Why Any Industry Can Be Disrupted By The Subscription Economy - Interview With Anne Janzer

8 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
September 15, 2016
Last updated: September 5, 2019
Why Any Industry Can Be Disrupted By The Subscription Economy  - Interview With Anne Janzer
Anne Janzer is a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies. She is author of the books The Writer’s Process, Getting Your Brain in Gear and Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customer in a World of Churn.


In your book Subscription Marketing you teach strategies for nurturing customers in a world of churn. Can you share the core principles of subscription marketing with our readers?

AJ: In a subscription business, marketing is just getting started at the point of conversion.

The subscription customer must decide, again and again, to remain a customer. To keep subscription customers renewing and reengaging, you have to provide genuine value and solve their problems. This requires a deep understanding of the customer.

Successful subscription marketing requires that marketers collaborate closely with other parts of the business, working on cross-functional teams with sales, customer success and support, and anyone involved in the ongoing customer relationship.

What's going to be the share of subscription economy in the future in your opinion? What businesses should be thinking about switching to this model now?

AJ: The subscription economy will continue to grow rapidly. Many trends are reinforcing this growth. For example, companies that participate in the Internet of Things (IoT) sell devices while maintaining long-term, data-driven relationships with customers.

Consumer retail is undergoing a subscription shift as well. If you’re not convinced of the value of retail subscriptions, check out Unilever’s billion-dollar acquisition of Dollar Shave Club.

If you think your industry cannot be disrupted by the subscription economy, you’re probably not thinking hard enough. I’ve heard of subscriptions for everything from ammunition to vacation homes to industrial chemicals.

If your business benefits from long-term customer relationships, consider exploring the subscription model. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition; perhaps you can add a subscription service to your portfolio, or use subscriptions to drive individual sales. Think of the Amazon Prime subscription as an example.

What tactics should marketers use in order to add value to their subscription offerings?

AJ: Shift your focus to the customer’s experience of value, not the value you can derive from the customer.

For example, can you help the customer get more from the offering? Collaborate with customer success teams to create effective, creative customer welcome or onboarding programs. Guide subscribers to the features or services that will give them the most value, or help customers realize the benefits they’re achieving through data and reports.

Find ways to add value beyond the offering, through related content, customer communities, or the ongoing customer relationship. Try to become one of those businesses that people want to be affiliated with. Understand and share customers’ core values. Tell a great story and help the customer be part of the story.

Your competitive advantage may live outside the product offering itself. Competitors might be able to copy your features and functions, but it’s much more difficult to replicate customer communities or relationships.

You wrote a blog post “Nine circles of subscription hell” that shows a dark side of the subscription economy. What shouldn’t our readers do if they want to implement a subscription model?

AJ: “Subscription hell” is that mythical place that disgruntled customers want to send companies who have annoyed, offended, or betrayed them. Most companies end up in subscription hell for one of two reasons:

  1. Evil intent
  2. Poor cross-functional execution
If you’re setting out with evil intent, such as tricking people to sign up for services they will never use, then you are fated to a short-lived business. Subscription success is built on long-term relationships, and those only happen when the customer realizes value.

But you can do something about poor execution – the missed hand-off between marketing or sales and support, or marketing messages that are misaligned with the reality of the customer experience. A minor operational minor glitch may seem like a major betrayal from the customer’s perspective. Cross-functional collaboration is essential in the subscription economy.

Which resources (books, podcasts) would you recommend to our readers who want to succeed in today’s business world?

AJ: As a writer, I’ll offer a few book recommendations, with a slant toward marketing.

  • Joe Pulizzi’s book Content Inc offers a game plan for building a business on the strength of subscription content.
  • Jonah Sachs’ Winning the Story Wars makes a strong case for marketing that empowers customers, rather than manufacturing a sense of lack.
  • Jay Baer’s Youtility describes the power of relentlessly helpful marketing.
These are all useful guides to marketing in today’s evolving subscription economy. (Subscription Marketing is pretty good, too.)

When it comes to marketing in the subscription economy, everyone is learning on the job, even the marketing gurus. There’s never been a better time to be in marketing if you want a chance to make a difference, creating value for your business and its customers.

Thank you for the interview.

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