iStock_000066679649_SmallWe can all learn something from the meteoric rise of personalized subscription services. From makeup and gifts to toiletries and gourmet dinners, companies like Birchbox, Blue Apron, Trunk Club, Kiwi Crate, and Amazon are listening to consumers and betting their entire business on getting to know you better as a person. And it makes sense. They all realize that to compete in a world where ecommerce brands can start up quickly in someone’s garage, they have to build genuine relationships with their consumers. This is the only way they will make a solid imprint in consumers’ minds and outwit the competition. As a brand and a business, you need brand loyalty, and you only have a few chances to create it.

So what are subscription services doing differently (and awesomely!), and how can other marketers follow suit? Let’s take a look at three tactics they use to make sure they stand out from the crowd:

1. Understand that to know when to speak, you have to first listen

It almost goes without saying these days, but marketers don’t define customer journeys. Customers do. So who better to ask when you’re looking to connect with them? Subscription services like ipsy are refreshingly upfront with their give-get ask: Take our quiz, Get things you love. It’s that simple. We can learn from this: every marketer, regardless of industry, has plenty of hand-raisers out there who would be happy to fill out your survey or quiz. Stop trying to read the tea leaves in big data for a moment and find ways to incorporate a 10-question quiz where consumers can share it all.


Also, don’t forget to incorporate the critical component of humor. Club W, a wine subscription service, gave me the option to select my earthiness preference level at “I’ll more-or-less eat dirt.” Bravo Club W, you’re speaking my language. I’m hooked.

2. Offer your customers a “pick me up”

We are all busy—it’s the 21st century affliction—and we are bombarded with an excessive amount of calls-to-action each day. We don’t need more noise; we need a pick-me-up. Subscription boxes like Birchbox’s do this extremely well because they’re essentially a curated box of goodies (cosmetics) that appears on a subscriber’s doorstep each month, like a gift from a friend. It harkens back to they day when friends made CDs or playlists for each other. It’s a little boost of fun and thoughtfulness that manages to surprise and delight the recipient. The success of this process is revealed in the 800,000 monthly subscribers who keep coming back for more.

How can you translate that into a marketing lesson to apply to your organization? Use your customer nurturing to offer persona-specific “pick me ups” that include something valuable like humor, advice, or perspective. Forget the thinly-veiled asks like “If you agree, like me on Facebook.” Instead, go bold with humor and use this as an opportunity to show that your brand isn’t a robot. As an example, Amazon’s response tweet to me (see below) felt a lot like something a friend would write, and I laughed. I’d message them again in a heartbeat, and that’s precisely the type of reaction and interaction you’re looking to achieve.


3. Personalize—everywhere

How ridiculous would it be if every time you went to the doctor, you had to start from scratch? I’m talking introductions, measurements, physical exam—everything from square one? Pretty frustrating. And yet that is what 80% of brands out there are doing by not operating across all of their channels seamlessly. It’s good to send an email to your new subscriber—let’s call her Joanna—asking her to like you on Facebook, but if your channels are siloed and don’t speak to each other, then your mobile app and email will start stepping on each other’s toes. If shortly thereafter Joanna gets an in-app message asking her to do the same thing over again, she’s going to wonder what’s wrong with your brand, and then she will probably unsubscribe.

Subscription box services are leading the pack in this regard. But instead of playing catch-up, they were born with multi-channel in mind. They’re leveraging all of the valuable data that they’ve collected on consumers to not just personalize their subscription boxes but to personalize all of their marketing offers as well. Imagine personalizing display ads with clothing-style preference. Or personalizing emails based on dietary restrictions. Or being able to listen for buying behavior in the app and immediately follow up with an email offer, which then takes people back to your personalized website. All of this is possible with the right marketing automation solution as it lets you achieve the holy grail of brand interaction: one-to-one personalized communication that feels like a suggestion from someone you know.

It’s not too late for the rest of us marketers to take notice of the success that subscription box services have experienced. We should also take note on how these services are capitalizing on consumers’ desire to be known and recognized across every channel, their eagerness to be surprised and delighted with messages that pick them up, and their ability to tell brands what they want…and actually be heard.

What subscription services do you use and what are the best experiences you have had? And, as a marketer, how are you incorporating these tips into your marketing today? Share your insights in the comments section below!