The subscription market is growing quickly — expanding by roughly 100 percent per year since 2013, by some estimates.
Despite this growth, however, the space faces a major threat from consumer fatigue. The novelty of receiving meal kits, fashion accessories or interesting fragrances might be enough to encourage consumers to sign up for subscriptions, but businesses risk losing customers after that initial dazzle fades away.
To fight this fatigue, subscription-based companies are looking for ways to keep that thrill of discovery alive. Over-the-top (OTT) subscription streaming services like Netflix and Hulu consistently release new programming to ensure that customers stay engaged with their content. These platforms’ investment in original programming contributes to their success and offers continuity for subscribers.
But OTT services aren’t the only ones realizing the benefits of offering content with continuity. Subscription-based global education company Little Passports, for example, has found success by providing products and stories that keep children engaged. According to Co-CEO and Co-Founder Amy Norman, the company’s goal is to retain customers by making sure they stay engaged with its storytelling.
“For us, the actual subscriptions are the products, so they need to be profitable and stand on their own two feet,” Norman said. “What that means is creating a product — what’s inside the box — [that] is so compelling that customers want to stay on long enough that the unit economics work and you can create a viable business.”
A Subscription to Adventure
Little Passports’ educational offerings cater to children ages 3 through 12. Every month, the company sends a box to subscribers that features new items like books, puzzles, games and activity kits. The products in each box offer novel and interactive ways to teach kids about different countries, regions and scientific fields.
One of Little Passports’ more popular products is a series of activity books featuring original characters Sam and Sofia. Kids can follow Sam and Sofia’s adventures as they visit new countries or scientific organizations, such as NASA. Children can add a sticker to their own little passports, provided through the service, for each location the pair visits. The company’s monthly science-based subscription also includes a comic book with additional character-based adventures.
“The idea was that we were going to create characters because we know children love characters,” Norman said. “Those imaginary characters would travel the world and send a package to a child on a monthly basis.”
In fact, characters like Sam and Sofia are essential to Little Passports’ engagement strategy.
“They travel to a new country [and] they learn about science, but they also go on an adventure,” she explained. “It’s that storytelling, character-based adventure in every package that builds on the activities and creates the continuity that you remember from comic books.”
Norman added that keeping children entertained with recurring characters goes a long way toward establishing long-term relationships with customers, and some families have subscribed to the service since it launched in 2009.
“We really see ourselves as a lifestyle brand,” she said. “Our earliest customers start with our Early Explorers pre-school edition at the age of three, and we have products that customers can stay on and move through all the way through their tween and early teenage years.”
Delivering more than novelty
Norman said Little Passports was inspired by personal experience. She spent her childhood moving between the U.S. and the U.K, she explained, and her different classroom experiences helped her realize that students had gaps in their knowledge of world geographies.
Norman’s experiences prompted both her and Little Passports Co-Founder Stella Ma to create a new way to teach kids about the world. Ultimately, they settled on using a monthly subscription service business model to deliver their educational products to customers.
“[With] the idea of seeing the world and getting a package from another place, subscriptions seemed like the right solution for us,” Norman said. “It has turned out to be a fantastic business model for us.”
Not every subscription-based business proves successful, though, and subscribers could ditch a service if it fails to keep them engaged. Companies that use subscriptions to grab attention could find that consumers’ interest is short-lived once fatigue sets in, she cautioned.
“If the pure reason a subscription exists is for novelty,” Norman said, “that will wear off fairly quickly.”
Expanding beyond subscriptions
Norman realizes that the subscription landscape is highly competitive, and that the children’s education market is getting crowded. Amazon recently launched its own subscription box service aimed at kids, which pits Little Passports against a “formidable competitor.” She remains confident, however, that Little Passports’ continuity-focused storytelling can help it stand apart from the crowd.
“Yes, [Amazon has] a subscription business, but it’s really a service on top of other people’s subscription products, [and it doesn’t] necessarily have continuity from one package to the next,” Norman said. “We are really storytelling in our subscriptions.”
Little Passports plans to stay competitive by keeping its focus on storytelling and character-based products along with new offerings, including a recently launched Chutes and Ladders-style board game. The company also plans to examine new ways to offer its service to customers. It recently began allowing consumers to buy items without starting a subscription, giving them a more flexible option to access Little Passports’ products.
“We want to reach as many kids as possible, whether their parents are interested in a subscription or not,” Norman said.
Offering children educational experiences through storytelling could go a long way toward teaching them about world cultures and geographies. What’s more, the continuity offered in storytelling products could be just what the market needs to fend off subscription fatigue.