7 ways to kill your subscription program

Today’s guest blog post is written by Amelia Northrup-Simpson, Director of Strategic Communications at TRG Arts.

Is the subscription dying? And if so, what’s killing it? Whether your own subscription program is healthy (some are!) or on life support, its future depends in part on your audience and in part on how your organization acts. With subscription renewal time on the horizon, let’s look at some of the ways that arts organizations can kill their subscription programs:

1. Delay announcing your season.
Give patrons the least amount of time possible to subscribe or renew their subscription. If your season starts in the fall, announcing in late spring or early summer should work. Patrons buy late anyway, so why does it matter? Don’t try to negotiate or advocate with your artistic leadership about your deadlines.

Do this instead: The more time you have to sell, the more you sell. Starting late is a sure-fire way to lose revenue. Early may not be the right time for every patron to buy, but it is right for some. If the artistic director is not ready to announce all the events in your season, compromise by sending your announcement with TBAs. Many longtime subscribers will renew even if they don’t have details on specific events or dates, because they trust your organization.

2. Treat first-timers like everyone else.
Throw your new subscribers from last year in the general renewal pool on their very first time going through the renewal process. You can save money by sending them the same appeals or the same number of appeals as longtime subscribers.

Do this instead: Target and customize messages to your patrons based on their prior level of commitment to your organization. Typically, first-time subscribers renew at much lower rates. It’s their first time going through the renewal process and they need special attention and orientation as to what’s happening. Invest the time and money in these new loyalists and they will continue to invest in you.

3. The more package and pricing choices, the better.
On your website and brochure, list every single subscription package you offer. More is better, because people will have the freedom to choose any option that they want. Any package that’s on your internal pricing table should be on your marketing materials.

Do this instead: If a patron has too many choices, it becomes an excuse not to buy. Patrons do want some choice, but listing every package you offer, cross-referenced with discount options, is too much to take in. Instead, limit the choices to either what is appropriate for that segment of patrons or a selection of options that makes it clear where the best value lies. And speaking of value…

4. Encourage patrons to commit to less.
Give every package equal representation in marketing materials. Price them so that they offer a similar discount value. Give patrons an incentive to buy the fewest number of events and not commit to anything. Encourage patrons to buy flex passes or choose-your-own subscriptions early in the campaign.

Do this instead: To encourage subscribership at your organization, you must price subscriptions so that patrons are rewarded for committing to fixed seats and for committing to more performances. The best value should be your largest fixed-seat subscription package, and you need to make it clear that this package offers the best value. A flex pass is good for only two things: upgrading to a larger, fixed package or as a stop-gap measure for retention.

5. Don’t let people renew or buy subscriptions when or where they want to.
People don’t buy tickets on mobile, so why would they want to buy a subscription there? Your money is better spent on that billboard campaign on which your board chair insists than on a responsive-designed sales pathway. Take subscription orders only by mail or by calling the box office from 9 to 5. If you send direct mail, don’t include the order form. Or don’t include a phone number on printed materials or your website.

Do this instead: Stop making it difficult for patrons to buy from you. Patrons do buy tickets on mobile and are beginning to expect that they can buy or renew a subscription on mobile, too. If people try to buy or renew on a mobile device but can’t, how much revenue are you losing? What if they can’t order online either? Don’t cut off avenues by which people may renew or buy.

6. Offer plenty of comps and discounts to non-subscribers.
Nothing will grow your subscriber base faster than seeing people who don’t subscribe get better deals than subscribers. Tickets for 50% off? Do it. Free? Even better.

Do this instead: Demand and loyalty are related. Use subscriptions as a way to give your most loyal patrons the best access to the best prices. Non-subscribers should never get better prices than subscribers, even for low-selling events. Doing so erodes the value of subscribing and market demand then begins to work against you.

7. Don’t believe in subscription.
Believe that patrons don’t want to commit to you. Believe that there’s no demand for your artistic product. Believe that you have to take extraordinary measures to get people to subscribe to your full series.

Do this instead: Everyone in your organization, from the executive director to marketing staff to box office staff (and yes, even development, house, and artistic staff), needs to value subscribers, who are among the most invested and loyal patrons you have. Even if some patrons don’t want to commit, you have loyal and devoted fans who will and do commit. If your organization doesn’t believe in subscription, your patrons won’t either.

Want to know more about rescuing and resuscitating subscriptions at your organization? TRG’s President & CEO Jill Robinson is hosting a webinar on the subject on Thursday, February 12 at 2:00 EST. Learn more here.

Amelia Northrup-SimpsonAmelia Northrup-Simpson is the Director of Strategic Communications at TRG Arts, a consulting firm which focuses on getting audience development and revenue results from loyalty, pricing, and data strategies. She serves as an editor and writer for the firm’s consulting and research analytics projects, presentations and webinars, case studies, and the TRG blog Analysis from TRG Arts.

Formerly of Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Arts Management and Technology (now AMTlab), Amelia wrote for the Technology in the Arts blog about social media, mobile, and other arts-related technologies, in addition to authoring white papers and research reports. Amelia holds a Masters of Arts Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Public Policy and Management. She teaches a graduate-level arts marketing class at University of Denver.

This blog post is cross-posted to Analysis from TRG Arts. Photo by ASJ8 via flickr.

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