Boosting Your Membership Retention: Customer Avatars

IMG_2329Once your business reaches a certain size, it becomes impossible to know each of your customers personally. There are simply too many of them to keep track of. Instead of tracking the movements of individuals, the more reasonable approach is to keep track of groups of customers with common traits like age group, gender, or income range. We call these “segments,” and they’re incredibly useful for things like creating targeted marketing campaigns.

But when it comes to the highly personal stuff of understanding customer motivation, segments simply aren’t intuitive enough. If you want to understand why a subscriber or customer acts in a certain way, it helps to give that segment a face and a name. The result is called a customer avatar. (It’s also called a customer persona in some contexts, but the core concept is basically the same.)

How would you use an avatar? Let’s start with the segments first. All membership-based businesses share three broad categories of customer:

  • Loyal Customers: People who stay with you for a very long period of time, and renew their memberships for at least several cycles.
  • Drop-Off Customers: Folks who tried your service for a brief period, often a single billing cycle, but who didn’t renew. After that, you never hear from them again.
  • Returning Customers: These are former subscribers who left after an indeterminate period of time, left for a length of time, and then picked their membership back up later.

With these segments in mind, it’s just a short step further to create customer avatars. Using what data you have about each segment, you begin to sketch in a representative customer for each segment. This is a situation where having great demographic data really pays off, but even having a rough idea about the overall makeup of each segment can result in a fairly accurate customer avatar.

Customer avatars make it easier to think about reaching that segment with your marketing and content. Instead of thinking about an abstract segment, you can instead imagine a representative member of that group. Instead of “returning customers” who generally make $50K, tend to be male, and are in the 35-50 age group, you have “Dave.”

A customer avatar is more than just shorthand for a customer group. It allows you to really hone in on meeting this one customer’s need. Sure, Dave is a completely fictional generalization of that segment, but if you’ve created a reasonably accurate avatar, he’s also going to be fairly representative of the mindset and needs of the entire group.

Customer avatars allow you to make educated guesses about a segments motivations, behaviors and pain points. It allows you to look for specific ways to appeal and engage with these segments. If you can reach Dave, you can reach many of the people Dave stands in for as well.

While it’s useful to create representative customers through avatars, that’s only half of the subscriber-retention process. The other side of the equation is to provide targeted incentives that provide them with compelling reasons to keep up their memberships, and to present them at those times when their interest is most likely to drop off. I’ll talk about that in a future post.