I just decided not to renew a certain subscription that I had to a cultural institution. In their last letter to me, they said here's what you'll be missing and listed a few benefits. That makes sense—I recall Jim Sinkinson telling us to remind subscribers of what they would be losing if they don't renew. "Great renewal copy threatens a loss—of security, well-being, opportunity, or all three."
But in today's age, it seems that you have to go one step further. They never reached out to ask me what benefits I was using or checked their data on me. (The benefits I used are the ones they did away with at my level.) So just throwing a blanket list over me did not cut it. They should be able to tell what events I'm attending, what coupons I'm using, etc., and what I care most about.
Here are some successful retention strategies I've come across lately:
Enhance and improve readers' habits and their user journeys. The Financial Times built a feature called "My FT" where readers get one daily email with articles from the different topics that they follow. In this way, My FT helps them to retain readers because they know that those readers who sign up for that are much more likely to renew their subscriptions. They figured this out by comparing similar users at the renewal point.
Employ regular communication. You want to stay near the top of their inbox, Kristina Dorsey, client director for CQ Roll Call, said. Not only that but also to reach clients who are not using your software or tools. They had a situation where a Congressional committee added 130 amendments to an appropriations bill. "We immediately put together an email [that said], 'I bet you're looking for these.' We heard back, 'Do I have access to that?' 'Hey I tried to click into that amendment you sent me. Can you send my log-in?'"
Offer subscriber-only access. Publishers are finding success connecting readers to editorial staff. (See my article from Monday.) The Atlantic's membership program, The Masthead, offers weekly conference calls with reporters and editors. The Information—and Digiday—give subscribers access to private Slack channels where they can connect with editorial staffers.
Give a behind-the-scenes look. Similarly, said Ben Cotton, New York Times executive director of retention and customer experience, "subscribers tell us all the time that they love getting behind the scenes of our journalism—they love our journalists and getting to know who they are. So [when we can] connect our subscribers with them, either in person or via a conference call or some other form of digital connection, we get really fantastic feedback. We've seen in testing that those kinds of things help with our retention."
Develop usage reports of your products. Bill Haight, president of Magna Publications, said they started doing this based on customer requests. "It's good to know how many people are using this product." The down side could be when usage is low, but Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said that, "We'll look at those usage reports and then reach out to the super users, trying to understand the best path to take. 'How are you using it, what are you doing [based on it]? Are there other people in your organization who you think could benefit?'"
Offer varied experiences. The Washington Post's subscriber-only product strategy centers around providing content in formats beyond the traditional article. "The goal is to find the most creative ways to bring content to subscribers that makes them want to continue to be loyal readers," Miki King, the Post's vice president of marketing, told Digiday. "We're still giving you the journalism, but we're giving you a different experience."
Focus on onboarding. "We don't think of onboarding as a discrete activity," said Aaron Steinberg, publisher at insideARM. "It's the beginning of our ongoing member service and engagement. We want to be in touch with our customers all the time, and we do a good job of that."
Personalize. Understand your individual customer needs and engage with them according to their preferences and personality. The most direct way to improve content value is to make your content specifically about reader needs—problems and opportunities. Your renewal rate is a function not of how much your customers learn from your content, but how much they use your content to become more successful.