Some time ago, I talked about targeting your product towards one specific place in the users’ life-cycle instead of assuming they will be with you forever. However, in many cases, it can be more interesting to span over several phases in the user-life-cycle. This will allow you to cater to situations of change. Spot them by mapping the patterns of your users’ life, and be ready for a community much more open and responsive to your good deals and the change you propose.

A user life-cycle in the literal way

I have always been jealous of designers creating pregnancy and baby-care websites. Consider this: Pregnancy is a 9 months long period of time where a sequence of very well known events will occur almost like clockwork. Imagine how accurate you can make an algorithm sending out emails when each event is likely to occur; “At this point in your pregnancy, it is very normal to feel nauseous”. Even after the baby has been born, the child goes through even more phases of life with very well-known and common problems. Imagine the relationship that can be built between the parent and the website – or even between the child or your adult and the website! Imagine the loyalty you can build in your users.

Imagine being able to build up a relationship to a mother starting when she is pregnant; giving her advice on how to go through the 9 months of pregnancy, being there to congratulate her with her birth, to share the happiness when the child takes its first steps, to give her advice on taking care of a toddler, to share the frustrations of a hormone-bursting teenager, and to help send a young adult out into the real world.

A real life example:

I work for Benjamin Media, a Danish publishing company focusing primarily on producing lifestyle magazines and content. One of our magazines is Vmax which have an accompanying website called frequently publishes new editorial content, but also have a vibrant community manifested with user- and car profiles of its readers.

Users at comes in different shapes and sizes. There are the ones not yet old enough to drive. These create a user profile, participate in debates, collect favorite cars, but rarely create a car profile. Even though they do not participate in the community with a car, they in large scale represent the fan-boys that give the people with a car the admiration they came for.

Another group consists of users just 18 years old (legal driving age in Denmark). Often these cannot yet afford owning a car, but tag along with friends to car-events. They have an opinion about who and what is cool and not. Most likely they will adhere to a crew of friends, of which many have announced names. They cling on to friends who own cars, for who they will protect and serve. They will bash anybody in the forum that gets in the way of the crew.

Finally there is a group consisting of car-enthusiasts who were once in the game, but feel like they are done fooling around. They have now settled down with their wife, kids, and station-wagon – but still occasionally sit down to dream back on the glorified days of fun. This group is still interested in the field, but keep more to themselves.

What about the people who upload car profiles? They make the essence of the entire site! While this group is important for the site’s survival, the other groups together easily outweigh users with cars.

The interesting thing is the fact that each group will at some point in their life be receptive to creating a car profile. At some point in the life-cycle, it is time to own a car – and at another it is time to sell that car.

Prioritize your user groups

So what group is more important? That’s a discussion similar to the “Hen and the egg” – one can’t live without the other. So be careful not to forget one of the two (or one of the 5 or 6). Each group have different goals which they reach in different ways.

Identify each of your user groups and identify which are more important. Some say that you should only cater to one group while others accept a few more. They all agree to setting the priorities straight and the importance of identifying how you can help one or more groups of users reaching their goal.

There is one catch though.

Users evolve: they grow up!

Do you want your users to stay you with for the long run or are you fine with them leaving when they grow up – or at least go into another phase of their life?

In many cases it will make sense to go for the latter approach, but there are also those rare cases where it just makes sense to keep your users in the fold for just a little while longer. And why not – it’s more users in the bank – and more situations to take advantage of!

Situations of change

Situations of change occur when a user exists one group to join another. Such situations are potentially extremely valuable for a website as they represent moments where the user is open and receptive to making a deal or making a change.

From an advertising and e-commerce perspective, situations are great and open opportunities to tailor specific messages and offers to the user.

Situations of change is when to strike! Forget the other 99% of the users’ time, when you spam them with big banners and CPM-based advertising.

Situations of change come in patterns

One type of pattern is “patterns of change”. Examples are when the user is ready to buy the first car, move away from home, buy the first home, buy the first furniture, return the first furniture, when the first baby is born, and when baby is kicked out. These are events happening only once for the individual, but all the time for users when seen as a community.

Another type of pattern is “recurring patterns of behaviour”. My parents always travel abroad in the spring to catch some sunshine for which they order plane tickets. They have traveled with the same agency before, but tend to shop around. It amazes me that the travel agency used more than once is yet to figure this pattern out. Why aren’t my parents proactivly approached with a good offer by the agency a month before they usually travel? This is the time when they are the most receptive to accepting such an offer. These are recurring patterns of individual change.

Tailor your experience for situations of change

Map out what situations of change that you can possibly support and build experiences that support them. It is wise to guide your design concentrating on only one archetypal person, but the really interesting moments are situations of change – one being the person growing up and moving along.

Anders Toxboe Author

Based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Toxboe is a Product Discovery coach and trainer, helping both small and big clients get their product right. He also founded and a series of other projects. Follow Anders at @uipatternscom.


  • Brian Heumann on Jul 11, 2009

    Nice summary of how to look at user lifecyles … Marketeers were already aware of such “changes”, but your example nicely translates the user transitions into typical Web behaviours.

    I also think that user analysis should not only take a snapshot of current user groups but also describe what a typical “user career” looks like in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years from now …

  • Complete Website Redesign on Aug 27, 2009

    I can no moreagree with this. Thank you for this wonderful blog posts. Lets me going with something more and gives a realistic estimate of what is means “understand your audiences”. Thanks

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