Psychology of a subscriber

Part 2: Growth

Your customers have signed up – now it’s time to focus on keeping them loyal and engaged. Delve into the mindset of a subscriber and discover practical solutions for building long-term relationships



After the early ‘romantic’ phase of the relationship has worn off, problems emerge and the beginning of a ‘power struggle’ begins between brand and subscriber, fuelling two emotional states:



This second report explores how subscribers often fall into childlike reactions around money because they do not feel in control

Hiding price hikes, charging twice, or initiating credit control activities to recoup debt after a missed payment, throws subscribers into Child Ego states and disconnects them from brands, who seem like Authoritarian Parents”


Although typically seen as such, upgrading is not always a positive, and downgrading is not always a negative for the brand-subscriber relationship

OTT subscription brands tend to have strongly developed ‘masculine’ qualities, but need to become more balanced if they are to connect with subscribers

Two key forms of guilt can lead to subscribers effectively abandoning brands, even when brands are doing a relatively good job


To build a relationship with subscribers and create a service they stay loyal to, brands must understand the emotional and psychological drivers throughout the customer journey. This report covers three Decision Moments in the Growth phase: Billing, Upgrade, Downgrade. During the study these moments are equated to the desires, stages and shifts in a ‘typical’ modern romantic relationship


Billing is a key moment at which subscribers are required to have some form of direct contact with the brand, in that money is leaving their account. Over time, as the money continues to leave, they may start to question the relationship and the value of what it brings to their lives. One issue we encounter here is guilt.

Although issues around money apply to all three decision moments addressed in this paper, the ‘threat of subscriber guilt’ is particularly relevant to Billing, especially when we consider that OTT subscriptions have traditionally been seen as luxuries rather than necessities.

Topics explored

  • Psychology 101: Guilt and the psyche
  • 10 best practices for brands
  • Spotlight on OTT services becoming a necessity


Subscribers may choose to upgrade because they love the service and want to get closer to it. In a relationship, that’s like giving something up for the other person but expecting wonderful things in return. Unfortunately, sometimes this emotional sacrifice is not recognised by brands.

Upgrading due to dissatisfaction is very different, however. When a subscriber upgrades to avoid ads, to see a film that is not available on the basic membership, or watch a ‘premium’ match, this is a form of ‘clinging’. As one party demands more, the other hides and avoids. This dynamic is common between brands and subscribers – they both want one another, but the relationship isn’t balanced or stable.

Topics explored

  • Psychology 101: Positively and negatively upgrading
  • 12 best practices for brands
  • Decision-making and mistakes


Downgrading is akin to requesting more distance from a partner in a relationship. It’s often viewed negatively by brands that see this as a financial transaction in which the brand is losing out. 

Sometimes it may be that the subscriber is not happy with what they are getting. They may feel misunderstood, and that their needs are not being met. Despite the possibility of dissatisfaction, Downgrades are often about financial reality rather than just brands. Brands that give customers the option to pay less are looked upon favourably in tough times, especially compared to brands that abandon consumers altogether.

Topics explored

  • Psychology 101: Boundaries and safety
  • 10 best practices for brands
  • Spotlight on sports subscribers


There are more than 30 recommendations in this report that you can try for your own service. Here are a few….


Become transparent around billing and ensure subscribers always feel in control


Change fees, trick subscribers or hike up prices unexpectedly


Make upgrades easy, quick and clear – and sometimes free as a token of appreciation!


Put obstacles in the way or try to push them into staying with the same monthly fee


In our final report, to be published in October, we will focus on Churn, exploring the relational dynamics at play when subscribers interact with brands, including…

Why customers leave

The reasons why subscribers might exit the relationship – and the difficulties inherent in winning them back

Reciprocity bias

How relationships between brands and subscribers involve a reciprocity bias, and how subscribers react when they feel rejected

Positive and negative associations

The factors that explain why subscribers react more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones



Jennifer is the director of QualiProjects ( and managed the study from start to finish. She has been a qualitative researcher for 14 years and conducts research for businesses from consumer and tech to social, health and charity sectors, in multiple languages.


Katharina is a business psychologist and researcher with a decade of experience in qualitative and quantitative research. She supports brands in finding psychological influences on retention, loyalty, purchase decisions, product perceptions and customer experience, and helps brands to build these insights into their business strategies.


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