A key tactic in scaling your subscription model is “going global”–that is, bringing your offering to other countries and markets.
But going global is about more than just translating your content, or enabling multiple currencies. I have been working with subscription businesses all over the world, and while they share many best practices, there are also unique attributes for specific regions. While there is no “subscription playbook”–these tips can help you draft your own!
And for more insights on “going global” check out my recent interview with Tinder’s GM of EMEA, Renate Nyborg in my SUBSCRIPTION STORIES podcast.
Good Translation is Table Stakes
It’s never been easier to translate content. My book just came out in simplified Chinese characters, so I’ve been using Google Translate to read news and reviews from China. Amazing! But clicking on the “English” button often results in some funny and often inaccurate translations. Even seasoned human translators can sometimes miss key subtleties of one language or another, particularly when the goal is to drive buying behavior. Don’t depend on automated translation. At the very least, have a few native speakers read through your content for any issues.
Payment Preferences and Processing Platforms Vary
Localization is about more than just translating the words, and making sure that you can accept payments.
Even today, many markets don’t have credit cards–so be sure you have a way to accept payment that is comfortable. In some cases, customers are ready to pay and simply need access to the right payment processes. However, it’s still the case in many markets, that consumers aren’t accustomed to automated payments on anything but housing or utilities.
And Not Everyone Can Commit
Even if your customers love your product and trust you to deliver on their forever promise, they may not have the financial stability to commit to you “up front”. In many parts of the world, even small transactions are significant, and secondary markets are common. So your most loyal members might spend very little, or prefer to own and resell rather than just to access, even as they try to stay connected to you.
Where you have a huge and promising Total Available Market, and where the market is shifting, maybe as consumers become more affluent, you might need an interim strategy before (or instead of) moving customers to become subscribers.
Cultural Context Is Key
I was recently watching an old movie. Two pregnant women had wandered away from a backyard BBQ and were sitting on the front porch, smoking and drinking wine and talknig about their hopes for their babies. I felt a drop in my stomach, anticipating that the babies were doomed, because in today’s movies, seeing mothers-to-be with cigarettes and alcohol is usually a signal of bad things to come. But back in the 1960s, the director wanted to convey that these women were having an honest heart to heart.
Understanding context is key. So you need to ask yourself, how does your product messaging and maybe even your content, play in a new market. For example, in the US, individuality is prized, but in many markets, “the tall blade of grass gets mowed down” And if your offering is about standing out, it might not go over well.
Know the Laws and Regulatory Policy
If your business depends on collecting data to use for targeted messages, or even to sell to partners, you might be out of luck, as many markets forbid this kind of practice. Not only might this situation make it more difficult for your business to be profitable in a particular market, it might also make it impossible to operate, depending on how your processes have been designed. Make sure you don’t inadvertently break the rules.
Check Out the Competition for Your Forever Promise
The likelihood is that whatever your forever promise, your “new markets” probably have alternatives to achieving that forever promise. If you are offering entertainment, they already have sources for entertainment. If you offer a better way to do business, you’re appealing to organizations that are already “doing business”. So you need to get very clear on your unique headline benefit that will get people to try your new offering, but also on the engagement benefits that will ensure loyalty. After all, your subscription will fail if churn is too high.
You may need to focus on gaining (unpaid, or unprofitable) mindshare before you chase (paid, profitable) market share. Early on, it’s important to go the extra mile to make your target subscribers feel special, and you may have to offer a low price or a freemium option to build traction, as Spotify did in their early days. And Netflix expanded into India, a large, developing market, with an app at a much lower price than what they offered elsewhere.
Another interesting question to consider is how “foreign” your markets want you to be. In some cases, local subscribers may want you to demonstrate that you really understand the local market and have evolved the offering to be relevant. In other cases, your very “different-ness” is appealing. Try to develop a point of view on this question early on, as it can be key.
When it comes to going global, you can’t make assumptions. You will likely have to do a lot of research and experimentation to develop the right offering and pitch for different geographies. And you may not get it right the first time. The good news is that with subscriptions, once you identify the product market fit, and get the kinks out of your localized model, you can focus on engaging and retaining your members, rather than having to keep winning them back. After all, that’s the power of subscriptions.
About Robbie Kellman Baxter
Robbie is the founder of Peninsula Strategies LLC, author of The Membership Economy, and The Forever Transaction, as well the Instructor for 10 LinkedIn Learning courses including: Create a Membership-Based Business and Become an Entrepreneur Inside the Company. Her clients have included large organizations like Netflix, SurveyMonkey, and the National Restaurant Association, as well as smaller venture-backed start-ups. Over the course of her career, Robbie has worked in or consulted with clients in more than 20 industries.
As a public speaker, Robbie has presented to thousands of people in corporations, associations, and universities. She has an AB from Harvard College and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Find Robbie on Twitter, @robbiebax