Subscription management gets strategic
Among the numerous challenges that media companies face these days, one that often flies under the radar is subscription management. But it’s one of the more critical issues as publishers make the transition from print to digital business models.
Simply put, subscription management needs to become more strategic. Publishers realize the subscription data they’re collecting can be mined more effectively to improve customer loyalty, increase retention rates, and drive new revenue opportunities. Technology innovations can help publishers develop more sophisticated subscription models that encompass print, online and even mobile channels and provide advanced self-service tools that help customers manage their own subscriptions, thus increasing their interactivity with and exposure to the brand.
“Consumers are becoming more comfortable about transacting business on the Web,” says Beth Roy, vice president of consumer magazines and media for CDS Global, which provides subscription and other data-management solutions to 463 magazine titles, covering about 140 million active subscribers. ”They’re much more willing to go online to manage a subscription than they were 12 to 24 months ago. Those are positive signs.”
Legacy systems in a multichannel world
They are also potentially daunting signs for publishers that don’t have their online act together. Legacy, print-based subscription management systems that don’t account for today’s multichannel world of content delivery can frustrate customers who expect seamless transitions when dealing with a brand in print or online. Throw in a pay wall for online content and things get even more complicated.
“Digital publishing is more fluid than print, and a system built on print but turned on its head to handle digital will not provide the fluidity you’ll need,” said Dan Heffernan, vice president and chief product manager for Advantage Computing Systems, a developer of fulfillment software that counts among its clients Penton Media, Crain Communications and SRDS.
In a white paper titled “Five Imperatives for Publishers,” subscription-management software provider ARGI lists the challenges consumers often face when interacting with legacy subscription management systems:
- Having to provide the same information more than once
- Not getting immediate access to gated online content
- Being forced to maintain multiple user identities across different online properties
- Receiving irrelevant or inappropriate product and pricing offers
- Having privacy preferences ignored
- Experiencing lengthy customer service calls with representatives who cannot access current account information or need to make changes in several systems to resolve an issue
In June, ARGI released Acuity, an "integrated audience management system" that CEO Ray Butkus says is designed to address the shortcomings of existing subscription-management solutions, including the complexity of current designs and the need to accommodate multiple subscription models across print and digital channels.
“Asking if print is dead is not the paramount question,” says Butkus. “It’s how do you get print and online to work together?”
Getting disparate data to play nice
The evolution of subscription management is driven by several factors: consumers’ changing habits for accessing information (less print, more digital); the shifting business models of eMedia companies (less ad-supported, more paid content), and more data. Lots more data.
The problem for many publishers is that this data is often stored in multiple databases that don’t play well together. That’s why software and service providers are exploring new ways to integrate that disparate information to help their media customers leverage data across all channels more effectively.
The goal, Roy says, is to “see where the customer touch points are across all of those channels and what they are experiencing with your brand.”
Turning insights into revenue
Those insights can lead to better decisions about how, what, where and when to market to your target audience. “Much of the information a publisher wants is available from the digital signature customers leave when they use a digital product. Leverage it,” says Matt Shanahan, senior vice president of strategy for Scout Analytics, a developer of subscription analytics software.
Doing so can lead to new opportunities in areas that in the past have not been effectively leveraged to drive sales, such as customer service.
“We see customer service via digital platforms as a revenue opportunity,” says Roy. For example, CDS Global’s Engage customer care platform lets media companies serve up relevant product and service offers based on the consumer’s subscription and other data.
“Based on how the consumer has transacted with the brand, we can prompt the consumer appropriately when it’s time to renew, or let them know of an opportunity for a similar product in their interest category that’s being released,” says Roy. “We have that historical reference, and we can utilize that to provide revenue opportunities.”
Paying to play
Subscription management systems are also evolving to address the emergence of new online pay models – which are far more complex than print’s traditional annual subscription. This shift requires continual experimentation to find the model that fits best for both the publisher and its audience.
“No publisher, no matter how big or sophisticated they are, would assert that they have the answer,” says Butkus. “They need to experiment with lots of different revenue models and creative/promotional offers. And they need systems that are adaptive enough to support that requirement.”
Making the ROI case
Implementing or upgrading subscription management systems is no easy task, especially when it comes to integrating multiple databases or replacing proprietary systems. Publishers will need to make a solid ROI case in order to justify investments in new technology (which is no different, of course, than any other technology investment you’re trying to push through).
Butkus suggests a business case built around the ability to broaden your addressable market and find new sources of revenue. He also points out that component-based software such as Acuity requires fewer programming resources, putting more control in the hands of users to quickly make changes – thus saving development and implementation costs. “The goal,” he says, “is to radically simplify everything.”
Naomi Reiter contributed to this article.