We recently had Joe Pulizzi, Founder Content Marketing Institute, as our guest on our FOUND series. During that discussion, he and I discussed the state of content marketing and some predictions for 2015. During our conversation, Joe and I talked briefly about brands using a subscription strategy and Joe referred to it as the “holy grail of analytics for content.” He also mentioned that a very small percentage of marketers were using this tactic, so I wanted to address it a little here.

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Your subscribers are the holy grail you’re searching for.

What is a Subscription Strategy?

First, I want to make sure we are all using the term “subscription strategy” the same way. I worry that people take the term too literally and think they just need subscribers to a newsletter, or a YouTube channel, or some other publication. What we actually mean is that a person has opted into your brand at some point – they want to hear from you. For B2B brands, customers and prospects may opt into a newsletter, but they could also opt into a video series, conferences, repeat landing pages, or a mixture of content around a specific topic. For B2C brands, there are customer loyalty programs of all shapes and sizes, there are in-store promotions and repeat e-commerce visitors. For every brand, gathering the names and information about the people who want to hear from you, that’s a subscription.
But hold on, a subscription strategy is not a lead gen machine. Yes, you may get leads from your subscribers, but it’s a mistake to rush into calling on subscribers and asking them to sign on the dotted line. Like any lead nuturing program, subscription strategies take time and, well, nurturing. For all brands, large and small, build your loyal subscriber base by having something of value that your audience needs and wants. The backbone of the subscription strategy is finding a way to build loyalty by helping your audience to see value in what you’re providing, other than your product. Remember, these people found you. Make good on the promise that led them to you in the first place. I already hear small business marketers saying that they don’t have anything to offer beyond their product, and that’s a mistake. Even for the small business, there are opportunities to co-op your loyalty programs by participating in apps that allow your customers to check in and get rewards from your business. Find a way to interact with your audience, whoever they are and wherever they are.

Think Beyond Email

I think one of the biggest mistakes that brands make is assuming that a subscription strategy just means email. Think of what you can give of value to help your audience do their job better, or make their life better. These offerings might include free trial offers, information related to the product, notifications of sales, or tips about products or services related to your product. I always caution B2B brands to not overuse the subscription form. Don’t make your subscribers register over and over for every piece of content you offer. You already have their information, you don’t need it again, and you’re likely to lose some loyal subscribers to frustration.
Joe said that the subscription strategy is the “holy grail of content” and I agree, if it’s used correctly. As with all measurement, the parameters need to be set up correctly in advance to get the right information back. First, know who your subscribers are and add them as a sub-group or cohort. Subscribers can be categorized in several ways:

  • Time frame
  • Campaign
  • Acquistion
  • Behavior

Once you have the cohorts set-up, compare them with the rest of your audience to determine how the behaviors of these highly engaged people are different from those who aren’t as highly engaged. Determine what descriptors define your most engaged audience; job title, location, age, gender, or campaign type. Your next question should be: “How do I take someone who doesn’t fit this profile and move them from awareness to engagement?”
To get the most out of a subscription strategy, be sure to capture similar information across all options, without requiring multiple buy ins. If you find you need additional information from your highly engaged subscribers, send out a request to confirm the information you already have and to fill in any gaps of information that you need. My last piece of advice is to keep your subscriber lists updated as people engage or disengage from your content.

Your Subscribers Want to Hear From You

When someone opts in to your newsletter, video subscription, or other content, that person is choosing to have a conversation with you. Serve these people with content that’s genuine. Create relevant content because that’s what got your subscribers to you in the first place. Continue to deliver on that promise to create a relationship and to build trust that you will continue to provide the type of content that got them to subscribe.
A successful subscriber relationship means nurturing your subscribers with consistent and relevant content. Just because someone has downloaded an ebook, doesn’t make them a viable lead. Calling on them too early to make a purchase is a good way to ruin the relationship you tried so hard to create. Have a little patience. It’s like the guy that comes to my door to ask if I’m interested in buying a vacuum and then tells me that my neighbor down the street just bought one. That’s not super helpful to me and tells me that person didn’t take the time to find out enough about me and my pain points.
Here are some steps to get started with a subscription strategy:

  • Establish a conversation with the people who have already tried to have a relationship with you
  • Create subscriber lists and disaggregate the data
  • Create content that will help make the lives of your subscribers easier
  • Answer their questions and discover their pain points

One source of useful information, that is often overlooked, is your own customer support and customer success teams. These people hear the questions and the issues that your customers and prospects are asking. These departments are a gold mine of topics for marketing content that actually creates an uptake in sales because you’re fixing problems and answering questions that the people who are engaging with your product are actually asking. Ask these departments for feedback and then share your marketing materials with them to make their lives easier.