The Rise of Usership in a Post-Place World

We may have just shot forward ten years in ten months.

The pandemic has acted as a dramatic accelerant for the Subscription Economy in terms of agility, flexibility, and autonomy. It has been the ultimate forcing function for digital transformation.

Here in the US, roughly 40% of the workforce are currently sitting through Zoom meetings in their sweatpants. That percentage will drop by the end of the year, but the data is clear: when the dust settles on the pandemic, there will be roughly twice the amount of remote workers as before.

And many of those remote workers have already left town. About twenty million people have moved, or are planning to soon. Lots of them are leaving big cities for cheaper and larger spaces, while younger workers are happy to replace them (at discounted rents!).

So what’s the common denominator across this new “post place” world in terms of work, leisure, housing, dining, health care, travel, and all the rest of it? I think it boils down to one word: Usership. A new consumer sentiment that values people over things, experiences over products, and access over ownership.

What does a typical day in the life of a newly relocated remote worker in 2021 look like? After staying in an Airbnb for a few weeks, maybe they’ve landed a rental through Zillow or Trulia. Maybe it came furnished, or maybe they’re subscribing to furniture through Feather or CORT (that’s right — you can subscribe to dining room tables now).

In terms of transportation, maybe they graduated from ride-sharing apps to a lease from Fair or a subscription from Volvo. After binging on takeout for the first month, maybe they’ve settled into a steady meal kit service like Thistle or Freshly. Their entire employment infrastructure probably consists of a work-provided laptop, pre-equipped with a suite of productivity apps like Box and Asana.

I could go on: streaming services, dating apps, clothing services, telehealth plans, fitness routines, personal finance dashboards, online counseling. Today all those things live in your pocket. You can hop on a plane and take your life with you — all you need is a few changes of clothes, a laptop, and a cell phone.

We still have to tackle the hard stuff on our own: taking care of friends and family, finding fulfilling means of work, looking out for our community, staying healthy and happy. But the Subscription Economy has evaporated an amazing amount of logistics and friction from our lives.

All this has dramatic implications for modern businesses. According to our own End of Ownership survey, nearly two-thirds of consumers feel more connected to companies with whom they have a direct subscription experience versus companies whose products they can simply purchase as a one-off.

So what are some key takeaways for entrepreneurs in this new “post-place” era?

First, set yourself up for subscription success by mastering five key components: a compellingly priced offer, a frictionless subscriber experience, a business model optimized for recurring revenue and profitability, an efficient order-to-cash process, and a scalable technology architecture. (I’ll be writing more about these skill sets in future newsletters!)

Second, if you’re running a business that depends on foot traffic and physical locations — stores, restaurants, gyms, etc — you need “flip the script” and make your online presence your first point of contact. The pandemic has been a massive forcing function for online primacy, and that consumer imperative won’t go away anytime soon.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, start paying attention to consumption, as opposed to unit sales. Miles driven, not cars sold. Hours played, not games shipped. Features used, not applications downloaded.

That’s where the real value lies. That’s where the usership lives.

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Disclosure: These opinions expressed are mine, not those of the company. The companies mentioned in this newsletter are not necessarily Zuora customers.

Founder and CEO of @Zuora (NYSE: ZUO) and the author of “SUBSCRIBED: Why the Subscription Model Will be Your Company’s Future — and What to Do About It.”

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