You’ve Decided to Implement a Paywall. Now What?
Growing your subscriber base after moving content behind a paywall requires continuous research into customer satisfaction.
Instituting a paid subscription model online is frankly unwise unless you’re focused on customer experience feedback. It is that simple.
So many media companies are experiencing the same evolution: declining traditional ad revenue, clients becoming their own media brands, influencers becoming advertiser darlings and a business model that requires holding on for dear life to dreams of the past. What’s the answer? Gated premium content?
Our industry is buzzing with conference programs, consultants and articles focused on media companies’ unique position to migrate into “all-access” paid subscriptions. Many media companies are enthusiastic about the potential revenue stream, but don’t fully understand the significant shift in thinking that is required.
For example, the shift means you can no longer look at your subscribers as a volume target focused on satisfying advertisers and giving confidence to your ad sales team. Instead, you need to look at transitioning them into “membership” within your brand’s unique association. This requires active communication that will go in the face of the old school thinking of, “We don’t need to ask anyone what is going on in the industry, our publication sets what is going on in the industry.” In this model, “members” need to understand the benefits of their investment and be confident that for every one dollar of a subscription investment, they will gain back three in privileged knowledge, access and professional authority.
The only way to satisfy paid subscribers—and expand that base—is through a two-way channel of communication. They need to know the media resource is listening. Now is the time, therefore, to learn from some of the most successful membership associations about effective member retention and expansion tools if you wish to flourish in this paid landscape.
Listening, in this case, consists of a direct outreach effort by your team combined with a significant focus placed on subscriber research. To be clear, this is more than just a readership study. In this case, an ongoing, “forever open” study, enabling subscribers to provide insights when they want to, using the device(s) and mediums of their choice.
Here’s a rundown of some essential requirements for success:
1. NPS (Net Promoter Score): This simple question is essential to member retention as your success will be dependent on converting “ambivalent” subscribers to “promoters.” You ask a single question, such as: “On a scale of 0–10, how likely are you to recommend this website to your colleagues?” One simple number choice will identify your “promoters” (9 or 10), neutrals (7 or 8) and “detractors” (0-6).
Now you can take action by addressing the concerns of the “detractors” to encourage renewal of their subscription. “Promoters” are then leveraged to expand your paid subscription opportunity and help build your business. Doing this tracking quarterly, since it is only one question, will allow everyone on your team to see the positive and negative momentum of your strategy. This is more important than who you choose as a paywall vendor. It is critical to the relationship you must have with your subscribers—current, future and returning.
2. Ask paid subscribers about the topics they care about the most, and how satisfied they are with what you are providing. This will map a content plan down to demographic and regional interests allowing content creators the opportunity to expand efforts on what is most important, identifying information needs not being satisfied, as well as eliminate activities that are of the lowest importance. With so many demands, understanding what to emphasize and what to reject is critical.
3. Analysis of subscriber verbatim comments: The best CX survey platforms can aggregate keywords and align them with levels of satisfaction. If the survey remains open and is ongoing, it will provide essential focus points for subscriber satisfaction, renewal and outreach. Aligning “Price,” “News,” “Features,” “Video,” “White Papers,” “Events,” etc. with satisfaction will create an effective growth-map for your business.
4. Heat maps: Some CX survey platforms enable you to predict subscribers’ reactions to promotions, offerings, advertising and more, thus providing direction before even conducting A/B testing.
5. Ask for your members’ needs and fulfill them. Throw away the “people won’t buy what you give away for free” thinking and replace it with “people will always buy information that provides them a competitive advantage in their career, company, home and interests.” The key here is staying on top of what that “information” need is, as it is forever evolving.
6. Marketing Automation and Inbound Marketing should be vital investments in your strategy, but before you invest a moment in these efforts, like the paywall vendor, ask your audience what will motivate them to action. Again, these triggers will be identified through an active CX survey effort.
What makes a great CX survey platform? Byron Zanopoulo, managing director of Signet’s Sibyl Surveys, says he “focuses on flexibility and ease of reporting. Every organization has its own specific needs in data collection and reporting. Specific to ‘Subscriber Experience’ research for media brands using a paywall, this means having the ability to collect data unobtrusively through all touchpoints in all mediums and push the analysis and reports to those obsessed with the continual delivery of the most valued content.”
We no longer drive onto unknown roads without a reliable GPS. Entering into a paywall subscription strategy is no different. It requires robust, ongoing research into customer satisfaction for direction. Too many of your peers have gotten lost driving unexplored roads because they believed they alone knew better. Even companies that reject paywalls because they have tried it and believe it can’t be done successfully may not have used a listening tool.
Are you listening?