Dose #96: The Art & Science of Subscriptions (Part 1)

Focus on the magic first to grow subscriptions

Matt here with your weekly Subscription Prescription đź’Š

This week’s dose is special because it’s coming in two parts: the Art & Science of building an incredible subscription program. In part 1, we focus on the art and why it is so critical to crafting great subscriptions. From the offer and purchase experience to upsells, onboarding, and unboxing, this dose will bring you back to the most important part of a great subscription: creating magic.

Have you ever thought about where you and your team could find subscription training? Something that equips you with the tools you need, answers your questions, and empower you to tackle your subscription challenges?

Then don’t miss out on our new workshop series, The Art & Science of Subscriptions.

Join us later this month!

We’re hosting eight sessions over the next several months, covering topics like:

  • Creative and Ads

  • Subscriptions offer - what to sell and how

  • Product page design

  • Fighting churn and building retention

All are geared towards helping you grow subscriptions. Each session will start with training and end with a group discussion. Come armed with questions or just be ready to learn.

Join live or access past workshops on-demand. Access the workshop here:

Prefer to listen or watch? This week’s newsletter is available via YouTube or podcast. Get more in-depth with 30 minutes of discussing the Art of Subscriptions.

Knowing what to focus on when building a subscription brand can feel both confusing and overwhelming. If you’ve followed me long or anyone else in the subscription space, then you’ve heard about all the things you can test.

Optimize. Iterate. Expand.

But when trying to figure out growth, all the things you can test or improve feel overwhelming. What do you focus on?

This week’s dose is all about understanding the difference between what you build and what you test. Call it the art and science of subscriptions.

The art is what makes a subscription special. Unique. Magical.

The science is what you test. Iterations. Tweaks to extract another 1% of value.

This is a two-part dose, and this week, we start with the Art. That’s because the art will be the most fundamental piece of your subscription program.

In fact, most brands should worry less about all the percentages and instead focus on what value you give. What you make easier. What you make special for subscribers.

The Art Starts with How We Buy

Most subscription offers are one-time, or you subscribe and save for X percentage off. A discount gives you predictable revenue - a subscription. But there is no art here, just hope.

Let’s do better by thinking through some of the ways we can improve how people buy and interact with subscriptions.

One simple way is positioning value. Battlbox does this by showing different tiers you can subscribe to, in such a way that the premium option actually looks like the best deal.

You can do this too - don’t just make a subscription a discount. Include other items or perks to make it more valuable.

Another simple way is with a starter kit. You can offer a subscription that includes multiple items, like a tea set for matcha or a workout set for protein powder. Starter kits eliminate choice paralysis.

The opposite of starter kits is the build a bundle. Subscribers choose all the items that go into their box. There is more choice. Control. Many people want to pick exactly what they’re getting each month.

You can also use quizzes to lead people to the option that is best for them.

All of this is about art - what makes the most sense for your (potential) subscribers? Do you need to eliminate choice - starter kit - or give them more control? What else can you include that is more valuable than a discount?

Any subscription brand should stay here, repeatedly, working on how to improve the experience. This impacts retention greatly.

Upsells, Post-Purchase, and Onboarding

This process can feel overwhelming, but I suggest keeping it simple. A brand I work with saw an immediate impact, turning off the automated upsell options and focusing on a few items they thought would be valuable.

Keep the upsells direct and to the point. In time, you can test them, but for now, just think through what customers would appreciate the most with their orders.

For post-purchase surveys, you can still ask about attribution. But ask more questions about what people want, need, are excited about, and have tried before… do everything you can to understand the consumers that are choosing to buy from you.

This information gives you the insights you need to build a better offer and experience.

Regarding onboarding, I see this as a missed opportunity for most brands. They don’t send many - if any - emails in the first ten days of a customer subscribing. Think of it as an opportunity to share all your information about the product. How to use it, how it was made, what makes it special, how it can help… don’t sell. Just give it here.

You can improve the perceived value and the chance of someone having an initial positive experience - both strongly linked to higher retention over time.

Unboxing and Making an Immediate Impact

SaaS products obsess over getting you to a quick win. When you sign up for a new tool, they want you to find success with it right away. That small step can drastically improve your adoption of the tool and use of paid features.

D2C subscriptions need to obsess over the same thing. If your product doesn’t provide an immediate impact (for example, a vitamin), you can still make a moment of excitement. An insert can outline the benefits and the time to realize them. Excite them with some UGC.

Make that first interaction impactful. Don’t worry about the AOV or LTV here - how do you make someone love your product the first time they try it?

Retention as an Art Form

It is so easy to overthink retention tactics—discounts, offers at Month 2 to boost renewals to Month 3… but my biggest piece of advice for retention is to look above and see all the places art is necessary on a subscription.

Focus on making quick wins.

Focus on a great offer.

Focus on a great purchase and subscription management experience (apps make this easier for you).

Strong retention follows when you listen to customers and build for them. If not, you may need to switch up your product or marketing approach.

Remember that top cancelation reasons like “too much product” or “too expensive” can be tied back to people not using it or not seeing enough value.

You can only fix those issues with the art of subscriptions.

The Science of Subscriptions

Next week’s dose is all about the science! What you can test and how. Remember that for most brands—especially those under 10,000 subscribers—you need to focus on the offer—the art. The science will help, but trying to offer more value and onboard customers has the biggest impact.

That’s it for this week’s dose! Be sure to tune in next week when we wrap up the Art and Science of Subscriptions with part two. Dose #97 is out next Tuesday.

 - Matt Holman 🩺

The Subscription Doc