3 Ways to Say “Free” in Subscription Marketing

One of the biggest secrets to success in subscription marketing is leveraging the word "free" in your copy

subscription marketing

Unlike most other marketers, those in subscription marketing can sell the same product at different prices each time it’s purchased. Our customers buy a new subscription from us at one price, and then we can use a different price to get them to renew the first time. We might even use yet another price for the third and subsequent renewals – if we’ve hung on to them that long.

But one offer that almost all subscription publishers have in common is the “free” offer. We say it so much that consumers have a hard time believing us, and they no longer react impulsively when they see it.

However, giving away something for free is one of the best ways to start a relationship, and when it comes to selling products and offer testing, this strategy has proven to be a huge asset to the subscription marketing mix especially when the free product is assigned a value.

When you’re selling a subscription and membership, there are three great models of saying “free”:

30-day free trial…

This is the tried and true model, and it resembles the original magazine model that offers a free issue. When you’re selling a membership, instead of a free issue you can offer a 30-day free trial which gives subscribers access to everything for thirty days. But if you think this is the only way to say “free,” think again.

You’ve been gifted… 

Our publishing partner Prime Publishing is the originator of this strategy, and several other partners have since had similar success with it. An example comes from Yankee, who uses it to sell an all-access pass to their magazine. The subject line reads, “You’ve Been Gifted: 10 Years of Yankee Magazine”. The headline inside the email reads, “ACT FAST! Get 10 Years of Yankee Magazine Archives Free.” The copy explains that the reader can get 6 print issues, 6 digital-only issues, full digital access to 10 years of Yankee archives, and bonus issues only available online. They also receive on-demand streaming of Weekends with Yankee and more than 25 curated Special Collections as part of the archive offer. They click a big red “Unlock My Deal” button and are brought to a landing page where the full offer is revealed: 30 days of free trial access for all of the above.

Read our article on The 21 Best Email Subject Lines Proven to Increase Open Rates to see how we use this offer in subject lines, and the corresponding email framework.


Buy a membership and get all 11 for free…  

We’ve talked about Cabot Wealth Network’s Cabot Prime membership in the past, and it’s just one more way of saying “free”. At Cabot, investors can access all 16 of their advisory newsletters for one recurring monthly fee as part of their Cabot Prime Pro membership. What’s unique about the offer is how they position it by saying that when a subscriber pays for membership, they get all 16 advisories for “free.” As we know, they’re not “free”, they are included in the cost of membership, but it does sound appealing doesn’t it?

The power of the word “free” is undeniable, and you should use it when you can.

Direct marketing legend Herschell Gordon Lewis says in The Art of Writing Copy, “Unless the reader regards himself as the target of your message, benefit can’t exist. Benefit demands a ‘We/You’ relationship.” What is Mr. Lewis’s favorite copywriting power word? FREE.

To leverage the power of “free”, we use Six Sigma offer testing.

We use Six Sigma methods in subscription marketing to test a control against a number of variables. You test each variable against the control in order to declare a winner and this continues until all the variables have been tested.

Our favorite strategy for managing the complexity of a Six Sigma subscription marketing program revolves around coming up with a new offer each month and using that offer across all channels for all new business orders. Based on the variations available to any given publisher this process goes on forever, but always includes several high-performing offers that can be counted on for many months out of any given year. Test variables include pricing, term, language, and offer structure such as 30 days free. Publishers with web editions, web collections, and web libraries can make the most out of this program based on the huge number of variables they can test. Learn more about all the offers we use to test response rates.


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