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Using Adobe Experience Platform to Convert Subscribers from Free to Paid




Author: Jaemi Bremner (@Jaemi_Bremner), Allan Witts (@allanwitts) and Eric Knee (@EricKneeDX). 


This blog details a single implementation for a publishing customer on Adobe Experience Platform. Not all aspects are guaranteed as general availability. If you need professional guidance on how to proceed, please reach out to Adobe Consulting Services on this topic.

“30-day free trial! 7-day trial period! First month free!”

As consumers, we are all familiar with this kind of offer when signing up for a subscription service. It is an attractive offer, giving us the chance to try out and assess the value of the product or service before we commit to paying. From the business perspective, the logic is also clear — gain subscribers by postponing the payment barrier and attempt to convince the consumer that the product or service is worth paying for, such that the free subscribers go on to become paid subscribers.

When running such a promotion, the key factor to make it successful is the free-to-paid conversion rate. If this is too low, then you are just giving away your product for nothing during the trial period with no benefit, but if you can make it high enough, then the free trial period becomes a very useful customer acquisition tool. This means that delivering a good product or service in the trial period is hugely important to drive paid subscriptions, but we can take that one step further, and say that delivering a good customer experience from the first interactions during that trial period, will really influence the likelihood of the customer becoming a paid subscriber.

Last year, a leading UK publisher set the Adobe Consulting team the challenge of demonstrating how Adobe Experience Platform could be used to improve the customer experience for new free subscribers. So that’s exactly what we did.

The publisher that we were working with runs a popular website, where some content is offered for free, but the majority of the content requires a subscription, the first 30 days of which are free of charge before the user starts paying a relatively small monthly fee. There are many different email newsletters that a user can sign up for as part of their subscription as well as web content. So, our challenge wasn’t to bring people to the site in the first place or even to drive free subscriptions, but rather to ensure that the best possible experience was being delivered to those people who had just started their trial subscription so that the free subscribers converted to paid subscriptions.

At the start of the project, the Adobe consulting team sat down with the client stakeholders and identified three key use cases where we could improve the customer journey. They were:

  • Use Case 1: Sending a personalised welcome email soon after subscription.
  • Use Case 2: Providing recommendations onsite for email newsletters to sign up to, which were relevant to the customer.
  • Use Case 3: Sending a customer engagement email 1 week into the free trial, with the content depending on how the user had been engaging with the website up to that point.

We then set about delivering these three use cases using Adobe Experience Platform and here’s how we did it.

Our client was already sending welcome emails to new subscribers, but these took several hours to be delivered (up to 6 hours) and were not personalised. So right from the start, the customer experience for the new subscriber could be improved. Our objective was to deliver a personalised welcome email within 20 minutes of the customer starting their free subscription, with the content of the email providing recommendations of articles available online, that may be of interest to the subscriber. In order to achieve this objective, we set up the following technical integrations:

  • API call made from publisher subscription platform to Adobe Experience Platform’s data streaming endpoint, passing in the subscription event, along with the data captured during the subscription process (e.g. name, email address, etc.).
  • Adobe Analytics connector to stream onsite browsing behaviour into Adobe Experience Platform.
  • Outbound connection with Adobe Campaign, from where the emails would be sent.

On top of this, we had to layer some business logic to decide the data points that should be used to assess which email should be sent to the subscriber. To do this, we created audiences within Adobe Experience Platform using streaming segmentation based on the past browsing behaviour of the customer. Streaming segmentation is a feature that allows segment qualifications to be rapidly evaluated as data arrives into the Platform, ensuring segment membership is kept up-to-date to use in activation or decisioning. The key information points we used were the type of content the user had been browsing previously, as well as the site section they were on immediately before starting their subscription. An example of this is given below:

Figure 1: Creation of segment based on past browsing behaviourFigure 1: Creation of segment based on past browsing behaviourOnce the segments were created, we used the Journey Orchestration application service within the Platform to handle the decisioning of which email to send, and then to push the correct path to Adobe Campaign, to trigger the email to be sent:

Figure 2: Workflow for a welcome email in Journey OrchestrationFigure 2: Workflow for a welcome email in Journey Orchestration

Before setting this use case live, we tested the journeys thoroughly, and each time we successfully received a personalised email within 20 minutes of subscribing. Therefore, we were able to demonstrate the capabilities of Adobe Experience Platform to improve the customer experience through a personalised welcome email, thus meeting our objective for this use case.

