There was an excellent 2-part feature in the Media Briefing recently about how more and more publishers were looking to develop membership services as a means to engender loyalty and better retain customers.
The most well-known of these the ’Times+ Membership’ has supposedly managed to reduce subscription churn by 40%. I’m quite familiar with a number of these services as I am a proxy member through either mobile app, web or Sunday papers subscription. I get regular offers from Times+, most typically to movie premières or previews, but also holiday specials and other aspirational events, wine clubs etc...
In all of my cases, my membership came about as a perk of my various subscriptions. These are nice extras, which make you feel warm about your choice of news delivery service, but for me the core service came first in these instants. It’s interesting to see that The Daily Telegraph’s member service is only open to print or tablet subscribers, but not those paying £8 a month to access their website. They run the same risk as the Royal Opera House - whose older clientèle are simply dying off, it seems slightly short-sighted not to appeal to those who are most likely to be your core customers in later years.
As an interesting parallel, I used to be a Vodafone customer, but switched to O2 when Vodafone kept dragging its heals on iPhone adoption. Based on my lifestyle - the two obvious choices of carriers were the then Orange service - with its 2-for-1 cinema ticket offers, and O2 with all its music venues and priority access to those key events. As music is such a core element in my life, I went with O2, although in real terms I probably haven’t used those perks as much as I should have. I have a number of O2 apps on my phone which give me regular discounts and notice of exclusive offers - but the offers are really very broad and often not applicable to me.
At university when I signed up for my first bank account - I had two principal criteria in mind - who offered the best bribe obviously, and which brand image I felt the most comfortable with. I opted for Lloyds Bank then, which 25 years later betrayed my loyalty by unceremoniously dumping my account into the forcibly created TSB off-shoot - a banking brand which is still finding its feet, and has so far invested the smallest amount into creating any kind of discernible personality - it is quite obvious to me that TSB is a lower-grade off-shoot of Lloyds - you just need to compare quality of literature and branch décor to figure that out. It’s hard to trust any bank these days, If I were forced to switch of my own volition I fear I may not be able to decide which choice would be the least bad. Banks these days seem to be similar to budget airlines in that they’re not really looking to service you, but rather fleece you with dubious extra charges and often suspect products and services.
The Briefing Media lists 4 key reasons for providing a membership service:
At some stage readers may be making loyalty decisions based on which membership service offers the best perks over who is delivering the best core service. In a similar fashion that my decision for O2 was swayed by its perks to a degree, some customers will undoubtedly be making decisions with like criteria in mind.
I believe that professional publications have the best potential in member services, as they can wholly take over a vertical or niche industry and provide those professionals with every service and perk that they need to match their career aspirations and desired lifestyle. I recall working with a former partner agency who specialised in medical congresses and symposia - high level doctors were considered a prime target audience by most luxury brands - who often chose those medical meet-ups to launch new executive saloons, health club memberships and the like.
The disadvantage that newspapers face is that their remit is overly broad. They are vulnerable to niche-players who service a particular sector or vertical more diligently and in more depth. A specialist usually has an advantage over generalists - O2’s quite specific music focus was highly persuasive versus Vodafone’s broader sponsorship of a variety of disciplines and events.
The holy grail of membership services must be to find the right niche where you can provide the full spectrum of services and maximize your revenue. In the long-term, readers will be weighing up all the associated services with the core offerings, to decide on which news organisation is the best fit to provide for their specific lifestyle needs.