Marketing for the Perpetual Sale


What do socks, industrial chemicals, and Emmy-award winning television programming have in common?

They’re all available by subscription. Foot Cardigan (among several subscription sock contenders), Dow Chemical, and Netflix are all rocking the subscription model.

Subscriptions are working their way into many industries as businesses realize the financial benefits of recurring revenue streams. Some subscriptions replace traditional business models, such as cloud computing eating into packaged software sales. Subscriptions also complement or enhance existing models. Amazon Prime is highly effective at increasing traditional sales on Amazon.

Subscriptions change how and when people buy from a business. The subscription customer must decide, repeatedly, to remain a customer. Revenues come not from the one-time sale, but from the ongoing loyalty of the customer. These facts have major implications for marketing.

Marketing in the Subscription Economy

Some marketing practices don’t work well in the subscription model and may need to be abandoned. For example:

  • Insufficiency marketing: Marketing through fear and insufficiency may spur a one-time sale, but these tactics are less effective at maintaining a relationship over time. If you’re promising that someone will be sexier, richer, or healthier by becoming a subscriber, you’d better be able to deliver.
  • Relying on existing market dominance: If you’ve been in technology for a while, you may remember the “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” concept. That strategy doesn’t apply in today’s fast-moving markets. Market dominance is an advantage that can disappear quickly, particularly if subscriptions make it easier for customers to switch.

More often, marketing organizations need to shift their focus from simply getting more leads to nurturing customers beyond the sale. If existing customers are responsible for most of your revenues going forward, then they should be a central to your marketing strategies.

Value: The Key to Long-Term Relationships

You’re only getting started marketing when the subscription customer signs up.

Before the sale, the marketing organization sets customer expectations for the value that they will achieve through a subscription. It only makes sense that marketing be responsible for following through on those expectations.

Beyond generating and nurturing leads, marketers need to devote efforts to nurturing existing customers. And the best strategy for keeping customers loyal is to help them realize value in being a customer.

Value is a complex concept; marketers can nurture customer value in many ways.

For example, help customers to be successful with your solution. Technology marketers might work with customer success teams and others to get customers using the subscription right away. Marketing might create videos that help new customers learn to use the solution.

Or you can help customers understand the value they get from the subscription, often by doing the math for them. Tell them how many dollars they have saved or reports they have run. You may have data to help quantify the actual value.

Another approach is to add value outside the solution itself. Marketing organizations can do this by creating communities and sharing content. They can add value to the customer relationship, using advocacy programs and customer collaboration to bring customers closer.

Finally – and this is a powerful strategy – subscription businesses can align with their customers’ deeper values. If your business has a compelling story and is committed to its values, you can earn a closer relationship with like-minded customers.

Interested in Subscription Marketing Strategies?

What better way to explore subscription marketing than through a subscription? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter on the topic. Sign up here.

Or, if you want to dive a little deeper into the marketing strategies, check out my book, Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn.

Photo credit: Zak Suhar, from

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