Lifecycle Marketing is Real-World Interactive Storytelling

February 27, 2019 Brady Walker

Every customer has a story, but as a retail marketer, you have it in your power to guide the narrative.

When Netflix launched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the internet blew up. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Bandersnatch was the first successful attempt at interactive, choose-your-own-adventure storytelling in a cinematic medium. As the story progressed, viewers would reach a point where they’d be asked to make a decision for the main character, and that would lead viewers through a forking story path. There were so many possibilities that it’s unlikely that any of your friends would experience the same Bandersnatch that you did.

According to The Hollywood Reporter:

“Officially, Netflix says there are five “main” endings. But there is a caveat: There are variants on all of them. Given that there are millions of unique story permutations created by [Charlie] Brooker’s game-changing script, not every viewer can unlock all of the endings. Also, the way any one person will arrive at those endings will vary, since the interactive experience evolves as viewers make choices.”

In this analogy, retail marketers are the audience members and customers are the story characters. There are millions of paths you can observe that will bring your customers to five possible major outcomes. Of course, because we live in the real world, none of these is the real end of the story (or at least they don’t have to be):

  1. Member: any user who has signed up for email communications, but hasn’t yet made a first purchase.

  2. One-Purchase Buyer: any customer who has made one - and only one - purchase.

  3. “Active” Repeat Buyer: a repeat customer who looks like he or she is buying along at his or her own typical purchase frequency.

  4. “At Risk” Repeat Buyer: a repeat customer who looks like he or she is beginning to “cool down,” or veer off of his or her individual purchase frequency. For example, for a customer who typically buys once a week, this might mean going two or three weeks without making a purchase.

  5. “Lost” Repeat Buyer: a repeat customer who has veered so far off of her typical purchase frequency that, based on other historical customers that she resembles, she is very unlikely to return.

In a perfect world, every time you launch an action, it leads your audience closer to the grand outcome of “Active” Repeat Buyer. But this is a Bandersnatch analogy! You don’t know if turning left or turning right will lead your customer down that ever-forking path toward “Lost” instead of “Active.”

Without holistic customer intelligence, retail marketers can’t know which actions will lead to which outcome and thus they have no control over the stories being told or how to properly guide customers through their journey with the brand.

With the right data, analytics, and processes, retail marketers can experiment with ways to guide each customer journey to that “Active” Repeat Buyer happy ending.

To do this, you need to reorient your strategy. You’re not going to architect and direct the entire elaborate web of customer stories intersecting with your brand all at once. No one is able to become totally customer-centric overnight. Or as I like to say, “Bandersnatch wasn’t written in a day!”


Zeroing in on the Storyline You Want to Rewrite

As challenging as it may be, adjusting your marketing strategy to accommodate complexity and properly tailoring your messaging to each of the different segments of your customer base is essential—after all, a one-size-fits-all approach will inevitably alienate customers for whom the brand messaging doesn’t fit.

Let’s pretend you’re a brand whose “leakiest bucket” is an unusually high rate of attrition among your highest-spending buyers. Perhaps you have no problem acquiring high-value customers, but you struggle to keep these customers coming back three, six, or twelve months down the line. Given that the top 10% of the average retailer’s customer base can account for as much as 50% of its revenue, this is no small problem and the potential rewards for addressing it are massive.

Having identified a segment of “lost” repeat buyers—perhaps by pinpointing similarities between these customers’ purchasing profiles and your historical churn data—you decide that churn is the (forgive the pun) “Brandersnatch” storyline that most urgently needs rewriting.

Assuming high-value customer attrition has the greatest negative impact on your bottom line, high-value customer retention—or “churn minimization”—represents your greatest opportunity for improvement.


Crawl, Walk, Run: Going from Viewer to Doer

Mitigating high-value customer attrition is no small task, so it’s helpful to break the goal down into pieces. To that end, we are strong proponents of using a “crawl, walk, run” framework to guide your strategy for tackling your greatest brand challenges.


First, crawl. Use your customer intelligence tools to identify distinct customer segments based on their behavior. From here you can directly target customers who are “cooling down” (i.e. their visits are fewer and farther between), customers “at risk” of churn, customers at “high risk” of churn, and customers who are already effectively lost.

After selecting a marketing channel, you can launch a simple promotional campaign through your ESP with three variants.

For example:

  • One offering 10% off (the low discount)

  • One offering 25% off (the high discount), and

  • One offering no discount at all (the control).

The campaign that generates the highest profit per user is your winner. Consider this your first data-backed “storytelling tip.”

Now that you have a baseline strategy in place, you can generate and upload a new list of churn-liable customers to your ESP every week, allowing you to serve optimized offers to precisely the right customer segments on a rolling basis.



Next, walk. Now that you know the promotional sweet spot for each of your at-risk segments, you can introduce an additional marketing channel (or several) while drilling deeper into each subgroup.

Take the “cooling down” storyline, for example. Taking audience segmentation to the next level, you can sort “cooling-off-ers” according to their potential lifetime value. So you can test and talk with them differently to see what best moves the needle.  

This increasingly granular segmentation can help you refine your messaging and promotional strategy even further, a precision that is critical to retaining your highest lifetime-value customers. The best messaging served to a high-spending loyalist is probably very different from the best messaging for a sale-seeking opportunist.



Finally, run. Using a tool like a data-clustering function, you can sort your customers into distinct personas based on their historical purchasing behavior, demographics, and any other characteristics you believe are relevant.

Once this is done, it’s time to deploy your most precious marketing resource—creative.

Imagine you discover that your highest tier of customers comprises several different subgroups, including both women shopping for functional staples for their husbands and young adult men looking for their latest trendy outfit. A catch-all batch of creative crafted to appeal to mid-career businessmen would likely fail to entice vicarious female shoppers or fad-following young adults, meaning all your painstaking segmentation will have been for naught.

But now you know who your characters are and how to guide them through divergent storylines to the happy ending of finding what they need.


Curated Lifecycle Marketing

As a retailer, it can sometimes feel like your customers’ decisions about whether to remain faithful to your brand or start exploring other options are always entirely within their control. We’re not here to dispute consumers’ free will, but just like making decisions while viewing Bandersnatch, independently navigating the increasingly complex retail landscape can lead individuals to unexpected outcomes.

Luckily, with strategic lifecycle marketing—that is, targeted campaigns built around precise customer segmentation—you have the ability to influence how consumers approach their “choose-their-own-adventure” retail odysseys and ensure that more often than not, they end up finding their way to your brand.

To learn more about preventing churn within your customer base, check out our ebook, It’s Not You, It’s My Data.


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