Subscription-first businesses target high-intent customers, not low-intent customers

There’s a lot of moving parts you have to consider when you’re starting a subscription business. Choosing your products. Designing your packaging. Creating your website, however you choose to do it.

But in the end, for many businesses, these are all quite operational considerations, and to really succeed, you need to look deeper than that.

Think: who are you trying to attract to buy your offering? What does customer acquisition look like for you?

Indeed, as an entrepreneur, one of the most important things to do during the planning and strategy process is to think about how you make sure what you’re selling — and how you communicate why people would buy it — resonates with your ideal customers.

However, as the core principles truly fundamental to a successful transactional business differ subtly from those followed by subscription-first businesses, it’s paramount to understand everything in context.

If the title of this post didn’t already tip you off, in this post, we’re going to discuss the concept of the ideal, high-intent customer.

In summary, what we’ve found is that entrepreneurs running subscription-first operations target high-intent customers, not low-intent ones. But what does the idea of customer intent refer to? 

A high-intent customer is a customer that a) knows what they want to buy and b) has the intent to purchase them.

Most of your resources should go towards attracting these kind of customers based on this intent, as they’re likely to lead to the highest long-term returns, bring in the most revenue and the most value – and as such, become your leading customers over time.

Example: Anna, a busy pet parent, wants to switch from having to frequently purchase monthly flea medication in-store to a time-saving subscription option like those offered by itch, for example.

A top tier, high-intent customer may either search for brand-specific terms like “Itch flea treatment” or similar terms focused around competitors’ products. The more specific the search, the more likely the shopper is ready to purchase.

Low-intent customers are… most average customers.

Seriously speaking though, low-intent buyers are the window shoppers, the cart fillers but not the people checking out, the low-conversion types who are content to float through the internet, not knowing what they want, and not willing to commit to any purchase frequency.

There’s still potential to convert them, but they shouldn’t be your top priority, because they’ll never be your most valuable customers.

Example: James likes to go hiking, and has noticed his dogs are getting fleas more and more often after they return from the woods. At the moment, he’s looking for an ad-hoc solution that’s there as and when he needs it.

A low-intent shopper might be searching for something like “how to get rid of fleas”. This person could benefit from Itch’s subscription products, but they are still in the early stages of research and not ready to buy.

So, how can merchants identify where their top potential buyers are, and encourage them to become your new customers?

It’s easy. To find a high-intent buyer, you need to think like a high-intent buyer. Be a high-intent buyer, even. Find out where they are with the analytical eye of a secret agent — it won’t be a mystery forever.

Tips to identify high-intent customers

  • Conduct research into buyer keywords, user interests, and traffic sources using Google Analytics
  • Collect data about your competitors with Similarweb extension. If you don’t have competitors in your region, use Similarweb to study any website related to your audience.
  • Connect with influencers in your niche — every brand has a budget, and there’s an influencer for every budget that’s good at creating buzz for a crowd that can’t afford to miss what you’re offering.
  • Run a post-purchase survey with a discount as a reward to figure out what social media accounts and online and offline communities are most common among the current audience.
  • Setup an automated/self-learning ad on a social network triggered by a Purchase event, for example through Facebook’s conversion API.
  • Experiment with different social media platforms to figure out where customer acquisition cost (CAC) is lower.

Start off by thinking of it like a pyramid.

First, Build a solid foundation through developing social proof and a good reputation.

Remember, there’s 1000s of brands competing for a small group of highly-engaged potential customers. Keep your attention to detail sky-high when it comes to the buying journey, and the results will speak for themselves.

Note: make sure to make it easy for your customer base to find ways to leave reviews and give feedback — and also to make sure that people engaging with these processes are able to see the results of their input, should any of their suggestions make it into reality.

Then, optimize the customer buying experience to make things as seamless and customisable as possible. For example, reducing any unnecessary friction on your website — i.e. anything that makes the buyer journey less than seamless — needs to go. 

So does any product offering that generalizes the desires of your demographic for the sake of saving time, when a more bespoke offering might actually save resources (and create more revenue) going forward once properly set up — for example, only offering a quarterly option, when people want the flexibility of a monthly subscription. 

Finally, experiment with making offers at different stages of the journey to identify where buying temperature is highest. Pre-checkout, mid-checkout, or post-checkout — you’ll find the sweet spot through experimentation. 

The more data you collect, the more you’ll be able to refine the process.

Think abandoned cart/browsing email notifications, or campaigns targeting the most visited pages for your most popular products, or segmented outreach targeted to different groups who show different levels of engagement with your website — get creative, and start testing out new ideas… you’re an entrepreneur after all, this is what you signed up for!

Once you’re at the top of the pyramid, think about how it circles back to the base – create opportunities for customers to create user-generated content or engage in loyalty programs which will in turn inspire other customers to act as brand ambassadors and get their friends and family members to sign up.

Here’s a few concrete suggestions that’ll help you put all of this into practice:

Tips to increase customer buying intent

  1. Create a banner offering a coupon or free product during the pre-purchase stage
  2. Make your website multilingual, from your home page to your product features explanations
  3. Offer multiple currencies to make the experience seamless around the world
  4. Reduce the number of questions you ask potential customers in the pre-checkout survey, to shorten the purchasing experience
  5. Enable Apple/Google Pay, implement 1-page surveys, and allow checkout without registration
  6. Use cart abandonment solutions to target people who left the checkout early
  7. Set up a referral system or loyalty program to empower customers to onboard their friends and family members with similar interests

Through targeting high-intent customers, you can improve the ongoing quality of potential customers and subscribers that come in, generate increased conversions, and enjoy increased customer lifetime value.

So, why is this? 

Subscription businesses, at their core, are built around a commitment to long-term engagement with a brand. The most popular subscriptions in the world — services like Spotify, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, and products like Nespresso pods, Dollar Shave Club blades, and Ipsy’s beauty products — are household names now.

While your brand might not start off in that league, nothing is impossible. The longer people stick with you, the more they’ll both actively and passively spread the word, becoming ambassadors for your brand whether they know it or not.

One of the most powerful ways of spreading the word about a product is through first-hand testimonials after all. And who better than to deliver a glowing review than someone who knew what they wanted, found it, bought it, confirmed their initial impression that it was a good idea, and then spread the word for free? 

The importance of these high-intent customers is immeasurable. Without them, it’s going to be a long road. Indeed, the higher intent your customers, the more loyalty and commitment you’ll be able to expect in the future.

High-intent customers have high standards for a reason, but when you’re the brand that can meet those standards and solve their pain points through personalized experiences, the sky’s the limit, and exponential growth becomes more of an expected target than a delusional pipe dream.

Finding the highest-intent customers is a combination of laying the right sort of foundation from the first purchase opportunity to get them interested (and paying) and iterating on your process to make it increasingly appealing for an increasingly engaged customer base to be drawn organically to your brand. 

Of course, things are different in every industry. With this in mind, it’s crucial to develop an understanding of what strategies and techniques work for yours, learn from your own research and the experience of others, and iterate your conception of what a high-intent customer really is in your context, before unleashing all your plans and watching your long-term sales skyrocket.

By Zaki Gulamani
Editor-In-Chief at Subbly