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Q & A 

Subs marketing: 5 minutes with… Stuart Lacey

The world of subs marketing and fulfilment is changing rapidly, as content consumption habits evolve and publishers look to increase reader revenues. What should publishers be doing? We grab five minutes with Stuart Lacey, MD of Air Business Subscriptions to find out.

By Stuart Lacey

Subs marketing: 5 minutes with… Stuart Lacey

Q: What are the best ways to maximise retention rates?

A: Traditionally, retention has always been maximised by onboarding new subscribers through a continuous payment cycle. It goes without saying, a great product and consistently great content generates loyalty! A pain free onboarding with effective and timely fulfilment and customer service throughout the subscription term with a proactive mechanism and process flow in place to save cancellations via contact centre or online is where we come in.

In addition to all of that though, demonstrating the value of being a subscriber rather than just a casual engager, is paramount to any successful renewal strategy. Retention should be thought of as a constant objective in the customer journey not just something that’s tied to scheduled payments or a rigid comms strategy. Every potential touchpoint with a subscriber, whether it be with the publisher or the bureau, should be optimised to better aid retention.

Q: When it comes to effective onboarding of new subscribers, what top tips can you give publishers?

A: Given that the vast majority of new subscribers emanate from ecommerce, a simple and effective web solution with the full range of payment options and a streamlined order process funnel through to an automated upload to the fulfilment platform should be at the heart of a successful onboarding journey. Following that, a quick acknowledgement / confirmation and, because of the drive to customer order self-serve through the ecommerce platform, a frequently updated ‘manage my account’ web hub. Finally, an effective and speedy ‘exceptions’ or ‘order rejects’ solution is required to optimise the onboarding process.

Q: A one year subscription to a print magazine used to be the typical order. What is the typical order now?

A: Although there is a wide variation in how consumer customers and business or academic customers order and subscribe to a product or content, a typical B2C order will be a bundled subscription that includes print, digital or online. A continuous subscription term with continuous payment via card for international or direct debit for UK would be the most typical.

For business and academic customers, it would be typical for the subscription account to be paid on invoice by card or payment transfer with, in the case of academic titles, subscriptions being aligned to the academic year.

That said, it’s a truly fluid situation – defining a typical order is becoming harder to do as the terms, payment methods and packages on offer constantly develop and evolve. The duty of both publisher and bureau is to ensure that we’re collectively at the forefront of marketing and fulfilment innovation so that we’re able to increase circulation and revenues together.

Q: In terms of improving fulfilment performance, which areas do publishers and their bureaux most need to work on?

A: Essentially, moving away from legacy processes towards more digital / real time processing solutions should be at the heart of any improvement programme. Automate and streamline the web services and API used for acquisition, retention, and allowing the customer to self-serve through a comprehensive ‘manage my account’ portal. We should always work together to speed up and optimise the lead time from ordering to acknowledgment through to the first issue being served. Finally, ensure that subscriber loyalty is reflective of the service and the offer or deal the subscriber receives.

Q: Data is central to improving subscription marketing performance, but some publishers feel swamped by it. How can those publishers turn their data into meaningful insight?

A: I appreciate that with so much historic and live data flowing through the subscription database, there is a tendency to swamp the publisher with an ever-refreshing tsunami of data! Firstly, the data, whether in report format or through a feed, must be accurate (I guess that goes without saying!). Work with your bureau or database partner to simplify your business KPIs that measure subscription marketing and circulation performance; agree and report on the important metrics for acquisition, retention, earned income and yield that will help to provide a well-defined dashboard of reporting that provides insightful and meaningful BI.

Although it may seem daunting at first, it’s important for publishers to invest their time in working with their bureau to truly understand how a reporting platform can work for them. Often, reporting platforms are littered with system terminology but, by working closely with the bureau, a publisher can understand and effectively utilise the nuances of the system rather than being put off by them.

Q: How do you see the service leading subscriptions bureaux like Air Business Subscriptions offer publishers evolving over the next few years?

A: An evolution towards a ‘time based’ as opposed to an issue-based revenue cycle for subscription or membership as online and digital become the major product within the subscription proposition as opposed to a physical publication or product.

Whilst print volumes continue to decline, we’ll see an evolution towards membership as opposed to individual subscription contracts with products, services and events rolled into that membership or recurring payment agreement with the customer or company. This is especially the case with B2B where the brand is the flagship not the publication and where traditional publishing has long since evolved to data or information provision through digital services or events as opposed to a publication timetable.

Fulfilment systems are evolving to treat the end users as holistic customers rather than viewing each of their products in a siloed way. Publishers are very much working towards this goal too, and I see this as being the next major step in publishers and bureaux successfully working together to grow product agnostic circulations and revenues.

Every potential touchpoint with a subscriber, whether it be with the publisher or the bureau, should be optimised to better aid retention.

"...we develop tailored fulfilment solutions..."

About us

“Air Business Subscriptions (ABS), part of the Air Business Group, provides integrated subscription and distribution services for global and domestic publishers. ABS remains one of the UK’s leading bureaux. We look after over 400 publishing titles and 3.5 million subscribers on behalf of business, consumer, professional and academic publishers.

Working with iconic global brands in print and digital, we develop tailored fulfilment solutions through our processing and contact centres in three continents. Air Business clients can take advantage of either a self-service system or our full bureau service.”