Permission, Revisited

We hear it a lot: “I need more subscribers.” Also, maybe, this slight variation: “I need my non-subscribers to be more like my subscribers.”

Shoot, if you’re reading this, you probably think some variation of this on a consistent bases.

And it may be true.

A growth plan may be built, in part, on some assumptions around payback period that banks on subscription delivering. If a business isn’t there, of course, it could be that execution is off. But it could also mean there are faulty assumptions that need to be revisited.

In a conversation this week, we talked with someone about the patience required to build toward subscription and, in doing so, realized we hadn’t hit on this topic in awhile. And while there are many ways to a discuss this “need,” one is fairly straightforward: it takes time.

As we’ve discussed before, customers require varying amounts of time to develop loyalty. Some get there fast, but many get there slowly. And, yet, for the most part, we expect loyalty early.

This is an unhealthy expectation.

Viewed through the lens of priming a subscription funnel, a customer’s trial and repeat purchase of a product isn’t just to determine whether that product fits into their routine—but also to figure out at how much it fits into their routine.

Both of these factors can play heavily into a subscription decision, and that may take time to understand.

It’s worth, then, surfacing this early newsletter, in which we explored the frequent disconnect between the brand and the customer.

From Permission:

Godin, again, this time in 2008:

“Subscriptions are an overt act of permission. That’s why home delivery newspaper readers are so valuable, and why magazine subscribers are worth more than newsstand ones.”

So: How’d we get here? How’d we get to subscriptions being used in the same sentence as dark patterns?

The answer, it seems, lies in that 2013 insight from Godin: “Marketers that have touched this asset have raced to push it too hard and too fast.”

While healthy subscription businesses have been the brass rings of CPG brands selling DTC, subscription is, simultaneously, a flawed solution to retention. We explored this idea in our proposal of a new phrase (re-acquisition) last month, but, critically, that flaw is spotted more readily in the permission process a consumer and a brand go through.

Consider: When a customer agrees to a subscription (be it a service, like a newspaper, or a product, like toothpaste) they do so with the expectation that there’s been consideration given to the frequency with which the subscription is delivered. 

With CPG subscriptions, though, brands have largely offloaded that consideration to their customers.

While that seems fine on its face, it’s problematic in that customers are rarely asked to make that decision for any subscription service. With that dynamic in play, a product subscription leaves a brand vulnerable to pushing “too hard and too fast” and losing the permission altogether.

Which brings us back to today’s thought: While “more” may be what you need, that is less likely to be solved by pushing for it sooner and more likely to be solved by understanding when, in fact, you’ve earned the permission to do so.