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Why Digital Services and Subscription Businesses Need A Promotional Holiday Retail Strategy

Black Friday is coming.

Yeah, you have to think about it now. Because it’s when everyone is shopping. For everything. Wallets are open.

It’s the time of year when you look at a bunch of deals and go buy stuff for your family and friends (and you) because of the deals! And everyone does it: Some type of shopping for gifts. At home or out and about, the Friday after Thanksgiving (and even now earlier with Thanksgiving) is the kickoff to the rush to get Christmas shopping done. Traditionally and expectedly, everyone things about what physical products they can get, but I think there’s an incredible missed opportunity for service and subscription businesses that needs to be taken advantage of around the holiday shopping window.

Last year, I was doing my 3am shopping on Black Friday and started thinking, “Hey, I wonder if any of these things I subscribe to have any deals.” So started going around, first with some fitness apps, streaming subscriptions, Evernote and then with a few other apps and services I pay monthly for. Interestingly not a one had an offering or deal or promo for Black Friday. In fact, there was zero recognition on any of these service or subscription sites that there was any seasonal event happening. Evernote bummed me out because they had nothing — for new customers or existing. Nothing. Like it was just another Friday.

But Black Friday is the most significant purchase period for a household. You need to be out there in a big way because everyone IS shopping. Not just for others — but for themselves. It’s the new era of loving others and oneself: The Giving/Getting. It is the one time people ignore their budget if they find a good deal. And even further, people use this time as a stock piling period for annual purchases…if the price is right.

I buy everything on Black Friday and get all my Christmas shopping done in about 3 hours. And everytime, I pick up a few more items myself — for now or under the tree. How convenient.

If everyone is shopping for someone, don’t you want it to be what you have to offer?

If everyone is also shopping for themselves, you want a share of their wallet.

So how do you take advantage?

Acknowledge the seasonality. This is the biggest time for shopping — the next three weeks, all gloves are off for purchases in every category.

Promote yourself no matter what. Deal or no deal? Deals obviously work better, especially if you never deal. But even without a deal, making your service or subscription available and extremely visible so it’s in the line of site of an open wallet, and that could be enough. You want a share of that wallet.

Because while the focus is been in physical products, there’s a huge advantage to be made for subscription and service businesses.

As a service or subscription business, you have two goals during this period:

  1. Get prospects who have been hesitant and move them to purchase

  2. Get current customers to lock-in for as long as possible (and profitable)

First, let’s talk about new customers.

How do you get them over the hurdle? If you have the major pain points or hangups on why they hesitate, now is the time to break through. See if you need to shorten your term, lengthen your term for the same price, offer a free trial, offer a longer free trial, bundle and discount, unbundle and discount, etc. Lots of options. If you are confident in your product, offer a trial and then offer a follow-up discount to sign up as a loyalty continuation.

Of course you don’t want to discount beyond your margin and this needs to be smart, so have a few offers handy to test or go with a single one that you promote everywhere so you can’t miss it.

Next, let’s talk about existing customers.

I think you have two solid approaches here.

The first one is a current customer referral program. Word of mouth from happy current customers can help prospects get over the hurdle (see above). Or it may be the first time they are hearing about you in a non-media way. Sharing referrals to give something (to prospect) and get something (for the current customer) continues the magical mix of giving/getting of the holidays. Make it easy with gift card plus-ups (think about places that offer a $10 gift card when you purchase one for $50 — that $10 gift card is for you!) or tagging extra time into their current plan.

The second one is offering extensions. This can be a version of the new customer offers mentioned earlier but intended to create customer lock-in for longer time. Get them to re-up while they have their wallet out for everything else. All the same offers for prospects can apply here and push a current customer past their average subscription window. And that’s what you really want.

This needs to be efficient but we know it’s cheaper to keep a current customer than to go get a new one.

If Evernote had a current customer extension offer, I would have grabbed it in two seconds, even if a free 3 months or add 12-months for the price of 10 months. Instead, since they had nothing, I’m no longer a paying customer. I found it irritating that they would ignore their current users without a loyalty offer benefit and moved to the Free version (where I’m drafting this blog post).

In closing, analysts will say it’s dying, but Black Friday is less an actual day and more a time period starting with Thanksgiving Week through Christmas that the majority of household spending moves into the marketplace. If you are a service, an app, a paid subscription, personal training, or some other type of recurring model, pay attention and focus on your offers for Black Friday and the entire period through Christmas where you could create a massive customer lock-in through next Black Friday for your current customers. And find a ton of new customers courtesy of your loyal base through rewarding both groups with thoughtful offers.

Because everyone is shopping, not just for products. And they should be buying again from you.

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