How HBO Max's marketing team works to turn free-trial users into paying customers and prevent cancellations

  • WarnerMedia's HBO Max launched in May, using a seven-day free trial offer to entice users to sign up, and persuade them to become paying subscribers.
  • Christine Miller, director of campaign management for HBO Max, shared specific steps the streaming service takes to engage its free-trial users, during Braze's Forge conference on Oct. 13.
  • Most recently, she's been working with HBO Max's data-science group to dig deeper into the reasons users cancel their HBO Max accounts, and pinpoint marketing creative that could change their minds.
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WarnerMedia's HBO Max launched in May, using a seven-day free trial offer to entice users to sign up and persuade them to become paying subscribers. 

Christine Miller, director of campaign management at HBO Max, shared specific steps the streaming service takes to engage its free-trial users — whether they know the HBO brand or are new to it — during software company Braze's Forge conference on Oct. 13. She spoke at the event because HBO Max uses Braze tools, including its Canvas customer-journey-management feature, to automate and personalize messages to users.

Miller said HBO Max free-trial users who watch multiple shows and movies, and those who watch on more than one device, are the most likely to become paying subscribers. She uses push and email notifications to drive that behavior by recommending series, movies, and other content as soon as users register for the trial offer and opt-in to receiving messages.

"For us, the best case scenario is when a subscriber is engaged in two or more different series, in addition to engaging in movies; watching on multiple devices, especially big screens like TVs and consoles; and creating multiple profiles," Miller said. "Those tend to be the customers who are least likely to churn."

On the first day of the free trial, HBO Max greets people with a general welcome email that features new and trending shows and movies, and pushes the breadth of content on the service. 

From there, the messages get more personalized based on how people are using the service. People who seem to know exactly what they want to watch — searching for or gravitating toward titles early on — will get different messages based on what they're watching. A free-trial user who starts watching Selena Gomez's cooking show, "Selena and Chef," might receive an email promoting other young-adult shows like "Love Life," or fan-favorite series like "Friends" or "The Big Bang Theory." A user who doesn't know what to watch, in turn, might get an email showcasing different kinds of movies and series on the platform, as well as titles that are popular with other people.

"We have options for every kind of viewer, from the day-one die-hard fans to the skeptical viewer who just wants a free trial and see what it's all about," Miller said.

HBO Max is digging deeper into the reasons people cancel, and testing marketing that could convince them to stick around

Miller's team uses push notifications and emails to communicate with users during the free trial. Push notifications tend to be for more personalized messages, like promoting a single title, while the emails will recommend multiple titles or genres or feature more robust creative.

If the user watched during the first few days of the trial multiple movies on HBO Max, but no TV shows, then the person would likely get a push notification suggesting a TV show based on their tastes on the fourth or fifth day of the trial. If the person hasn't watched anything through a connected-TV or game console, they'd get a push alert encouraging them to set up TV viewing, too.

"I'm a strong believer in that we have to look beyond just what someone is watching and also look at how they are watching it," Miller said. 

Miller said the marketing strategy boosted by 3,000% conversions of free-trial users to paying subscribers, compared with a control approach that sent users standard messages, Miller said. Still, she said her team updates the strategy every few weeks based on how people are responding to the marketing.

Most recently, she's been working with HBO Max's data-science group to dig deeper into the reasons users cancel HBO Max, and pinpoint marketing creative that could change their minds. HBO Max's data-science group has started assigning scores to users based on how likely they are to cancel and predicting the top reasons users might churn out.

If the data shows users are likely to cancel because they haven't found a show they like, as an example, those people will be segmented into a track where HBO Max will test creative around new and trending shows, coming-soon, genre-specific series, and general education on the platform, to see which moves the needle in getting those users to subscribe.

"We kind of have this exciting challenge in front of us now — to do a ton of testing with this new data," Miller said. "The testing potential is limitless."

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