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Subscription Marketing: Free Isn’t a Dirty Word in Offer Testing

Subscription offer testing is the highway to higher revenues and profits, but it does take a bit of elbow grease.

In digital marketing, you might have been told “free” is a dirty word. In subject lines, it could get you blacklisted (it won’t) or in social media, it’s over-used (free is still better than paid). 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 marketing mix especially when the free product is assigned a value.

Additionally, if you have a web magazine and archive, you have the opportunity to offer incredible value with a 30 or 60-day free trial, because you are offering the subscriber access to thousands of articles for what is absolutely zero cost to the publisher. Selling access is very different than selling print which allows us to really change the conversation with subscribers and we can emphasize the value of getting access to an archive, which often includes issues that have been sold out for years and unavailable in any other way.

Over the last year we’ve talked a lot about Six Sigma offer testing.

Six Sigma offer testing methods are used in direct 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. This can take place over the course of a month, or over the course of a year depending on how many variables you have to test.

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Many of our publishing partners are actively using Six Sigma testing in their email promotions. And as one of them attested to at our Annual Gold Member Summit—it’s a lot of work. It requires a skilled copywriter to come up with new subject lines and copy on an going basis. And to be honest, testing never really stops, however your revenues will improve as you will always be saving the best-performing promotions from week to week until you have a master set. And then, of course, you’ll start over again because the promotions will become exhausted.

So let’s say you’re ready to start Six Sigma testing with your promotional emails. You are setup to send one 3X per week. Which offer should you choose? In the past we shared 12 different offer types you can use in your Six Sigma rotation, but today I want to focus on the free offers, which might be:

  • First Issue Free
  • 30-Days Free
  • 14 Days Free
  • 10 Days Free

We use these because they all have different dynamics when it comes to urgency of user-access. For publishers with more in-depth, complex products, users will fare better with longer terms than with shorter ones.

In your copy language, you want to emote the idea that you’re so confident they’ll love the product that you’re willing to give it away for free. And you also want to tell them how much it’s worth so they understand the value of their free offer.

Here are five hypothetical examples of free Six Sigma offers, including the dynamics of how it works on your end.

  1. Billed Monthly: 30 Days Free All Access – Initial charge of $0 for 1 month of access, then start recurring charge of $8.91 on continuous 3 month terms.
  2. Billed Monthly: 30 Days Free then $2.49 Any Platform; $2.97 All Access  – After picking a service level (All Access for $2.97 or Web, Print or Tablet for $2.47) there’s an initial charge of $0 for 1 month of access, then start recurring charge of $7.47 or $8.91 on continuous 3 month terms.
  3. Billed Annually: 30 Days Free, then Basic Rate – Initial charge of $0 for 1 month of access, and then start recurring charge of either $19.99 (tablet), $24.99 (print), $29.99 (web) or $34.97 (all access) on continuous 12 month terms.
  4. Billed Annually: 30 Days Free, then Basic Rate All Access Only – Initial charge of $0 for 1 month of access, and then start recurring charge of $34.97 (all access) on continuous 12 month terms.
  5. Billed Annually: 30 Days Free, then Basic Rate Digital Combination Only – This one is recommended for international orders where print isn’t an option. Initial charge of $0 for 1 month of access, and then start recurring charge of $34.97 (digital combo which is tablet and web) on continuous 12 month terms.

So why do free offers tend to perform better than paid offers, like “1 year for $10” or “$0.99 your first month”?

Because they offer a low-friction, no-cost introduction to your product. And unlike a blow-in card where you might offer to send them a few issues for free without obligation, we’re savvy on the web. So, we don’t give away something for free without a credit card. This is for a few reasons:

  • If they don’t cough it up now, they are unlikely to come back and do it later.
  • If you have an order flow, you can capture their email address on the first page before they abandon on the second, and promote to them later.
  • People who enter their credit card order for a trial, usually convert to paid subscribers.

Of course you’ll never know what works until you test, so I encourage you to come up with at least 12 offers to test. We recommend testing for two weeks across all web and email sources or four weeks, and then analyze your results and move to the next offer. Twelve offers for most publishers could take up to a year, but I guarantee you’ll see an improvement in revenue for your efforts.

Over the past two decades, we’ve guided more than 300 niche publishers through the process of transforming themselves from legacy print publishers into multiplatform operations that often dominate their industry niche and generate operating margins that surpass those created by their legacy print business. Learn more about how we can help you apply these strategies to your publishing business by scheduling a FREE consultation today.

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