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Running a profitable publishing business online is no easy task, and success has a lot to do with retaining subscribers.
One way of achieving this is through loyalty programmes, which provide extra value for subscribers, and can even make them valuable advocates for the brand.
I've been asking Nina Gilbert, Account Director at Clock, about the strategies publishers can use to keep customers loyal and reduce subscriber churn...
Can you tell me a little about Clock and your typical clients?
We work with a number of top publishing organisations and have been responsible for helping some of them establish and grow their loyalty presence.
In the last year we were involved in developing major publisher loyalty schemes for News UK, with the Sun Perks loyalty programme which was created to support the new Sun online paywall, as well as a complete redesign on the Times+ subscriber loyalty platform which we originally built in 2008.
We’ve seen loyalty programmes used with some success by retailers, but how can this be applied to media brands?
In much the same way as retailers want to hold on to their valuable customers, media brands realise that customer defection is a huge risk to their future success.
Given the 'always on' nature of the web: product information, reviews, and access to competitors are all just a click away from a customer’s fingertips, so it’s more vital than ever for publishers to hang on to their valuable audience.
Additionally, persistent defection means that former customers, people convinced the company offers inferior value, will eventually outnumber the company’s loyal advocates and dominate the collective voice of the marketplace, which is then extremely difficult to turn back to their advantage.
Therefore integrating a loyalty rewards programme into the customer experience can be a powerful counterforce to the challenges publishers are facing today.
Publishers are actually very well placed to blend value and experience, to create or enhance audience loyalty and build a sustainable long-term community around their brands and through their various channels.
With so much free media online, how do you persuade customers to subscribe? Is it necessary to find a particular niche as with FT.com, or even Econsultancy?
The incredible explosion in media brands, delivery platforms and competing information sources, and channels through which to consume information, means it is easier than ever for customers to move freely off to competitors to find other content.
This has had a clear impact on media brand relationships with their audience, and it's where they have seen a decline in customer loyalty.
If they find a niche in the market then publishers should work hard to reinforce value with your subscribers.
Customer loyalty is about motivation and behaviour, not just marketing, finance or product development. It is about human values and principles so work out what will help ensure your customers’ retention and apply it.
Is it necessary to offer something above and beyond the usual content to attract subscribers?
Times+ can be a powerful tool to attract subscribers and the acquisition rates have certainly increased dramatically, almost quadrupling since the loyalty platform was created.
However, it is as a retention tool that Times+ is so successful. Some research shows it can cost six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than keep an old one.
Therefore, outpacing your competition depends upon retaining loyalty amongst the customers you have worked hard to acquire.
The incentives that have really added value were those that used the brand’s key assets: trusted journalism, exclusive access to money can’t buy events, and quality, thought-provoking content.
Ultimately, the combination of carefully selected offers, tailored promotions and exclusive experiences are designed to make the loyalty platform a habitual and indispensable part of users’ daily lives.
How successful has Times+ been at retaining subscribers?
By generating an exceptional customer experience, not only through great journalism, but also through carefully tailored offers to suit the audience needs, The Times has really understood the value of its subscribers, which has meant it has become extremely successful in retaining them.
Times+ has a positive effect on churn rate of subscribers and its users are also twice as likely to recommend The Times and The Sunday Times.
How does user experience affect customer loyalty?
User experience is key to a successful loyalty programme. Loyalty elements within the media experience must become an integral part of the consumer’s experience of the brand.
Access must be enjoyable and in keeping with the brand experience but content must be relevant and targeted to the audience demographic. Interaction with promotions and offers should become a seamless part of their daily lives.
The design flow of publishing loyalty programmes is also vital to success. It must be a believable extension of the brand and integrate naturally but it should have a distinct brand identity of its own, a re-interpretation of the core brand.
The language and tone of voice has to reflect editorial values and finally, the editorial team should (when appropriate) buy into and participate with the loyalty brand.
What are the best strategies for reducing subscriber churn?
Know who your customers are, what they want and how they feel.
Doing business with people you trust and understand is predictable and efficient, which in turn makes them more profitable, than doing business with those you don’t know.Understand what is likely to make them churn and what are the barriers to exit, and then try to change this behaviour by offering them more of what they do want.
Some key areas to optimise the performance of loyalty programmes in publishing include data management, creating a community, user experience, design and content.
Ultimately, humans are complex beings, their buying behaviour can be hard to pin down and with the concept of loyalty being so tied to emotion, we need to understand its complexities to better understand our businesses.
Publishers must try to manage an effective cycle of loyalty, learning and value creation. Since the only way a business can retain customer loyalty is by delivering superior value, high loyalty is a sure sign of solid value creation.
Creating value for customers is the foundation of every successful business system, and value in effect builds loyalty, and loyalty in turn builds growth, profit, and more value.