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Benchmark: how 3 successful British publishers are onboarding subscribers

Getting users to buy into your product is great, but sustainable growth isn't achievable until you master , something that starts from the moment a reader finishes the process. It's at this point that a well-researched, continuously-tested journey, in the minutes, hours and weeks following subscription, is essential.

Not only is this journey about welcoming your new subscriber and making them feel valued, but about driving customer value, making sure they understand and make use of the potential value offered by your product. I.e. ensuring a high Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV).

To achieve this, the first step is to identify which actions separate retained customers from lost ones – “aha moments” as many companies have called it following Facebook's famous “aha moment” of getting new users to add 7 friends in 10 days.

For digital , these “aha moments” are often linked to newsletter sign up, app downloads, high frequency of visits to the website, activation of key ‘subscriber-only' features, activating push notifications, etc. But, of course, this ultimately depends on the publisher's unique context. Research, testing & learning is needed to find the highest value “moments” that increase CLTV.

To support you in building the optimal onboarding journey, both on and off site, we've analyzed 3 successful British digital publishers to share their chosen “aha moments” and inspire your own efforts:

The Economist

The Telegraph

The Times & Sunday Times

General best practices that are common across the 3 examples:

  • Communicate how many onboarding steps the user will be led through (“step 1 out of 3”)
  • The trend here seems to be 3 steps on-site, followed by some guidance on how to navigate the new subscriber's account space and an activation experience consisting of a collection of emails spread out across the following days and weeks
  • The possibility to “Skip this step“. Leaving the user the freedom to choose whether to activate the onboarding step or not is essential
  • “Newsletter sign up” step. Single-click subscription, variety of newsletter options (which not only increase engagement by allowing the user to select the editions that match their interest but also proves the value of your subscription product), value proposition for each edition, highlight when a reader will receive it (daily, weekly, etc)
  • “App download” step. Clearly outline why the user should activate this step (what value do they gain?), consider how you can make this step simple for the subscriber – here we see examples of a QR code or being texted the link (although maybe phone number isn't a data point that users are too willing to give away)
  • Studying these onboarding journeys, it's clear that a key ‘aha moment' for high retention includes a subscriber downloading the app & signing up to newsletters. A lot of focus has been placed on this across the 3 examples.
  • Consider the experience on desktop vs mobile. The app download step on The Times highlights this as the QR code is very useful if a reader is on desktop, but redundant if they're already on their phone. Hence the need for the links too
  • “Proof of concept” step: your chance to show and deliver the unique value that you offer in your subscription product

As Katja Trost, Teamlead Customer Retention at Die Presse recently said to me, “In the end it's similar to building a long lasting relationship in real life. It's about building trust, getting to know each other better, developing common habits and valuing each other.”


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