Here’s a modest proposal for Ancestry.com on a little trick that they could use to get new subscribers. (With all apologies to Johnathan Swift and only a slightly intentional reference to eating your young).
I recently got a short e-mail from a cousin who was interested in starting to do some research into one of her ancestral lines. (Her father’s line, which I know nothing about, since I’m related to her mother).
I immediately volunteered to do some looking around on ancestry.com to see what I could find. Of course I’m very conscious of not wanting to cheat ancestry.com out of a potential future customer. So I wouldn’t plan on making a habit of doing free searches for friends. But my thinking is that I can find a few snippets for my cousin and then, if she becomes excited enough about what’s out there, she may become a paid subscriber.
But I wondered how ancestry.com thinks about approaching people like my cousin and winning them over as a paying customer. To start with, a potential customer has to find out about the product. That’s what all of the advertising is geared towards. But my cousin wasn’t approaching this because she knew anything about ancestry.com. She just came to the family member who knew something about researching records online and asked me. So ancestry.com should be thinking about prospects that they pick up through word-of-mouth, rather than through normal advertising channels.
Once a potential customer knows about ancestry.com as a possible place to go look for information on their ancestors, they should definitely have a chance to try out the service before making any commitments.
I know that ancestry.com offers a free 14-day trial for potential customers. And my cousin could sign up that way. But I have a couple of problems with the typical trial membership.
For starters, my cousin would have to enter credit card information, in order to get her 14-day trial membership. That’s just big enough of a barrier to entry to block quite a few people who might otherwise be interested in quickly exploring what ancestry.com has to offer. It’s just too much trouble.
Secondly, I’m fairly certain that the trial membership auto-converts into a full membership if you don’t explicitly cancel it. Ok, right there, I know I won’t recommend it to my cousin. That sort of marketing technique just smacks too much of typical bait-and-switch schemes. Granted, canceling is probably pretty easy. But still, it’s something that the prospect has to remember to do, which means that there is risk involved—risk that they end up paying for a membership that they don’t want.
The whole mission behind the idea of try-before-you-buy is to make the barrier to entry so low that lots of people can try your product, and do so in the easiest manner possible. You also want to make sure to give them a complete/full product experience, i.e. they should have access to everything that paying members do.
So here’s my thought on this. How about we make it easier for potential new customers to try out ancestry.com through a referral system? Here’s how it would work:
- I decide to refer my cousin, so I click a button in my account and get a new trial account auto-generated, after entering my cousin’s e-mail address
- Ancestry e-mails the login info to my cousin, who logs in
- No credit card information is required
- This subscription does not auto-convert into a payed subscription
- My cousin automatically has access to my family tree, as well as all databases that I pay for
- The account/subscription lasts only for 14-days (or for 5 sessions, or whatever)
- At the end of the trial period
- My cousin’s account automatically is locked out
- She automatically gets an e-mail giving her a chance to subscribe “for real”
- If my cousin does sign up at the end of the trial period
- She gets a slight discount
- I get a small kickback, in the form of a discount for next year’s renewal
The bottom line? A simple piggyback trial subscription mechanism that would make it very easy to refer other family members and grow the ancestry.com community.
How about it, ancestry.com ?