“Our research shows that 15 percent of online shoppers have signed up for one or more subscriptions to receive products on a recurring basis, frequently through monthly boxes… The subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100 percent a year over the past five years. The largest such retailers generated more than $2.6 billion in sales in 2016, up from a mere $57.0 million in 2011.”
Naturally, given the popularity of these types of services, using email for subscription models is a prime way to drive continued growth. The fact is that a2019 Data & Marketing report shows that email marketing generates an average ROI of 4,100 percent.
Therefore, when aiming to increase sales, using email for subscription model growth is an ideal strategy.
If you’re ready to learn how to best leverage email for subscription models, then get ready to take some notes.
But before we get to that, let’s understand the role email plays for subscription services.
Why Email for Subscription Models Is Essential
The fact of the matter is that email marketing is one of the most effective acquisition channels for eCommerce businesses. Through the utilization of emails, online retailers can nurture consumers and slowly turn them into subscribers.
Moreover, outside of the ROI generated by email marketing, email for subscription models is a critical tool for brands as it enables merchants to keep existing customers engaged and in the loop.
Unlike a standard eCommerce store,email marketing campaigns like abandoned cart communications and new inventory notifications are far less critical for subscription sellers as these are largely irrelevant.
Similarly, efforts such as cross-selling and back-in-stock emails are also largely immaterial due to the nature of the retailer’s business model. This makes using email for subscription models something of a unique challenge.
However, what is critical for those who leverage the recurring purchase model is keeping customers engaged. Consistent engagement is the crown jewel of email for subscription models as this marketing modality can be utilized to send customers relevant content offerings, obtain feedback, provide information on products they might receive and help curate product recommendations based on a subscriber’s preferences.
How to Utilize Email for Subscription Models
When it comes to using email marketing for eCommerce subscription businesses, there are several key objectives that sellers should be aiming for, including:
Engaging existing customers
Earning new customers
Transforming regular shoppers into subscribers
Reactivating dormant consumers
Harvesting information about subscribers
While many of the strategies discussed below will be specific to employing email for subscription models, some will apply to both standard eCommerce businesses and subscription services. After all, best practices are best practices for a reason.
Keep Current Subscribers Engaged
One of the keys to growing an eCommerce business is tofocus on customer retention. The reason for this is that acquiring a new customer is far more expensive than retaining existing ones.
Therefore, merchants who utilize email for subscription models must place a significant amount of their focus on keeping their existing audience engaged.
One way to achieve this is by sending out new content on a regular basis. For example, those who provide their email to doggie-oriented subscription serviceBarkBox will receive “discounts, content and more!”
The company’s blog,BarkPost (which the brand surely pulls from for its email marketing efforts), features tons of content that keeps its subscribers engaged, entertained and loaded up with piles of valuable information about dogs. For instance, some of the blogs featured on the site include:
What Causes Eye Boogers in Dogs?
Quiz: How Well Can You Read Your Dog?
21 Dogs Losing Their Borkin Minds That Prove BarkBox is the Best Gift for Doggos
Additionally, the company is also continually posting each month’s BarkBox theme reveal, thereby enticing blog readers, email subscribers and dogs alike.
However, awesome content isn’t the only way to keep existing subscribers engaged. Merchants can also use email for subscription models to offer upgrades such as family subscriptions, discount codes and special offers.
By sending out a variety of useful content, surprise promotions and similar offers to subscribers, retailers can effectively keep audiences engaged and keep churn rates low.
Create Cliffhanger Subject Lines
Another key to maintaining high levels of engagement with email communications is to pique the recipient’s curiosity by creating cliffhanger subject lines.
By withholding information about the email from readers, it will drive them to want to learn more, thereby helping toincrease email open rates and get them to check out what’s inside.
Some examples of cliffhanger email titles might be:
“The secret to a delicious dinner is…”
“Time is running out…”
“A better morning starts with these two things.”
Because each of these subject lines leaves a question in the recipient’s mind, it compels them to open the email and see what merchants have sent.
Moreover, the cliffhanger technique tends to result in shorter email titles. This is vital given thatstudies on email open ratesshow that nearly 62 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices.
Therefore, sellers don’t have a lot of room to reel in readers. By keeping subject lines concise, merchants can use email for subscription models more effectively as consumers using small screen devices will be able to see the entire subject line.
However, it is worth noting that the cliffhanger technique should not be overused as it can end up annoying subscribers. This means that merchants will continually need to flex their creative muscles to keep things exciting and enticing.
However, the subject line isn’t the only way to grab a customer’s attention.
Think of the preview text like the subheading of a blog. While the subject line will catch a user’s eye, the preview text can really start to get them excited to check out the communication’s contents.
Typically, sellers will have roughly 50 to 100 characters to work with, but this figure depends on the device that the user accesses the email on and the service they are using (Gmail, Outlook, etc.).
While most marketers tend to invest all their energy in crafting the best subject line they can, many end up neglecting the preview text altogether.
The truth is that the preview text of the email provides greater context to the subject line and is a highly effective tool for increasing clicks and, thus, conversions.
