In this article, we’re going to explain some advanced content marketing strategies for subscription-based ecommerce stores. But first, let’s look at the lifecycle of a subscriber so we can better hone-in on how to change our strategies.
The Subscription-Based Subscriber Lifecycle
The outline of the subscriber lifecycle helps us identify when to use which strategy. Content designed to attract new visitors will function differently than content meant to keep existing customers happy. We can break down the typical subscriber lifecycle into three main phases:
- Prospect: Someone who is interested in subscribing, or a target subscriber-type who is yet unaware of your services.
- Subscriber: Someone in the early stages of capitalizing on your services.
- Churned Subscriber or Renewed Subscriber: When it’s time to resubscribe, the customer either renews or cancels because they’re unsatisfied.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss the types of content marketing and strategies to use for Prospects and Subscribers. The Prospects section covers how to generate buzz and traffic, spreading the word about your service, and converting interested shoppers into buyers. The Subscribers section covers how to handle direct conversations with your subscribers and personalize your service to prevent churning.
Subscriber Lifecycle Phase #1: Prospects
For prospects, in most ecommerce stores the ultimate goal is: Getting your name out there so your target customer knows you’re there, and attracting traffic to your site to net new customers.
There are some modifications you need to make for subscription-based ecommerce though. Let’s talk about the best types and strategies to use for drawing in new prospects.
Testimonials & Reviews
Unless you’re an already-successful brand branching out into subscription-based ecommerce, your biggest challenge in getting off the ground is going to be establishing trust and validity. These are normal obstacles for ecommerce in general with one-time payments to unknown brands, but it’s even worse for subscription ecommerce because you’re asking shoppers to sign up for recurring payments without knowing much about you.
While you may not have heard of TheVeganKind before, you’ve probably heard of many of the publications in their “As Featured In” box on their homepage. The legitimacy of these well-known logos lends itself to the “stranger” brand.
The most effective—and fastest—route to gaining new shoppers’ trust is social proof. It’s one thing when a brand talks about how reliable and trustworthy they are, but it’s a whole other thing when similar consumers do it. Integrating user reviews, testimonials, and ratings has a proven effect on sales, so don’t underestimate social proof.
Prominently display real reviews and ratings from your early subscribers to show new prospects that you’re legitimate. If you haven’t launched yet, try doing some early releases with influencers (which is described in more detail in the next section) and publish their positive reviews when generating the first wave of subscribers. Any public review or choice customer testimonials can be posted on your social media pages to help generate buzz.
We’ll talk more about eliciting customer reviews below when we explain content marketing for subscribers.
When it comes to social proof, influencers are the most powerful weapon. Influencers are any online presence that hold a great deal of sway with your target industry, whether they review websites or are social media personalities. Getting a single, well-respected influencer to vouch for you means more to prospective subscribers than a handful of non-influencers.
We discuss influencer outreach in more detail in this article, but here’s a list to summarize some ways to help get them on board:
- Free Gifts: Give influencers a free subscription box, or give them the perks of a subscription for free. If you haven’t launched yet and can’t pull together a prototype, describe what you’re offering and promise them a free sample during the first round of shipments or when your subscription-based service begins.
- Interaction: Interact with their social media content regularly, whether through comments, likes, or reposting. Become a familiar presence to them so that when it comes time to make an offer, you’re not a complete stranger.
- Collaboration: Try a joint campaign that benefits you both. For example, you could offer a specialty box curated by the influencer themselves or a select sale for subscribers on products the influencer chooses. Don’t be afraid to reach out and negotiate.
If all else fails, you can allot some money to buy their sponsorship. After all, they’re running a business as well.
The famous DollarShaveClub video is the stuff of legends at this point. Within 48 hours, this more-or-less unknown subscription-based ecommerce company received more than 12,000 signups, essentially sky-rocketing their business into an overnight success.
While not every video will have this kind of viral success, even a fraction of their views can boost your conversion rate. Well-made videos are more likely to be shared than, say, well-written blog posts or infographics.
When it comes to marketing videos, you can launch a two-pronged strategy:
- Promotional Videos: A video that explains the value of your subscription-based ecommerce service. The trick is to not sound too promotional—the Dollar Shave Club uses humor to offset their aggressive sales techniques.
- Content Related to Your Industry: How-to videos, individual product reviews, or simple evergreen content—whatever your target subscribers are searching for on their own. If you establish yourself as an expert in topics related to your industry, you will seem more trustworthy in the eyes of your visitors, plus they’ll more likely return to your site or social media page the next time they have a question. You can also introduce yourself to new target subscribers by providing the type of content they’re searching for.
Online video content is only growing stronger with time, so the sooner you learn to adopt it, the better.
Just like with videos, “evergreen” content—or content that is always popular—will introduce new prospective subscribers to your brand. By providing the content that your target subscribers are interested in, you increase the chances that they’ll find you.
Blogs, infographics, social media posts, buying guides, videos… there’s almost limitless potential for producing attractive content. Don’t pigeon-hole your content marketing strategy to only self-promotion—you’ll achieve better results if you branch out to discussing the topics your subscribers want to talk about, and in doing so, will form positive relations that you can leverage into conversions later on.
