How to Get an Audience to Subscribe to Your Brand

How to Get an Audience to Subscribe to Your Brand


At the heart of owned media is the subscription – this idea that a website visitor, social media follower, or whatever, has validated your thought leadership by opting-into hearing directly from your brand. This is a powerful exchange of value, and in most cases, the start of a relationship that could very well become commercial.

The reasons why brands care about collecting subscribers is pretty clear:

  • Build a first-party dataset of your audience. With the end of third-party cookies only a few quarters away, collecting first-party data to understand and engage your audience is an existential priority.

  • Own distribution of content directly to that audience. Unlike rented channels such as social media, content networks, and search, with owned media your organic reach is not managed by an algorithm that you can’t control.

  • Use audience engagement data to prove ROI. The web analytics data that brands have about their audience and engagement with content is impression-based and not helpful for truly understanding content performance or impact on revenue.

So, how can you effectively build a subscriber base for your brand? Before we get there, let’s break down exactly what a subscriber means.

The Value of a Subscription

The truth is that in almost every progressive industry (absent B2B SaaS), subscribers are the focal point of the digital strategy.

Consumer media brands like The Atlantic, Morning Brew, and Hello Sunshine are focused on converting free content viewers into paid subscribers. Emerging B2C businesses like Liquid Death, and Vacation complement their product offerings with access to membership into their brand and community. Even creators are taking notice of the advantages of a direct line of communication with their audience and are using tools like Patreon and Substack in order to capture subscriptions.

It’s not like B2B marketers haven’t collected emails before.

We’ve always had the notion of a newsletter CTA on our website (typically in the footer or some other hard-to-find place) that would opt form fills into our marketable database. You know which one I’m talking about – the distant cousin of the Demo Request, Contact Sales, and Get Started CTAs.

While that may be true, an opt-in is very different than a subscription. The very word subscriber carries a connotation of relationship – where a person on the Internet is telling you that they value your marketing so much that they want to hear more from you. They aren’t raising their hands for a product demo (yet), but they are raising their hands to learn from you, to be inspired by you, to be educated by you, and maybe even to be entertained by you.

Today, for the most part, B2B marketers pay little attention to that initial spark of relationship that has the highest potential of future conversion into revenue.

Here’s what the data says.

Across industry, the average website conversion rate – to a Get Started, Contact Sales, or Demo Request CTA, is 2.35%. Think about that for a second. That means that 97.65% of your hard earned web traffic is bouncing after hitting your website. According to FrontPageSage, that number is as low as a 1.1% conversion rate for B2B SaaS.

Want to know what the average is for consumer media companies? According to Intellimize, it’s 10% – consumer media brands drive 10x more digital conversions than the average B2B SaaS company. Why is that the case?

Consumer media companies are in the business of subscriptions rather than opt-ins. They assume that a web visitor found their content via word of mouth or through a rented channel like social media or Google search. It’s likely that the visitor clicked that link to learn rather than buy, and because of that, they promote a Subscribe Now CTA as well as a compelling value proposition for a subscription (more on that in a minute).

Said another way, media companies invest in building a relationship with their audience across the digital journey rather than force them to buy, trial, or bounce. What if B2B brands followed suit? What might happen if we gave the 97.65% of traffic that weren’t in market for our products an opportunity to learn, grow, and belong?

I think we can all do with an incremental 8.9% of conversions. Let’s talk about how to implement this practically.

Converting Audience into Subscribers

We’ve spent the last several month analyzing what consumer media companies get right about building their owned audience. One key element across all of them is that they build and promote a robust value proposition for subscribers. If there isn’t a compelling reason to subscribe, people likely won’t do it.

Here are 3 tips for developing your value proposition for subscribers.

1. Publish editorial content (publicly available) in order to demonstrate value.

Drawing subscribers first begins with your public content that’s published on your owned media property and promoted in rented channels. Publishing performance content (optimized for search algorithms rather than human consumption is totally fine, but frankly it’s become table stakes.

Sounds obvious, but you need to create content that is optimized for humans – that educates, inspires, and entertains. When that value is established in the minds of your audience without a subscription, it piques interest when you do talk about offerings that are exclusive to subscribers – which takes me to my second observation.

2. Create (and promote) exclusive content and experiences.

Ok here’s the hard part – in addition to your publicly available and performance content, marketing teams will need to create an editorial stream of content that’s exclusive to subscribers. This could be a newsletter, content such as editorial videos or podcasts, or even events and experiences that are only available to subscribed members of your audience.

But rest easy, most B2B marketing teams already require form fills for most of these programs. What this becomes more than anything else is a reframing or repositioning exercise – that your traditional webinars, newsletters, field and corporate events, etc., are all now value adds to membership of your brand.

Then, tap into FOMO by promoting your subscription value proposition publicly in order to drive impact. There’s another powerful emotional lever you can use to build subscribers, which I highlight in the next observation.

3. Launch merch in order to facilitate a sense of belonging.

Ok, hear me out on this one. But literally every media company we’ve studied sells or gives away merch as part of their audience acquisition and engagement strategy. It may sound silly, but merch is a manifestation of this idea that your brand is in on the inside joke with your community.

For subscribers, this can lead to a sense of belonging within your audience, a powerful emotion that deepens the relationship between brand and audience. Companies also leverage merch as part of their referral programs to grow subscribers virally – invite X of your peers to subscribe to Acme Corp and we’ll send you this awesome piece of merch when you do.

Each of these programs help acquire and engage subscribers, deepening your relationship with your audience, and ultimately creating leading indicators to commercial intent. I referenced this in a previous article, but a key component to making this work is to keep your publishing cadence strong in order to keep the attention of your subscribers.

Building an owned audience of subscribers is not just a brand priority (although important for that use case as well). It’s an existential priority for demand marketers who are looking to grow efficiently beyond paid channels and third-party cookies, understand critical engagement data, and use that data to discover and manage buying intent signals.

Companies who are collecting subscribers now will be ahead of the trend, while the rest of the industry will be playing catch-up in the quarters to come.


Anthony Kennada | About the Author

Founder and CEO, AudiencePlus

Prior to founding AudiencePlus, Anthony served as the CMO of incredible companies like Hopin and Front. He was the founding CMO of Gainsight where he and his team are credited with creating the Customer Success category -- a novel business imperative, profession and software category that helps subscription companies grow sustainably by becoming customer obsessed. By focusing on human first community building, content marketing, live events and creative activations, they developed a new playbook for B2B marketing that built the Gainsight brand and fueled the company’s growth from $0 to $100M+ ARR, and eventual acquisition by Vista Equity at a $1.1B valuation. You can follow him here.


How to Get an Audience to Subscribe to Your Brand

An opt-in is not a subscription. The word subscriber carries a connotation of relationship - this person is telling you that they value your marketing so much that they want to hear more from you. They want to learn from you, to be inspired by you, to be entertained by you.

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