May 31, 2016
I’ve had the amazing pleasure of working with many brands to transform their marketing departments and build their content marketing programs. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, they understand that how they get and keep people’s attention is very different from just a few years ago. They lead with value rather than their brand. That’s a hard hurdle to jump for any company.
But here’s what still stumps me. While they all want to create bigger reach with the content they’re creating, none of them think about growing their audience by building a subscription to their content. We talk through a lot of other goals that they understand have meaning to the business – brand awareness, lead gen, lead quality, conversion and so on. But no one’s thinking about goals for building their audience. That’s a huge missed opportunity. Huge.
What, exactly, is ‘subscription’?
In the media world, publishers want subscribers to their magazines. People pay an annual fee and they know the magazine will show up in their mailbox every month. This audience knows the publishers, likes the content and trusts it will be something interesting, entertaining and valuable every month. The publishers have guaranteed income from subscribers in addition to what they’ll make at newsstands. The number of subscribers plus the distribution is what advertisers look at when they decide whether or not they’ll pay money to advertise in a magazine.
Now, think of the same approach for your brand’s content.
Do people know, like and trust you?
People want to hang around with other people they know, like and trust. The same goes for the brands they do business with. These are major deciding factors in people’s willingness to raise their hand and subscribe to your content.
- Do they know you? Are you emailing them out of the blue and hitting them hard to buy what you sell? That’s no different from walking up to someone on the street and asking them to buy from you. The guy on the street doesn’t know you and probably thinks you’re…creepy. It’s just as off-putting in a person’s inbox. You can’t force someone into being your audience. You have to woo them into wanting to know you.
- Do they like you? They’ll never know if they like you unless you’ve done something interesting. Back to the person who approaches you on the street. If you hit them up to buy something, they probably won’t like you. You’re irritating. But if you’re doing something that’s fun, interesting and entertaining, you’ll get their attention. Think of the woman juggling knives at a street fair. Or the guy riding a 6-foot tall unicycle. You like them because they made them feel something…something that makes them feel good. How do you do the same with your content?
- Do they trust you? People are more skeptical than they used to be. And it takes different behavior to build trust. Pushing products doesn’t build trust. Consistently delivering content that’s interesting, entertaining and valuable does.
Once people know, like and trust you – because you’re consistently delivering value – that’s when they’re more likely to want more content from you. And that’s when it’s OK to ask them to subscribe. This group is now a targeted group of potential buyers who actually wants to hear from you. Now we’re back to the publishing scenario and how they build revenue. The same will work for your brand.
Lead generation is not subscription
You might say that you have a lead gen strategy, so you don’t need a subscriber base. They’re not the same thing.
Subscribers are people who voluntarily opt in to receive content from you. Ideally, that’s content that delivers value to them in their world on a regular basis. Think of emails, videos, podcasts, print magazines and so on. This is your opportunity to build deeper trust with your audience because you’re leading with value, not asking them to buy something.
Think of your subscriber base as the preamble to lead generation. As you build your subscriber base, you can dig deeper into what matters to them based on the content they engage with. This means that as you deliver valuable experiences, they’ll keep coming back for more. And as you watch what matters to them, you’ll find that by the time they get to the lead stage, you’ll know a lot more about them and they about you.
The value of subscribers
Your goal should always be to get people to subscribe to content that you publish on your own site. Why’s this? Because Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and every other sharing platform can go away. And when they do, your fans, subscribers, friends and everyone else goes with them. All the time, money and energy that you invest to build an audience on a platform that someone else owns is gone. If they own the platform, then, sorry to say, they own your audience, too.
So, why does this matter? Subscribers are 9 times more likely to convert to customers than nonsubscriber. In the B2B world, buyers engage with 20 pieces of content on average, and 90 percent of that comes through their inbox.
What does the subscription process look like?
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, building subscriptions works. Here’s some examples…
This outdoor brand definitely gets content marketing and also the need to building a subscription base. Visit their website and you’ll see a pop-up box that invites you to subscribe to their email list. What do you get? You’ll be the first to hear about outdoor gear, events and a coupon.
TD Ameritrade regularly delivers insights and updates on financial planning and investing ideas through email updates. They use a pop-up box on their home page when visitors have been on the site for about 30 seconds (you can set the pop-up box to appear after specific lengths of time).
They also have a button to click to subscribe to their publication The Ticker Tape. That brings up a different pop-up box that lets subscribers choose how often they want to receive alerts.
SAP Digitalist Magazine
SAP’s magazine delivers news on under-the-radar trends, profiles of disruptive companies and technologies and interviews with leading thinkers to its audience of business executives. Their copy in this subscriber box does a good job of positioning the content.
For those who choose not to subscribe, the Digitalist makes it easy for people who change their mind. Perhaps they’re in the midst of a great article, decide they do love the content and want to get it on a regular basis. They include a subscription box on the side of article pages.
Your next steps
Your goal should be to build a list of subscribers who know, like and trust you. But to do that, you need to make subscriptions a goal with the same weight as your other top priorities for content. Pick one persona on which you want to focus to build subscription and on one platform. That means if you’re going to put your emphasis on a blog, then decide what singe audience you’re targeting to build subscriptions.
Building a subscriber base doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you make it a priority. Think about how you can start small with one audience with the goal of building a bigger one. None of these examples had an audience, overnight. But over time, they do have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Can you say the same about your brand’s content?
Photo credit: Flickr user Stijn Bokhove
About Carla Johnson
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.
Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.
In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds - Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.
Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.