Shifting to Subscriptions — Bring Your Customers With You

Shifting to subscriptions from a perpetual license business model requires careful planning for migrating your systems. But that isn’t the whole story. Companies must also communicate effectively to customers about the changes. Too little communication can mean losing the very customers on whose loyalty a subscription business depends.

In today’s post, we take a look at how Copyblogger communicated to customers about changing their StudioPress Pro Plus website theme package from a one-time purchase to a subscription product. Copyblogger stayed true to their unique voice, was up front with customers, and communicated value at every step of the process.

Set a Date

By setting a clear deadline for the transition, Copyblogger created urgency for purchasing the old, perpetual offering. Creating urgency by setting a deadline is nothing new, but instead of holding that deadline over the customers’ heads like the Sword of Damocles, they use their unique, personal corporate voice to invite customers in on a special deal. Customers don’t lose after a certain date; they gain before it.

“Be grandfathered in when the change occurs …

A few months ago, we let you know that a big change was coming to our most popular product: The StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Pack would be moving to a recurring payment model. We knew how the recurring element would work (details below), all we were waiting on was the official date for when the change would take place.

The date is now decided …

April 1, 2016.

And no, this will not be any kind of April Fools’ Day joke. :-)” — Copyblogger promotional email

Tell Them the How and the Why

How shifting to subscriptions will work

Copyblogger’s email lays out the value of the StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Pack and links to their product page. The anchor text for the link reminds customers to act before this product becomes recurring. Essential to this step is that the value messaging on the product page matches the messaging in the email.

shifting to subscriptions
StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme product page before transition to recurring payments.

The product page emphasizes the all-inclusive nature of the product. They highlight not only the content customers can access, but also ongoing support and updates as well as access to third-party themes. The largest typeface reminds customers that this deal provides, “…every theme we make, now and in the future, for ONLY $499.95.”

The CTA button emphasizes that buying now is also a better value in the long run. Below the fold, they describe the upcoming change, and reemphasize the benefit to the customer for acting now.

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Additional value messaging before shift to recurring payments.

Why the shift?

The StudioPress team at Copyblogger was very explicit with customers about why they are shifting to a recurring payment model. They site two reasons. First, delivering expanded offerings and sufficient support to provide recurring value to customers places ongoing costs on the operation. Recurring revenue fits the demands of the market in a more sustainable way. As they say in their email, “When the Pro Plus Pack consisted of far fewer themes, delivering unlimited updates and support without ever requesting a payment beyond the initial subscription price was both reasonable and feasible. It really isn’t anymore.”

The second reason they give is refreshingly honest, saying “Besides, the second reason we are shifting to the recurring model is because we’d be foolish and hypocritical to not practice what we preach.” Copyblogger encourages businesses to deliver ongoing value, therefore a subscription model is the most consistent with the values they promote.

Customer experience

The customer experience through this phase of the subscription shift is excellent. Customers have had good forewarning of the change, with clear updates as details became available. The messaging was personal, and invited customers into a special deal. Consistency in messaging between email communications and the StudioPress product page confirmed the company’s trustworthiness. Finally, their frank explanation of the reasons why they were making this decision communicated respect to the customers in a way that helps to deepen the customer relationship.

Make the Shift Seamless

We’ve all seen a movie with great trailers that ends up being a dud in the theater. For the StudioPress team, the real test for a successful shift comes after switch day. We visited their product page again after April 1, 2016 to see what changed.

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Product page after the shift to subscriptions

The first thing to recognize is what we do not see on this product page. There is no mention of the old, one-time purchase option. The overall feel and much of the messaging remains the same, but without a hint that anyone joining the StudioPress family today is missing something that they could have had a few weeks earlier.

Where the old product page talked about getting the theme set “now and in the future,” the subscription product page talks about getting “…all of this for $499.95 plus $99.95 recurring annually…”

The urgency that they created in the old product page discussing the upcoming subscription shift is gone. The subscription product page talks about the value in terms of an “instant savings of more than $1200” like the old page did, but goes further to compare the value of their subscription to the cost of custom-developed website themes. By this math, a customer can use the subscription for 50 to 100 years at the same cost as one custom-designed WordPress theme.

The last element on the redesigned page is essential to subscription success. Where the old CTA said “Buy Now and Save,” the new CTA asks customers to “Choose Studio Press Today and Save.” Though this difference is subtle, it’s core to succeeding with a subscription product. The customer is not simply buying a product from StudioPress, they are choosing to strike up a relationship with StudioPress. In the subscription business, customers can churn away as soon as they feel unloved. Whether that’s because they were treated roughly by customer support or disliked the product, acknowledging that the choice is the customer’s from the very start sets the tone for a strong relationship that will deliver recurring revenue for years to come.


Communicating with customers clearly and openly is essential when shifting to subscription billing models. The most elegant technological solution is useless to your business without customers. Rely on your strengths: Communicate in a way that resonates with your brand identity and your audience. Be clear about when, why and how the shift will happen. Be sure to update product messaging to reflect a different value proposition and to demonstrate the new focus on customer relationships. Taking these steps ensures that customers will seamlessly move with your company to a new business model that works better for both. Customers receive increased value delivered on an ongoing basis while companies collect the recurring revenue a sustainable business needs to succeed.

Is your business shifting to subscriptions? Be sure you know how to Navigate the Subscription Solutions Landscape