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  • Writer's pictureMadeleine Milne

Leaky buckets - Why subscription offerings need to rethink their engagement strategies. Fast.

What’s not to like about a subscription business? Your customers pay you a recurring fee in advance for a service or product. Nice. And handy for accurate forecasting, business resilience and general stability. It’s such an attractive formula that the subscription economy grew by over 300% between 2013 and 2019 and 75% of companies that sell direct to consumers said they would be introducing a subscription service within a year. Consumers are embracing the subscription model too. They now much prefer to have access to services or content rather than just own more and more “things”. This is a fundamental shift from back in the day when we were all desperate to buy the latest CD, DVD or whatever.

At Customer-ization, we’re huge fans of the subscription model for so many reasons, but we are seeing that it’s getting tougher out there, and these businesses are having to up their game.


With the rise of interest comes more players. Unfortunately, that doesn’t only mean you face competition from similar offerings - just think how many vegetable box deliveries you can choose from nowadays! - you’re also having to compete with other types of subscription offerings. Consumers are being bombarded with offers to subscribe to any number of services, and we’re seeing fatigue starting to set in. (Do we really need a subscription to ensure regular supplies of loo roll?)


Never forget, all - yes all - subscriptions are a luxury. Take a hard look at your own little list. How many of your subscriptions could you really not live without? When times get tough our discretionary spend comes under increased scrutiny and those that aren’t providing a brilliant service or product can be - and are being - quickly discarded without so much as a backward glance.

To make things worse, having a “brilliant” service isn’t necessarily good enough anymore - it’s a minimum requirement. There’s a parallel in what kids are going through. Once upon a time, get a couple of B grades and you’d waltz into most universities. Now even a full house of A grades brings no guarantee. The poor mites also need to have established a business, helped the homeless, trekked the Antarctic, or written a novel. (Slight exaggeration, but you know what we mean.) In the same way, “just” having a great product doesn’t cut it any more.

So what can subscription businesses do to fight the challenge of the leaky bucket, when water pours out as fast or faster than you can fill it? The businesses that are thriving are the ones that offer a real sense of belonging to their members. They let them be part of the narrative and really listen to what they have to say. They recognise that building relationships with their members directly is the game changer. It’s not only far more rewarding: it also protects them in turbulent times and in the face of increased competition. It’s a human instinct to want to belong and be appreciated. Those that make sure their members feel an authentic sense of belonging see their members sticking around. It’s called added value - a much overused term, that here actually means something.

Do you run a subscription or membership business? Are you seeing an increase in churn? Or perhaps you just want to make sure you aren’t affected if times get tougher? Join our next Subscription to Community Masterclass series and learn how to transform your business from being purely transactional to becoming a thriving tribe of committed enthusiasts.


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