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Subscriber engagement: An engaged user is a happy customer

Since the beginning of the digital era, engagement has become a common buzzword - that’s not to say engagement is only digital, of course - it can also occur through traditional communication channels such as in person meetings.

But what exactly do subscription businesses and thought-leaders mean when they talk about subscriber engagement? The short (and less helpful) answer is, it varies.

This blog post aims to demystify the buzzword and introduces some of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tactics both the FT and FT Strategies use to boost subscriber engagement levels.

What is subscriber engagement?

There are many definitions of subscriber engagement on the internet. The one thing they all have in common is this: engagement measures the amount of value that a subscriber is getting from your platform. Customer engagement can be strengthened, or weakened, with every interaction. Whether that’s reading an article, making a purchase, interacting with a journalist or writing a review, customer engagement increases, and thus becomes more mutually beneficial, the more closely a brand can connect with its customer’s preferences.

Ongoing interactions between customer and brand are clear signs of engagement. Website visits, quality reads, social media interactions or newsletter consumption are all evidence of an engaged user – and generally, an engaged user is a happy customer.

Why is engagement important?

Brands can often fall into the trap of becoming overly concerned with metrics such as acquisition, page views and conversions, which are clearly important, but it’s the moments in between that result in a greater lifetime value between your brand and the customer.

For subscription businesses, engagement acts as a “health check” as opposed to typical lagging metrics. Lagging metrics such as conversion and churn occur as a result of a period of high/low engagement. Lagging metrics do not give a business any time to react, whereas engagement itself acts as a predictor for these lagging metrics. This is the primary reason why engagement is so important – it enables the business to react in real time if there are signs of low engagement. The chart below demonstrates this in more detail:

Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies

How to effectively measure engagement?

The FT repurposed a retail metric, Recency Frequency Volume (RFV), and turned it into an effective way of scoring engagement.

Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies

It’s vitally important for a business to choose engagement metrics that are suitable for their offerings. For example, a subscription video on demand service may want to use a metric such as number of videos played with at least a 90% completion rate, whereas an online news publisher may focus on metrics such as unique visitors or sessions. Similarly, it’s just as important to correctly define the terms.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of definitions for some of the most common engagement metrics:

  • Unique visitors – a person who has visited the website at least once and is counted only once in the reporting time period
  • Sessions – the period of time a user is active on your site or app. By default, if a user is inactive for 30 minutes or more, any future activity is attributed to a new session. Users that leave your site and return within 30 minutes are counted as part of the original session
  • Pages per session – a top-level metric for user engagement showing the average number of pageviews in each session
  • Revenue per user – total revenue divided by the number of users shows the average amount generated for each user
  • Newsletter open rate – although email marketing can be difficult to measure engagement, newsletters are a useful option considering you can draw insight from open and click-through rates on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis

Tactics to boost engagement

A strong CRM programme is key to creating and sustaining the engagement that underpins subscriber loyalty as well as growing subscriber engagement at every point of their lifecycle.

Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies

Customer activation is also an important phase of the subscriber journey. Activation is the process of onboarding new trialists and subscribers as well as helping them to get immediate value from your product.

Onboarding tactics are designed to make new subscribers feel enthusiastic about their purchase and become aware of the features they are paying for and are provided to them, including their content recommendations, benefits and access to customer services they may require.

Habit formation happens most likely in the first 3 months. A strong activation programme will help to form new habits between business and consumer which ultimately leads to higher retention rates.

Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies

One simple and effective way to bring subscribers back to the website is through marketing consent – allowing users to customise their experience in a way that works for them.

Personalisation is also a key aspect of a successful campaign. The FT allows users to select curated content bundles as well as following specific journalists to reflect their interests. This is an effective way of creating an instantaneous personalised experience without the need to require any prior data from the customer. This makes it simple for FT customers to see the value in the product as well as create a smoother onboarding journey, which leads to higher retention rates.

Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies
Source: FT Strategies

Key learnings

  • Subscriber engagement measures the amount of value a customer is receiving from your platform
  • For subscription businesses, engagement can act as a “health check” that is used as a predictor for key metrics such as subscriber churn
  • Businesses should choose a sensible method for measuring engagement which works for them, it’s never a one size fits all approach
  • A strong CRM programme is critical to boost engagement levels – two examples of this are: 1. Tactical use of marketing consent, and 2. Personalisation

Next time, we will take a more in depth view at the subscriber lifecycle and continue to explore some of the approaches the FT and FT Strategies uses to boost subscriber engagement.

How FT Strategies can help

FT Strategies is a consultancy with access to financial thought leadership from one of the world’s leading business news organisations. We have first-hand experience helping clients worldwide define their purpose, create alternative revenue models and use data to deepen their relationships with, and understanding of, their customer base. Whether you’re a business looking to implement a refreshed subscription access model or you’re hoping to boost retention figures through higher engagement, FT Strategies is vastly experienced and would be delighted to help you along this journey.

If you want to learn more, feel free to reach out directly via [email protected]

About the authors

Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest
Sam Guest

Sam is a Consultant at FT Strategies. He has over three years of experience having worked in both consulting sales and delivery teams - with a focus on digital transformation. During his time at FT Strategies, Sam has become experienced in delivering customer engagement programmes which enable companies to build valuable recurring revenue relationships with their audiences and also future-proof their business.

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