Produce Polished Email Designs
Part of producing an engaging email for subscription models is ensuring that it is aesthetically appealing.
The bottom line is that if an email is poorly formatted, uses subpar imagery or is just downright ugly, consumers won’t want to engage with the communication.
Therefore, producing clear, crisp and charming emails is vital to arresting the recipient’s attention.
Additionally, as has been mentioned in the previous sections, it is essential to ensure that emails are optimized for mobile. By utilizing an eCommerce email marketing automation solution likeOmnisend, retailers can be sure that their emails will always be optimized, regardless of the device on which they are accessed.
Aim to Acquire New Customers
As with every company, generating new customers is critical to business growth. Given the intimate nature of email marketing, this is the perfect avenue to convert the curious into new customers.
Since the business likely has a sizable number of email addresses from individuals who have not yet made a purchase (earned through lead magnets, newsletter updates, special offers and the like), the brand can begin to introduce folks to the finer points of the subscription service in an enticing manner.
Additionally, retailers can use email marketing to provide consumers with exclusive offers that will convince them to convert. For instance, by providing folks with a discount code for a percentage off their first month, retailers can successfully convert a portion of this audience segment.
If that doesn’t work, merchants might consider implementing a free trial, giving new subscribers their first delivery on the house. Assuming that the brand provides customers with top-notch products and customer service, this could be an excellent hook to generate a long-term source of revenue.
Transform Customers into Subscribers
As far as using email for subscription models is concerned, this is an ideal communication method for transforming average customers into subscribers.
The fact is that many eCommerce subscription services are not subscription-only. For instance, the Japanese snack subscription box provider,Bokksu, allows customers to purchase tasty treats a la carte.
Through this strategy, Bokksu can enable first-timers to test out different snacks, collecting their email address in the process. Once a shopper has made a purchase or two and realizes that the company offers high-quality products, they are far more likely to subscribe to the service than those who have never tried the brand.
After the initial transaction(s), the company can proceed to utilize email marketing to illustrate the benefits of the company’s subscription service, highlight its unique value proposition, showcase positive reviews from current subscribers and utilize other tactics that can convert customers into subscribers.
Additionally, since the business already has knowledge of the shopper’s preferences, the brand can personalize the emails, thereby increasing the likelihood of earning a new devotee.
Once sellers do get product buyers to become full-fledged subscribers, it is necessary to send out an email series that lets customers know what they can expect and allow them to start engaging with the brand.
Without a structured onboarding process, retention rates for subscriptions will be significantly lower than if the company walks new customers through expectations, benefits, delivery schedules and other vital details.
Uncover Customer Preferences
One of the most useful ways to use email for subscription models is to leverage the list of customers toconduct eCommerce market research that will help the business grow.
While it is crucial that online retailers collect information on their customers’ preferences and opinions, it is especially vital for subscription services, as this is how they can improve their services to keep churn rates low and new signups high.
Retailers can harvest the necessary information from their audience in a multitude of ways. For instance, when sending out monthly receipts, sellers can attach a short questionnaire about the customer’s lifestyle, preferences, experience with the brand thus far and similarly essential data to better personalize the service.
Alternatively, subscription service providers can send out dedicated (short) email surveys asking customers for the information outlined above with the explicit purpose of improving subscription customization.
Given that customers stand to benefit from filling out the poll, it is likely that merchants will receive a good number of responses.
That said, the number of lost subscribers only highlights the importance of continually engaging subscribers, collecting feedback, enhancing personalization options and similar retention strategies.
However, despite this stat, retailers shouldn’t merely give up on those who do decide to cancel their subscription. Instead, retailers who use email marketing for their subscription service should seek to reactivate these customers.
Much likereducing cart abandonment via email, customer reactivation emails are one of the single most effective users of email for subscription models.
Unless a customer has unsubscribed from the company’s mailing list or has explicitly stated that they don’t want to be contacted in the future, retailers should attempt to re-engage these folks with enticing offers.
For instance, retailers can send a “We Miss You” email campaign that extends former subscribers a percent off discount to win them back. Moreover, sellers might consider making the discount a limited time offer to add urgency to the mix.
The bottom line here is that reactivation campaigns are one of the most effective tools for those who leverage email for subscription models.
A/B Test Emails Often
As with any marketing endeavor, split testing is one of the best ways for merchants to improve their email efforts. The more retailers commit themselves to experimenting, the more patterns of effectiveness they will be able to pinpoint.
That said, it is necessary to only test one or two elements at a time to determine which changes drive positive results.
Using email for subscription models presents retailers with unique challenges and opportunities. While mirroring some of the strategies utilized in standard eCommerce email marketing campaigns can be effective (to an extent), sellers will have to establish procedures catered to this specific business model.
Through continually engaging subscribers with content and special offers, providing social proof for the service and harvesting customer information to continuously improve personalization efforts, merchants can begin to craft a practical approach to email marketing for subscription boxes.
That said, carrying out this tactic on a long-term basis can be quite tricky for those who are not highly skilled in the area of email marketing.
Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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