all the reasons why a subscriber may churn, this is one of the easiest to address – the subscriber hasn’t said no, they simply haven’t updated their credit card information. 

  • Frictioned experience: Subscribers who continue to hit paywalls may cancel out of frustration. They may hit a paywall if they’re not logged in, using a new device, or if they’ve recently cleared their cookies and were logged out. Subscribers who read content in Facebook’s mobile app are especially susceptible to hitting a paywall. This results in a poor user experience and increases risk of churn. The customer support team of many publishers tracks the number of times a subscriber has called in to say they can’t access the content. This is another example where the subscriber values the content but may cancel when they can’t access it.

  • Limited subscription usage: Subscribers who haven’t visited the site in 30 or more days or visit infrequently each month are at higher risk of churn because they don’t consume enough content. I recently spoke with a publisher who conducted a survey on their churned subscribers. The survey indicated that many of those who canceled love the content but didn’t read enough of it to justify the monthly cost. 

  • Introductory offer ended: Many publishers employ a ‘more is better’ strategy when it comes to subscribers. They often acquire them with an introductory offer that includes deep discounts (e.g., '3 months for 99 cents'). This strategy gives subscribers a low-cost way to explore the content to see if it is worth a long-term subscription. Subscribers who have an introductory offer that ends soon and aren’t engaging are at high risk for churn.

  • Subscription price is too high: Even for long-term subscribers, as they evaluate all of their subscriptions, they may consider canceling due to the price. Historically, we’ve seen many publishers require subscribers to cancel by calling into a support center, where a representative can offer a lower subscription price in-the-moment and keep those loyal subscribers. California recently passed a law requiring companies to offer an option to cancel online. It’s likely that more states will follow suit. As publishers shift to support these legal requirements, they need to find ways to retain subscribers who might be inclined to stay for a lower rate.

Reducing Churn Risks: Strategies for Success

An effective retention and churn mitigation strategy starts with having access to unified, actionable first-party data. If your subscriber data, ESP data, and onsite engagement data are siloed in separate systems, it’s challenging to orchestrate your messaging via the most appropriate channel at the right time. By unifying your data in a customer data platform (CDP) like BlueConic, you’re able to build multi-level audience segments that include data points from these various systems. You can then activate that data via onsite messaging, email, paid media, or push notifications to prevent churn.

Here are strategies for leveraging your first-party data and BlueConic to address each of the aforementioned churn risks:

Credit card declined/expired

There are two common approaches to remind subscribers to update their credit card information – email notifications and onsite messaging. BlueConic customers do this by centralizing their subscriber information – including details about credit card status – in their CDP. In this case, it can be as simple as including a flag in the platform to indicate that a subscriber’s credit card has declined. Once the data is available, marketers can build segments of at-risk subscribers that are either pushed to customer support, SMS, an email platform or used for onsite messaging. A simple dialogue that directs subscribers to their account page to update their credit card information can have a 30-40% click through rate. 

Frictioned experience

Most publishers will lock content to any visitor who isn’t logged in. This makes sense and is straightforward to implement. However, there are often cases where a subscriber is visiting but isn’t logged in. One of the key benefits to BlueConic’s first-party hostname is that you can recognize return visitors on the same device and know that they are indeed a subscriber. Improving their user experience is as simple as creating a segment of current subscribers who aren’t logged in and excluding them from content metering. Rather than just unlock the content to these visitors, some of our publishers will present a dialogue that reminds the subscriber to log in to ensure they’re getting the most out of their experience. 

Limited subscription usage

Are your subscribers getting the most out of their subscription? Subscribers often get access to more than just your valuable content, such as subscriber-exclusive newsletters, mobile apps, podcasts, puzzles or games, etc. Below are some examples of our how customers use BlueConic to ensure their subscribers are taking full advantage of all these benefits:

  • Just for you page: Be proactive by creating a dedicated page with personalized content recommendations where subscribers can find content that’s most relevant to them.

  • Exit intent: Display exit intent pop-ups with personalized content recommendations to new subscribers to make sure they’re aware of all the good content they now have access to. These dialogues can often have an 8-12% click-through rate.

  • Mobile app: Create dialogues to target mobile web visitors and direct them to the mobile app store to download the app.

  • Cross-promotion: Create listeners to see what content subscribers have (and haven’t) engaged with. Have they listened to a podcast? Have they played a game or puzzle recently? With this data collected, publishers can create segments to identify subscribers who are not getting the most out of their subscription. They can then target them with email messages or onsite dialogues to encourage them to explore these benefits.

  • Re-engagement messaging: Create segments of visitors who haven’t returned to the site in the last 30 days and send them “we miss you” email messages with personalized content recommendations. 

Introductory offer ended

Identifying the optimal introductory price and length isn’t easy. Data scientists using BlueConic’s AI Workbench can optimize introductory offers. Before taking that path, I encourage publishers to start simple – you can often get great results with smarter segmentation. For example, create a segment of “introductory offer” subscribers who have low engagement and proactively market to them via email and onsite with an extension of their current offer. 

The cost is too high

I’ve recently seen more publishers adopt a strategy where they run a quick survey when a subscriber cancels online. The survey asks why they are canceling – are they moving? Do they find the content valuable? Is the subscription cost too high? For subscribers who report that the cost is too high, the publishers use BlueConic dialogues to offer a lower rate. 

A subscriber’s journey isn’t linear

We tend to think of a subscriber’s journey as linear – they engage with content, sign up for a newsletter, become a paying subscriber, and at some point their engagement declines and they cancel. However, many of the publishers I work with recognize that a subscriber’s engagement ebbs and flows over time. They may be highly engaged during specific sports seasons or during election cycles. It’s not always clear when they may unsubscribe. 

BlueConic Lifecycles is a powerful tool for orchestrating touchpoints based on where an individual is in their journey. For example, many publishers create an onboarding lifecycle where they orchestrate onsite, email, and push notifications to new subscribers to encourage them to engage with particular products like the mobile app or puzzles. Similarly, many publishers set up automated engagement lifecycles with dedicated touchpoints that address each of the churn reasons discussed earlier.

Where should you start?

If your first-party data isn’t unified, start there. Then, prioritize the strategies that will have the quickest impact. Messaging subscribers to notify them that their credit card has declined is a quick way to prevent involuntary churn. From there, you can gradually build campaigns to engage with your subscribers throughout their journey. Each of these campaigns can then be incorporated into onboarding and re-engagement campaigns using BlueConic Lifecycles. 

What creative strategies have you implemented or seen other publishers use to increase subscriber loyalty and mitigate churn?

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