Subscription Model 101: A beginner's guide to recurring revenue strategies

The subscription business model has become a dominant force across various industries, from digital streaming and software services to monthly product boxes and membership programs. This model offers businesses a predictable and steady revenue stream while providing customers with continuous access to products or services they value. If you’re new to the subscription model, this guide will introduce you to the fundamentals and key strategies for building a successful recurring revenue stream.

Key takeaways

  • The subscription model provides businesses with a steady revenue stream and fosters long-term customer relationships by offering continuous access to valued products or services.
  • Key components of a successful subscription model include a compelling value proposition, effective pricing strategies, seamless onboarding, active customer engagement, robust payment recovery processes, and data-driven decision making.

Understanding the subscription model

The subscription model involves customers paying a recurring fee—typically monthly or annually—in exchange for continuous access to a product or service. This model contrasts with one-time purchases, where customers pay a single upfront cost. Subscription models are particularly advantageous because they foster long-term customer relationships and provide businesses with predictable cash flow.

Key components of a successful subscription model

Value proposition

The cornerstone of any successful subscription model is a compelling value proposition. Customers must perceive ongoing value in your offering to justify recurring payments. This can be achieved through:

  • Unique offerings: Provide something that stands out in the market, whether it’s exclusive content, premium features, or personalized experiences.
  • Consistent quality: Ensure that your product or service consistently meets or exceeds customer expectations. Regular updates and improvements can keep the offering fresh and valuable.

Pricing strategy

An effective pricing strategy is crucial for attracting and retaining subscribers. Consider the following approaches:

  • Tiered pricing: Offer multiple subscription tiers with varying levels of access or features. This allows customers to choose a plan that best fits their needs and budget.
  • Freemium model: Provide a basic version of your service for free, with the option to upgrade to a premium version. This can attract a broad user base and convert free users to paying customers over time.

Customer onboarding

A smooth onboarding process sets the tone for a positive customer experience. Make it easy for new subscribers to get started and understand the value of your service:

  • Welcome guides: Provide clear, concise instructions to help new customers navigate your service. Tutorials, walkthroughs, and FAQs can be very helpful.
  • Personalized onboarding: Tailor the onboarding experience to individual customer needs. Personalized messages, tips, and recommendations can enhance engagement from the start.

Customer engagement and retention

Engaged customers are less likely to churn. Implement strategies to keep subscribers actively using and valuing your service:

  • Regular communication: Keep in touch with your subscribers through newsletters, updates, and personalized messages. Inform them about new features, content, or improvements.
  • Exclusive perks: Offer exclusive benefits to subscribers, such as early access to new products, special discounts, or members-only events. This can enhance the perceived value of the subscription.

Failed payment recovery

Involuntary churn due to failed payments is a common challenge. Having a robust payment recovery process can help retain customers who might otherwise unintentionally lose access. After all, an average of 7% of all payments fail on the first attempt. This impact is felt especially on subscription orders

  • Automated reminders: Send automated reminders before payment due dates, especially if a payment method is about to expire. This can prompt customers to update their information in time.
  • Retry mechanisms: Implement automated retry mechanisms to attempt payments again after a failure. Often, a simple retry can resolve issues caused by temporary problems like insufficient funds.

Data-driven decision making

Utilizing data analytics can provide valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences, enabling you to make informed decisions:

  • Customer analytics: Track metrics such as subscriber growth, churn rates, and usage patterns. Analyzing this data can help you identify trends and areas for improvement.
  • Feedback loops: Regularly solicit feedback from your subscribers to understand their needs and pain points. Use this information to make data-driven improvements to your service.

3 Examples of brands offering subscriptions

1. Oats Overnight

Industry: Food and Beverage

Subscription Model: Oats Overnight offers a subscription service where customers can have their favorite flavors of overnight oats delivered to their doorsteps regularly. This model ensures customers never run out of their convenient breakfast option and allows the company to predict demand more accurately.


  • Overnight oats
  • Breakfast shakes

Benefits for Customers:

  • Convenience of regular delivery
  • Customizable subscription plans
  • Potential cost savings with subscription discounts

2. Curology

Industry: Skincare

Subscription Model: Curology uses a subscription model to provide personalized skincare solutions. Customers fill out an online questionnaire and receive custom skincare products tailored to their specific skin needs. The subscription ensures that customers receive their skincare regimen regularly without needing to reorder manually.


  • Custom skincare formulas
  • Acne treatments
  • Anti-aging products

Benefits for Customers:

  • Personalized skincare solutions
  • Regular delivery of products
  • Access to dermatology professionals for ongoing skin consultations

3. Prettylitter

Industry: Pet Care

Subscription Model: Prettylitter offers a subscription service for its innovative cat litter that changes color to indicate potential health issues in cats. Customers receive regular deliveries of cat litter, ensuring they always have a fresh supply and can monitor their cat’s health effectively.


  • Cat litter
  • Health monitoring products for pets

Benefits for Customers:

  • Convenience of automatic deliveries
  • Health monitoring for pets
  • Cost savings with subscription plans

Subscribe to growth

The subscription model offers tremendous opportunities for businesses to build sustainable, recurring revenue streams. By focusing on a strong value proposition, effective pricing strategies, seamless onboarding, active customer engagement, robust payment recovery processes, and data-driven decision making, you can create a subscription service that not only attracts customers but also keeps them loyal over the long term.

Implementing these strategies will help you navigate the complexities of the subscription model and position your business for growth and success. As you refine your approach, always keep the customer experience at the forefront, ensuring that your subscribers continue to see the value in staying with your service. With a well-executed subscription model, you can build lasting relationships and secure a reliable revenue stream for your business.