Technology

Subscription Strategy: Why a Monthly Service Could Be a Savvy Play

By / Jan 16, 2018 (Elenathewise/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Your organization may emphasize yearly membership, but a huge amount of consumer interest is currently focused on monthly, often digital, subscription services. Could your association bring its best membership ideas to a new model?

How many things do you subscribe to? Have you actually written it down?

Certainly, I could name a few things that I embrace wholeheartedly, like Blue Bottle’s monthly coffee deliveries and the content creators I support on Patreon. Obviously, Hulu and Netflix are on the list. I’ve given money to big services, like Dropbox, and small ones, like Setapp, which I wrote about last summer.

But putting the math together, suddenly the numbers might seem pretty stark. Every month, I (and probably a lot of other people) pay a good chunk of money just to use service-based platforms as a part of my daily life. Recently, the tech startup Instamotor put a number to this: Nearly 1 in 10 young adults spends at least $200 monthly on subscription services. (The survey was meant to point out that if millennials spent that money on buying a car instead, it would be totally doable.)

And more subscription services are emerging by the day. Monthly clubs exist for vinyl records, socks, and big and tall clothing. And, of course, software as a service has become a fact of life. Last week, the Denver Post revealed that it’s putting up a strict paywall for readers, showing that even legacy subscription providers think now’s the time to tighten the reins.

Your wallet might feel a little lighter if you use some of these services, but many succeed for a reason—they offer value to their customers. While you might question whether you’re getting your money’s worth when you look at your full subscription list and tally the bill, I’d suggest that the odds are pretty good that you’d find it hard to get rid of most of ‘em—because they’re highly optimized for value.

There’s a case to be made that, from a business standpoint, now’s a great time to consider experimenting with a service of some kind, one with a monthly subscription fee, because of the current consumer interest in these models. It may or may not be a technology-based service—though these are quite popular—but it will definitely be informed and enabled by technology, as most cutomers would be dealing with you via a website or an app.

Such services don’t necessarily have to compete with your membership model. They could be based on a busienss-to-consumer model, offering services to a larger market beyond your members. They might even prove useful for promoting what your industry does.

And while many subscription services deliver media content—according to a 2016 report from Widmeyer Communications [PDF], video-on-demand services were the most popular subscriptions—there’s no reason to limit yourself to that line of thinking. In fact, there are plenty of important niches, from lifestyle to education to financial services, that could showcase interesting aspects of your industry. In fact, you might even be able to work with people within your industry to highlight their services.

Associations, because of their long history and experience with membership models, would be in a good place to experiment in this space. This approach would fall into the nondues revenue category, but you would likely use marketing tactics similar to the ones you use to promote membership.

There is also a case to be made from a data standpoint: A strategy like this could work like consumer research, giving you an idea of what the public is into by putting it in front of them. That could make it something that benefits the industry as a whole, not just your organization.

This is the approach that big-name retailers like Old Navy and JCPenney are trying, having launched their own subscription services in recent months. (JCPenney, for example, is teaming with the subscription service Bombfell to serve its big and tall customers. As a a result, they might end up better understanding a difficult-to-serve niche.)

Often in this space I write about ways that associations can dip their toes into new ideas, to create a path forward for innovation, to aim for a small scale before making a big play. A model like this, if treated like a small-scale skunkworks rather than a massive launch, could prove a way to better understand your industry.

Associations take great pains to serve and understand the audiences they’ve been supporting for generations. What if you used those same tactics to serve a brand-new audience, considering that technology makes doing that a lot easier?

It might just teach you something new about the members you currently serve.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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