From the previous analysis that the publisher had done, they knew that people who were signed up to receive email newsletters were more likely to convert to become paid subscribers and remain customers for a longer time. Essentially, email newsletters form a large part of the value of being a subscriber. For this reason, our second use case focused on increasing the newsletter sign-up rate, by delivering relevant recommendations to subscribers whilst they were browsing the website.

To do this, we used some of the same technical integration features as described in the first use case, but additionally, we set up the following:

  • Integration between the publisher’s CRM system where existing newsletter sign-up entitlements were stored to pull this information into Adobe Experience Platform.
  • An outbound integration between Adobe Experience Platform and Adobe Target, from where the personalized onsite experiences would be served.

Once again, we needed a layer of business logic to decide which newsletters should be recommended to subscribers, based on the content they had previously engaged with onsite, but also the existing set of newsletter entitlements (if any) for that subscriber. After all, we didn’t want to recommend a newsletter that the subscriber was already receiving, as that would not be a good customer experience.

Again, we used segmentation within Adobe Experience Platform to define audiences of subscribers who should receive a particular newsletter recommendation. The segmentation logic was more complex this time around, to make mutually exclusive groups, but nothing that Adobe Experience Platform couldn’t handle, as shown here:

Figure 3: Creation of segment based on newsletter entitlementFigure 3: Creation of segment based on newsletter entitlement

Once we had created the segments, then we were almost done. Adobe Experience Platform audiences automatically available in Target due to the integrations we configured. All that was left was to create the experiences in Target to show the recommended newsletters, and to set the personalisation activity live. Again, we were able to demonstrate these personalised experiences being delivered onsite, based on the data available and the audiences configured within Adobe Experience Platform, thus achieving the objective.

The third use case that we were tasked to deliver was an extension of the first two use cases. Again, it involved sending an email to the subscriber, similar to the first use case, but this time it was more focused on customer engagement, like in the second use case. The objective was to re-engage with the subscriber, a week after they had subscribed, and provide a relevant recommendation or “next action” to the subscriber within the email.

There were two main journeys within these engagement emails:

  • Paid subscriber conversion: If the person had been back to the site and engaged with content since the day of their initial free subscription, then they would be sent an offer to become a paid subscriber now, with a special introductory price. The business logic behind this is that the people in this category have already taken advantage of their free subscription, and so may be at a point to make a decision to become a paid subscriber. The introductory rate is an incentive for them to become a paid subscriber now, rather than waiting until the end of their free trial.
  • Newsletter recommendations: If the subscriber had not engaged with onsite content since the day of their subscription, then the chances are they are not yet seeing the value of a subscription. Therefore, for these people we want to recommend the email newsletters, to show what they are missing out on, to encourage that engagement. Again, these newsletter recommendations should be relevant to the subscriber, based on the content they have browsed in the past.

The technical integrations needed for this use case were entirely covered by the integrations set up in the first two use cases. All we needed to be able to deliver this use case successfully were some new segments (configured in a similar way to previous use cases), and a different workflow in Journey Orchestration:

Figure 4: Workflow for engagement email in Journey OrchestrationFigure 4: Workflow for engagement email in Journey Orchestration

Once again, we were pushing the decision and the action to send an email to Adobe Campaign, where the email templates were housed, and from where the emails would be sent.

With this, we had successfully demonstrated the value of Adobe Experience Platform through these three use cases that our publisher client challenged the Adobe Consulting team to deliver.

Reading through these three use cases, you can probably see that each use case we add requires incrementally less effort to deliver, as there are fewer extra technical integrations required. So, with some subsequent ideation sessions, it would be possible to come up with additional use cases to further improve the customer experience. Indeed, you may have thought of some of your own ideas whilst reading this blog of ways that you could improve the experience of your customers.

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  1. Adobe Experience Platform
  2. Adobe Journey Orchestration
  3. Adobe Analytics
  4. Adobe Campaign
  5. Adobe Target

Originally Published: May 13, 2021