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Why it's time for brands to put loyalty on pause

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New research from the DMA indicates that around a third of consumers are thinking of pausing subscriptions. But paused subscriptions could pay off for brands. 

2nd Dec 2022
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As we move towards a new year, it’s a good time to take stock of spending. When times are tough, wouldn’t it be good to be able to pause rather than stop some of our subscriptions?

My wife and I regularly discuss why we have Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, and Prime when we don’t have kids. Plus, we never even get the chance to watch much on iPlayer. It would be very helpful to pause one or more of them for a while and wait for a glut of content we haven’t watched yet to become available, and then turn them back on again.

What do consumers want?

Well, guess what? As ever, the younger generations are already ahead of the game. According to the latest DMA Customer Engagement: Future Trends 2023 research, around 50% of Millennials and a similar number of young families are already doing this, but in a cumbersome fashion. They are basically stopping subscriptions and restarting again when it suits them.

And while that makes sense, it really isn’t that convenient for them as customers, or for the media services themselves who have to close an account and open up a new one a few months later. I bet that in some cases they are being gamed, where offers and a different email address are used when the “new” account is opened.  

When asked who would be interested in doing this, the results are even more stark, with around a third of all of us saying we would be interested in pausing subscriptions. And this doesn’t just cover media, it is everything – our daily coffee subscriptions, our newspapers and magazines, or those pricey chocolate and beauty boxes through the post (yep, voice of experience here).  

Pausing subscriptions should pay off

Does that make us all fickle and disloyal? I don’t think so: in fact, I think that being easily able to pause subscriptions would make most of us feel warmer towards brands and, therefore, likely to remain long-term customers. During the early stages of the COVID lockdown period, a few banks offered the chance to pause paying your mortgage until things were more certain, and the love they received as a result was clear to see on social channels. Again, I have no doubt that will remain in consumers’ minds when they next look to re-mortgage. 

So, why don’t more brands do this then?  It’s clearly what many consumers want. Plus, it would help streamline the process of renewals for themselves and potentially entice consumers to resubscribe with them when the time is right – saving both parties money.  

My main conclusion is that is comes down to fear. Brands are worried that when consumers pause, they then might not un-pause or resume their subscriptions. I get that, but how would that stack up against what must be unrealistic retention and acquisition figures where, as we see from our research, customers are leaving then rejoining at present? Unless some brands take the leap then how will they know that this doesn’t solve a problem rather than create one.

Test and learn

As ever, the answer must revolve around a test and learn strategy. Why not profile who is leaving and rejoining, offer them the chance to pause and observe what happens? That doesn’t feel ridiculous or unreasonable. And maybe you’ll create some more loyal and engaged customers as a result.

Going back to the media subscription world, BT are reportedly trialling this now. It’s not that well known, but I assume that is because it is a test and they are looking at the outcomes. I, for one, hope it is successful and will be rolled out, as BT is one of the few media my family doesn’t subscribe to right now.

This flexible approach may even entice new customers to join who will not have considered an extra, lengthy subscription – as signing up to another TV package people feel guilty about paying for and not watching is exactly what many consumers don’t need during a cost-of-living crisis!

Scott Logie is Chair of the Data & Marketing Association’s Customer Engagement Committee and Customer Engagement Director at data marketing and insight agency, REaD Group, a Sagacity company.

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