I love the Wall Street Journal. It’s the best written, most informative business publication there is, and I read it daily. I don’t always agree with their editorial stance but the international news and especially the marketing sections are top notch.
I’ve been a loyal subscriber for years.
That’s why it hacks me off when I get their renewal notices. For example one time my subscription price was rising from $45 to $93 per quarter. That’s about a 105 percent increase in one swoop. I called to complain, so they canceled my automatic renewal and said they’d try to find me a better offer. I received one, but it didn’t come close, so I continued to wait. I knew that as the end of my subscription got closer, they’d offer an even better price – and that I’d eventually accept.
It seems like such a cat and mouse game, though – and this kind of thing often erodes the affinity for the product. Magazine publishers do this all the time: The best rates go to brand new subscribers, while those who are already customers pay higher prices for renewals. Cable and satellite companies offer low introductory prices to new subscribers too.
This feels so backward. I understand the need to lure new customers, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t alienate existing ones. Imagine if a favorite restaurant you frequented raised your prices because you were a loyal customer, while a brand new patron at the next table received a discount simply because they were first-timers. Or suppose that loyalty card you use at the grocery store charged you higher prices because you continue to shop there – or your favorite airline penalized you because you’re a frequent flyer.
Great marketing is all about acquiring, building relationships with and retaining your best customers. But too often, the focus of the marketing effort is on customer acquisition – without thinking through what those acquisition tactics do to existing business.
I am sure great companies like News Corp., which owns the Journal, have experimented and tested various offers to attract new subscribers and have learned that price discounts are most effective. But what I bet they haven’t tested is the impact these promotions have on brand perception with the current customer base.
In the end, I always know I will get a better subscription offer and continue on as a customer – but why do we always have to go through this time consuming little dance to make it happen?
Scott Fiene is the assistant dean for the Integrated Marketing Communications program at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Contact him at Safiene@olemiss.edu.