Discounts & Promotions
If your traffic is already adequate and you’ve built up a respectable list of emails and social followers, run a promotional campaign that allows new subscribers to sign up at a discount. This is practically a necessity to all subscription-based ecommerce sites just starting out, and even the biggest subscription ecommerce goliaths run such promotions from time-to-time to generate new business.
Advertise your promotions through all your avenues: Social media, email campaigns, and on your site. This is a sure-fire technique to turn would-be prospects into eager subscribers. Even big subscription ecommerce brands like Birchbox not only hold promotions like their free eyeshadow palette, but they also advertise the various promotions on the homepage of their website.
Subscriber Lifecycle Phase #2: Subscribers
Once your subscription-based ecommerce business is up and running, you’ll want to initiate a new round of content marketing with different goals. Your subscribers already know who you are and how valuable your subscription-based service is, so don’t waste time preaching to the choir.
Your goals for this stage will be personalizing your services to prolong customer satisfaction. Whereas the enemy before was indifference to your brand, the enemy now is atrophy—your new and exciting subscription service will seem less new and less exciting as time goes on.
Use your content to discover ways to continually improve and update your service. Your subscribers are your best resource for uncovering ways to keep your subscription-based services fresh.
Subscription-based ecommerce has an element of “surprise” that traditional ecommerce doesn’t have to worry about. However, this is a double-edged sword—on the one hand, the surprise adds suspense and anticipation to every new delivery or extended service; but on the other hand, if the surprises disappoint, it’s more reason for the subscriber to cancel.
Offset the drawbacks of surprise elements by incorporating feedback and personalized options. Such feedback may not always be available through reviews and ratings, so include surveys to cater your services to particular subscribers.
There are three main surveys you’ll want to focus on:
- Introductory Surveys: These are essential for a subscription service. For example, if you’re giving your subscriber new clothes every month, you’ll need to know their style preferences, or at the very least, their measurements. Such introductory surveys are a great time to gather valuable data about your target users and their preferences. If most of your subscribers choose one style in particular, you may want to consider breaking up that single style into multiple, more focused styles for better accuracy.
- Checkup Surveys: Check up on your subscribers periodically to make sure they’re satisfied. This is one of the best ways to combat churn, as you can detect dissatisfaction early on and solve it before it becomes a problem. Openly ask subscribers for their honest opinion of your service and if they can think of any ways in particular that you can improve.
- Exit Surveys: In the event that your subscriber cancels, include a survey to find out why. Pricing concerns, dissatisfaction in the product/service, a change in their tastes, or maybe a change in their financial situation—these all require different strategies to solve for future subscribers. You don’t know which you should focus on the most until you ask.
It should go without saying that once you receive subscriber feedback, you incorporate it immediately. It’s even best to respond personally to subscribers who gave the most helpful feedback and let them know you’re making changes based on their suggestions. Nothing makes a customer feel appreciated more than having their opinions heard.
Once the subscriber signs up, you have their email address. That makes email campaigns the best and most direct way to reach your subscribers. After all, 33% of consumers say that emails are their biggest influence on online spending.
Email campaigns succeed because they allow you to get personal with your subscribers. Not only are you communicating with them through the same medium as their friends and colleagues, but you can also hand-tailor the email to reflect their shopping patterns.
For this reason, emails are great for upselling or inspiring additional purchases. If you have a tiered business model, you can explain the reasons why they should upgrade in terms specific to them, i.e., the premium service includes a product or feature they’re known to enjoy.
Secondly, emails are a great way to elicit reviews and ratings, which we’ll get into below.
Incentivize Reviews & Ratings
Harking back to our first point about the importance of social proof, we’ll end this article by explaining the best methods for acquiring it. After all, the subscription-based ecommerce sales cycle is a circle, with older subscribers encouraging newer subscribers to keep the whole system afloat.
Essentially, you’ll want to give the subscribers a reason to write a review or rating, typically a small but substantial discount in the future. Putting yourself in the shoes of your subscribers, you may not want to put in the effort to go to the site and write a review, even if you’re satisfied with the service.
Offering a discount like a promotional code adds that little extra fire under their bottom that can make the difference between action and inaction.
Lootcrate runs a campaign to encourage subscribers to “show off” their loot on social media, even providing the appropriate hashtag.
One of the biggest obstacles in generating reviews is the time lapse between buying the subscription and the actual delivery of the product. You can combat this by sending an email at the right time. If you have the email arrive around the same time as the delivery, you’ll be able to take advantage of the subscriber’s natural excitement from the delivery. Around the time their delivery comes is when they write the most enthusiastic and convincing reviews.
Remember to minimize the number of steps the subscriber must take to review or rate your subscription service. Ideally, you’ll want to embed everything right into the email—that way, all they have to do is click or write in the email itself, without necessitating going to an external site or any other “extraneous” effort.
Content marketing revolves around your direct relationship with your customers, so make sure it’s a dialogue instead of a one-way conversation. Listen to what they have to say and incorporate their feedback into future posts, and moreover let them know their feedback has been incorporated so that they feel part of the team.