As many publishers launched their first forays into subscriptions over the past few years, monikers such as “plus” and “extra” quickly emerged as default naming conventions for paid, content-based products.
TechCrunch rebranded its membership offering from “Extra Crunch” to “TechCrunch+” this week, for example.
But as subscriptions become more central to many publishers’ business models (and audiences become more accustomed to paying for them) there’s a growing argument that publishers might be selling their subscription products short by positioning them as “add-ons” or optional extras, and implying they’re applicable only to a minority segment of their audiences.
As their subscription businesses mature, publishers should think carefully about the messaging they use around subscription and membership, and whether they might be better served positioning it as a more fundamental part of their value and offerings.
For many, the narrative of a subscription unlocking an additional layer of access might be flipped to instead emphasize that the lack of a subscription will result in an inferior or less-valuable experience. It’s a subtle shift, but a potentially powerful one for the way audiences gauge and perceive the value of publishers’ subscription products.
The “plus” convention (and the ilk) gained traction for good reason:
- It offered a marketing hook and product narrative that a subscription will open up additional access, offer deeper analysis or otherwise unlock more value for the subscriber.
- It served as an easy and commonly understood shorthand for a paid subscription when the notion of paying for access to content online was still relatively new: If a reader was familiar with a “plus” product from publisher A, chances are they’d quickly understand a similar product from publisher B.
- It gave publishers room to maneuver. Many were (and still are) dipping a toe in the water with subscriptions, and are understandably wary of overemphasizing or over-committing to subscription products. Delineating subscription products from their core output reduces the risk of confusing or alienating audiences, and makes it easier to wind down or deemphasize those products if the model isn’t working.
Finally, publishers often have a habit of letting competitors — in addition to their own internal structures and politics — dictate decisions on product names and positioning, rather than the best interests of their own audiences, products and businesses.
An evolving approach
As subscription products move beyond the experimental phase to become a more permanent and meaningful part of publishers’ businesses, a growing number will likely reconsider product names that distance their paid products from their core output.
Language such as “extra” and “plus” could give way to more generic branding, while some publishers might do away with sub-brands for their subscription offerings altogether, opting to simply market subscriptions or memberships directly to their core brands. (The exception is perhaps the “pro” moniker that’s now commonly used by B2B publishers, and continues to work well in instances where subscriptions are commonly expensed or paid for by companies rather than individuals.)
A host of high-profile subscription publishers take this approach already, of course, offering audiences various ways to access and sample their content outside of their paywalls, and operating robust advertising businesses fueled by non-subscribers alongside their subscription efforts. Subscription publishers might also learn from the lessons of SaaS companies who often market “light” or “basic” versions of their products as their default tiers, therefore avoiding the implication that their premium options are only applicable for power users or edge cases.
“Plus” branding for publishers’ subscription efforts isn’t going away any time soon, and it remains an attractive option for many publishers for the reasons outlined above. But those publishers looking to make subscriptions a more central part of their business — and communicate that to their audiences and readerships — should think carefully if branding is working to their advantage, or holding their subscription products back.