How to Grow a Subscription Business in 5 Easy, Data-Driven Steps

Birchbox put the subscription model on the map in 2010 with its monthly beauty and lifestyle box. Now you can find a subscription box for just about anything from wine to children’s books to razors. If you have a knack for raising chickens, there’s even a box to help ensure that your precious flock won’t fly the coop. The subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100% percent per year over the past five years, and while the space may be crowded, there’s hope yet for marketers wondering how to grow a subscription business and build a loyal following.

How to Grow a Subscription BusinessSource: Fluent

Use a Data-Driven Marketing Strategy to Grow Your Subscription Business

1. Create subscription-focused content

When a consumer signs up for a subscription service, they expect more than just a box. Creating an online community and offering access to curated content is a great way drive consistent consumer interest. When creating digital content, make sure to offer clear value to the consumer. Are you teaching them how to use a product they received in their monthly box? Are you connecting them to other subscribers with similar interests? Here are some ways subscription marketers can use content to engage current customers and expand their reach online:

  • Create how-to videos and tutorials based on products in the current month’s box and include links to make one-off purchases.
  • Form a Facebook group or exclusive subscribers-only forum on your website where customers can share photos, tips, and advice.

Sephora - Subscriber Community

2. Reward subscribers for their engagement on social media

Subscribers have the potential to be your biggest brand advocates on social, but first you need to generate a loyal following. Contests are a great way to motivate followers to join your community while also showing them a little love—i.e. rewarding their participation with a prize. Book of the Month does a great job of leveraging a contest to boost engagement and collect user-generated content. Let’s check out how BOTM did it, and the steps you can take to launch your own social campaign:

Step 1: Take advantage of the fact that you’re getting into subscribers’ homes and send them a little something extra in their monthly boxes.

  • For BOTM, these were bookmarks printed with the open-ended phrase “reading is.”

Step 2: Create a social post (Instagram works particularly well for this) explaining the parameters of the contest and what steps subscribers need to take to win.

  • In its kick-off post, BOTM outlines action items for subscribers (post a picture with your bookmark, tag BOTM) and the prize to be won (3 free books for any post that is regrammed).

Step 3: Track mentions and repost user-generated content to your company page.

  • Throughout the contest, BOTM simply regrams customers’ posts, tagging their individual Instagram accounts and adding additional copy when appropriate.

For BOTM, getting insights into how their subscribers feel about reading was a huge win. Data points (a.k.a. responses) from each submission were collected and used to help inform future campaign strategy and book selections.

Book of the Month - User-Generated Content

3. BONUS – Leverage user-generated content to humanize your brand

Why is user-generated content important for growing your subscription business? Posting UGC not only provides subscribers with an opportunity to get involved but also gives your brand a feeling of authenticity.

According to Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report, UGC Instagram campaigns generate 6.9 times higher engagement than brand-generated content. UGC is less polished, more relatable, and often seems like it’s coming from a friend rather a brand. Plus, regramming subscribers’ posts is like having a massive team of remote content-creators at your fingertips; 41% of millennials login to Facebook every day, with 29% using Instagram regularly and 25% making sure to get their daily dose of Snapchat.

Looking to extend your reach even further? Social media influencers can also act as brand ambassadors. Try sending a box to an influencer that aligns with your brand. Develop a partnership and encourage them to create an unboxing or review video to share on their social channels. In addition to touting an influencer’s endorsement, you’ll also gain access to their wide network of digital followers.

4. Host an immersive event for subscribers

Real-life engagement is another way to help subscribers feel more connected to your brand. A live event gives subscription marketers the unique opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversations with their subscribers. Whether you’re creating a pop-up shop experience or hosting subscribers in your brick and mortar store, here are some things to remember when leveraging live-events to help grow your subscription business.

  • Capture as much data as you can. 
    Have attendees sign in so you can follow up after the event. Send an email featuring relevant content and opportunities to provide feedback. Ask attendees about their pain points and distribute in-person questionnaires to get a written record of their interests and preferences.
  • Create opportunities for on-site purchases.
    Set up merchandise displays that allow subscribers to discover (and hopefully purchase) new products. For example, Sephora hosts exclusive subscribers-only events where consumers can come into the store and test products that complement the ones found in their monthly Play! Box.
  • Make the experience “shareable.” 
    Furnish the space with a photobooth or step-and-repeat and encourage attendees to post their photos on social media with an event hashtag. Also, be sure to have social media gurus on-site to add images and video from the event to your brand’s Instagram story. At Blue Apron’s pop-up series launched in cities from New York to L.A., the meal kit provider encouraged visitors to use the #BlueApronUnboxed hashtag when posting photos from their four interactive rooms.

Blue Apron - Subscription Event

5. Add SMS to your multi-channel subscription marketing strategy

SMS marketing is a fast and efficient way to communicate with mobile consumers and gather new insights without breaking the bank. 55% of Americans spend more time using a smartphone than any other device, and mobile messaging surpasses both phone calls and emails as the top use case. Subscription marketers should take advantage of the high open rates (nearly 90% of all SMS messages are opened!) and instant deliverability of this channel to engage consumers where they’re most active.

Subscription marketers can use SMS as a highly personalized channel for prompting a purchase and ultimately growing their subscription business. But first, you need people to opt-in. Start by implementing an incentive program and offering subscribers a reward for submitting their phone number. And if you’re looking for a resource to supplement your database of TCPA-consented phone numbers, Fluent can help with your subscription marketing needs!

Prompt your subscribers to opt-in for regular updates.

Mobile updates can streamline the consumer purchase journey and help to keep your brand top of mind.  As an extension of its subscription box, POPSUGAR runs a ‘”Must Have It” SMS program. Subscribers are prompted to submit their cell phone number on the POPSUGAR site to get weekly updates on special deals. Must Have It then sends product images with a sale price and shipping information; a subscriber must simply reply “YES” to submit the order. This “respond to buy” model makes discovering and purchasing new products quick, easy, and personal.


Allure subscribers with an exclusive offer.

Exclusive or time-sensitive offers create a sense of urgency while also providing value to the consumer. Seeking to grow their subscription business, Julep sent out emails encouraging consumers to sign up for a special offer. To unlock the deal, Julep prompted consumers to text a simple keyword to their five-digit number (short code). This campaign had a clear call-to-action and helped to set up a long-term relationship with the subscriber by promising access to the Julep Mobile Insider community.

Julep - SMS Program

How to Grow a Subscription Business: Relationship Building

Just like every other relationship, the one between subscription marketers and their subscribers requires some TLC.  Successful subscription companies need to continually surprise and delight consumers, not just with the initial welcome box, but in every subsequent box they deliver to a subscribers’ door. If you nurture the relationship and surpass the honeymoon phase, chances are your subscriber will continue to renew their subscription well after six months.

Once you’ve collected existing customer data, focus on using it to expand your subscriber base. Leveraging existing data about the most loyal customers to find the best new prospects is a strategic and cost-effective way to grow your subscription business. Direct your attention to the top of the marketing funnel to ensure your marketing message is reaching the right consumers. By tapping into proprietary customer data, subscription marketers can identify the right prospects to pursue via look-a-like modeling and intelligent targeting.