“The key I’ve found to subscriber retention is focused on the feeling of the relationship, rather than the stuff they get,” Robert Skrob told me on a recent phone call. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with [and train] Harley-Davidson dealers. Harley motorcycles are a premium product; they sell for 25-30% more. Yet Harley sells more than half of all the motorcycles. Buying a Harley doesn’t get you to your destination any faster. It doesn’t reduce the costs on gas. But instead it feels different to the owner. It feels like when you ride a Harley, you’re part of a movement, and gives you something to look forward to.
“Honda focuses on engineering, horsepower and price; Harley focuses on how you feel like a bad&*% when you ride a motorcycle.”
I’m more of a bicyclist than a motorcyclist, but the more I thought about places I subscribe to, the more I saw the headlight. When a New Yorker article gets discussed, I hold my head high as a long-time subscriber. “Yes, I read that.” Baseball Digest allows me to know that Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra both hit home runs in two Game 7s of the World Series. Even my heating contract makes me feel like I can be a little more demanding—and conversely upset when something doesn’t go right. (“You didn’t tell me the thermostat takes batteries and they corrode!”)
“Too many people focus on how much work goes into publishing a newsletter, or the number of speakers they have, or how good the content is, when it’s really about the feeling that all of that generates,” Skrob said. “Does subscribing feel like this is something special? Do they feel like an insider to something? Are you accelerating the goals they want to achieve? Do they feel like part of something that’s bigger than them?”
Skrob hits on so many key bullet points that you see from successful publishers every day. Haymarket Media’s PR Week features include Coffee Break with executives, Lockdown Life and A Day in the PR Life, all designed to put you inside the world of public relations. At The Information, emails come from the person in charge, Jessica Lessin, and ask for $10 to subscribe: “Limited Time Preview – The Information AM is a curated list of the biggest stories in tech. Become a subscriber to receive this every weekday in addition to our exclusive articles, live video Q&As, podcasts and org charts.”
“Making sure the subscriber experiences a big win early in their journey is important,” Skrob said. “It can just be clarity of a particular problem—simply understand the next step forward for a problem they’re having. That’s enough in order to get that” subscriber feeling good.
“When they take the first step [of subscribing with you], that’s the first step on the road to helping them accomplish goals and dreams,” Skrob said. It’s kind of “like the first scene in a movie when you get to know characters and start to care about who this is and what’s going on.”
Again, Skrob comes back to your thinking about solving subscriber/member problems. “I’m in so many meetings with subscription businesses, [talking about] growth goals and targets we’re trying to hit. That can happen if we think first how we solve our subscribers’ problems—rather than a revenue goal we have to hit.
“Usually we don’t have that big a problem getting information [from subscribers],” he added, though certainly now the ways we get that information has changed. Gone for now are the intimate conversations at in-person events.
“Usually your subscribers will be asking questions, ‘How do you do this or solve that?’” Skrob said. That’s great intel to use in your customer outreach. “Nobody has to know you thought of [the information you’re giving subscribers] based on customer service. The editorial team needs to be in close contact with your customer service team. Get your daily customer service reports to all staff. Here are the top questions today and here are the new questions we got.”
And as for those Harleys, be careful if the pandemic, a mid-life crisis and clever marketing makes you feel like riding one.
Look for Robert Skrob’s new book on growing subscription revenue coming out very soon.