The “Sports Illustrated Model” for Growing a Million Dollar Online Subscription Program

 

Tutorial Part 1

Tutorial Part 2

 

The “Sports Illustrated Model”

If you run a membership site of any kind or a digital or physical subscription program, then this week’s video tutorial will be of tremendous value – I’ll show you how to scale offerings and convert a lot more of your current followers into ongoing subscription customers with one game-changing strategy (for more insight on building membership sites, check out this step-by-step guide on Entrepreneur’s Journey).

I say this with confidence because it’s a strategy that has worked for me in building my $3-million run-rate membership and digital publishing business in the self-protection space. I used this one marketing strategy to help my business go from zero to a multi-million-a-year run rate over the course of about two years. Furthermore, this strategy, which I dub the “Sports Illustrated Model,” is simple in concept and has has three core parts that I’ll break down in this tutorial.

When I decided to get into digital publishing and establish a (mostly) recurring subscription-based business, people ask if I looked at what other marketers and startups do in the same space. My answer was always the same – no. The company that I chose to model was first the billion-dollar information subscription company that I could think of – Sports Illustrated.

I told myself early on that my eLearning business would be based on this exact model, and I first had to figure out what they were doing to sell so many subscribers.  Granted, I don’t know everything about the many processes that Sports Illustrated implements, but I can tell you a few things that they do very well, starting with the premium-led membership.

1 – Flat Memberships versus Premium-led Memberships

Flat versus Premium Memberships

There are two kinds of memberships – flat and premium-based. With flat memberships, the offer is direct and includes only the subscription. Prospects are generally directed to a sales page with a membership that allows them to subscribe for a set price now, pay  the same amount every quarter or year, and receive a physical or digital subscription. The other option is premium-based and is packaged as a “special offer.” An example of a premium-based offer from Sports Illustrated might be a telephone shaped like a football (advertised as just $29.99, but usually $49.99) paired with a 3-month free magazine subscription.

The premium subscription option has pros and cons, but in the information publishing space, it’s one of the most powerful marketing methods in terms of converting prospects to subscribers.

Premium memberships can be differentiated too. There are two basic types – a core membership or subscription that’s always a fit for your core i.e. an evergreen offer, or a segmented, specialized bundle offered at a special time of year or to a very specific audience.

2 – Core Offerings versus Segmented Offerings

You core premium-driven offerings will work for a large portion of your list over the long-term.  Say you’re selling business-related training online, and 40 percent of yours readers and buyers are interested in marketing automation; another 20 percent want to drive a lot of sales without manual labor and set up efficient systems; 30 percent are interested in email marketing i.e. broadcast messages, ongAudience Segmentationoing newsletters, autoresponders, etc.; and another 10 percent are interested in optimizing marketing efforts and dialing in their positioning and conversion rates. In many cases, there may be overlapping interests. Your core premium for your audience would be some kind of bundled front-end product that could be offered again and again to new buyers – maybe a DVD, a print book, a digital product, etc. that hits on one or more of these core topics.

 

Segmented offerings are more specific, and often aligned with a specific time of the year like a holiday or a narrow slice of your list. As an example, Sports Illustrated might segment all of its prospects who live in Texas and send an opt-in email with an offer for a limited-time Dallas Cowboys jersey and 3 months free of the magazine subscription. Special offers aimed at pockets of your audience are also important and useful, but your core, evergreen premium offers will get the most use by a long shot over time.

3 – Determining Premium Offerings

How do you determine what type of premiums to offer? Good, old-fashioned research. Poll your list with mostly open-ended questions. Let your prospects parse themselves out, and then you can do the mind work of sorting through their responses. This is a powerful process that will allow you to come up with the type of evergreen products and copy that will extend to large, broad segments of your list and convert at high rates.Audience surveys

In addition to online, I (still) highly recommend doing some of those surveys over the phone – you’d be surprised what people will offer up when a voiced connection is made. Information to dig up includes:

  • Demographic data – This information is first and foremost, and if you’re already selling, age, geographic information, and other demographic data is something that you should already have on hand; if not, I recommend Melissa Data or a similar service. You can include this as part of your poll, but if you’re already a serious marketer – you know your demographics.
  • Benefits and results – Find out what prospects are looking to gain from an industry product or service – is it more time, growing a business, developing delegatable systems, etc.?
  • Subscription-specific options – What do subscribers want to see in a specific program subscription? You want to leave this box open, but you can seed it with some ideas to get people thinking (i.e. are they interested in step-by-step videos, shorter/longer videos, etc.)
  • Other subscriptions – What other subscriptions are your prospects opting into and why do they love this particular product or service? This is a very important question for gleaning ideas that you can emulate with your own offerings.

Wrap Up

Based on your poll data, you should be able to categorize your subscribers into 3 to 5 buckets based on their responses. You can segment your lists in different ways, there’s room to be creative and find patterns; find the categories of “needs” expressed by your prospects. The key is to ask open and broad questions that allow people to answer in their own way; the challenge (and the magic happens) when you turn those core categories into core offerings that appeal to your broader audience.

One extra tidbit – use your subscriber’s language in your copy and on your sales page. If they describe features or benefits or end results that are really motivating to them, figure out how they’re wording and describing these in their responses and integrate it into your sales material – leverage this tool in building and selling your core premium membership offer.

Have questions or comments? Reach out to us on our YouTube message board, and subscribe to the CLVboost channel for instant updates on our marketing automation and optimization content.

-Daniel Faggella
CLVboost Founder

About The Author

Daniel Faggella

I grow businesses with marketing automation, email marketing, and conversion-rate optimization. I've spoken on business and emerging technologies internationally and at some of America's finest schools (Yale, Stanford, Cornell, etc...). My marketing strategies have been featured in the Boston Business Journal, MarketingProfs, Direct Marketing News, and much more. CLVboost is where I share marketing strategies, TechEmergence.com is my major pursuit.