How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention

How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention

Psst! I have a secret to share with you today! This one’s a biggie and it’s one that’s become more apparent to me during recent experiences. I thought it was too good not to share with y’all… If you embrace the importance of customer acquisition and retention and if you are able to apply it to your professional career, you will become an invaluable asset to your company (and your future companies!).

How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention


I know what you’re about to say.

“Acquisition and retention are for marketers, why should I care? I’m just a [insert your creative profession title here].”

And perhaps some of you are even saying, “Acquisition and retention….huh?” (Don’t worry, I was in the boat not too long ago!)

Stop. Right. There.

Customer acquisition and retention are for everybody to understand, use and apply. Allow me to explain…

Most of us are users of the ever popular video streaming product, Netflix. House of Cards, anyone? Although many of use Netflix as our primary TV and movie platform, there was a point in time where we weren’t using Netflix. We were all once non-consumers of Netflix. Netflix actually acquired you and me as their customers. Maybe Netflix had ads that you saw or perhaps you heard about the streaming app from your friends. So you decided to try it out for the first month free trial they offer. After 1 month, you’ve had a taste of the movies and variety of shows Netflix provides; maybe you’ve even found yourself in the middle of a show. Of course you have to subscribe! Let’s say you use Netflix more and find yourself hooked on more shows or the library of movies, now you’re definitely going to continue your monthly subscription. As soon as decide to do so, Netflix had retained you as a customer. Simple, right?

The interesting thing is that there is a lot that goes into getting customers to sign up and stay with a certain company, product or service. It doesn’t just happen magically. (I wish!) What does this mean for us entrepreneurs, designers and product creators? Well, you need to be hyper-sensitive about how the product experiences you create and how they may be perceived by a potential new user or a user you want to keep around. In other words, how will your product help your company acquire customers and then retain them?

So, here’s a quick walkthrough of a few things that might help you out when optimizing for acquisition and retention of the users of your products.



Your company may have a marketing team who is working on driving users to your product. The team is probably working hard to make sure there is a flow of users who are interested in using your product. As the product creator, developer, or designer, you should be aware that this is happening and prepare your product experience for these incoming users.

1. What are your potential users expecting?

Marketing teams are communicating a particular message with specific words and imagery. This sets a certain expectation for the potential user when he or she sees the ad on Facebook, Instagram, a billboard or on Google. If this is intriguing the potential user will click to engage in your product. The question to ask yourself now is whether what’s coming next matches the expectations that were set by the ad.

Here is a Lyft ad that a potential Lyft driver might see:

How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention
An Example of a Recent Lyft Digital Ad

When the potential Lyft driver clicks on this ad, they want to be taken to something that will show them how to make $1000. They are expecting to make $1000 and the initial experience should reflect that or that person is probably not going to sign up to be a driver.

2. Is your product ready to acquire users?

This one’s really simple. Make sure your product is ready for users! Are there any bugs in your app or onboarding experience? Fix them! Is there any potential technical issues that may stop a new user from signing up with your product? Clear them up! First impressions matter here.

3. Is the purpose of your product clear and obvious?

As soon as a potential user clicks and lands on your page, your message needs to right loud and clear. No one is going to download an app if they don’t know what it does. App real estate is limited and a user isn’t going to use your app if you aren’t crystal clear about what it does and what value it will provide. You shouldn’t be making the user think.

4. What is the first time user experience?

Pretend you’re a new user and go through the first few experiences with your product, app or service. (Or better yet, if your product is consumer facing, grab a friend and watch them use your app a few times.) How does it feel? Does it feel easy and effortless? Is there anything that’s confusing or tripping you up? The first time UX is crucial. This is your app’s moment to impress and shine, don’t miss the opportunity!



Some say retention is even more important than acquisition. For most companies, it’s cheaper to keep the same customer than use ads and marketing spend to go out and get a new customer. This is why the smartest business people spend lots of brainpower figuring out how to nurture their customers in order for them to become loyal.

1. What kind of relationship are you cultivating?

Are you putting your app out there for a one night stand or are you in it for the long haul? Many apps these days are trying to buy their customers. Have you ever wondered why Uber has given away so many free rides? This tactic is great to attract users to you and perhaps have them use your product a few more times, but what happens when you stop giving away free rides? Do you expect your users to stick around? Because they might not. What’s stopping them from moving on to the next ride-share app that’s giving away free rides? On the other hand, if a company can provide value that is unique, memorable and truly useful, it can begin the path to a longer term relationship with their users. In addition to what we discussed earlier, Netflix is a great example of this! It provides recommendations and even original content that is unique. There’s a reason users keep coming back to Netflix.

2. Are you speaking your user’s language?

Do you truly understand your users? Do you know what they care about? Do you know what keeps them up at night? Do you know their deepest desires? Okay, maybe we don’t need to take it that far.. But jokes aside, knowing your users and speaking their language is a major key. When a user can relate more to a product or feels like they are interacting with a service that “gets” them, they are likely to keep coming back. A great example of this is Kayla Itsines “Sweat with Kayla” iPhone and Android app. Her app targets millennial girls who want to get fit and have the coveted bikini body. If you look at her app, you’ll notice that she uses a color palette (see below!), graphics and words she uses are ones her users will gravitate towards. Kayla also crafts her workouts to be quick and accessible, since she knows her users care about time-efficiency. Oh, and her secret sauce is the social media buzz she has created for her audience. Anyone who uses the “Sweat with Kayla” app can post their progress on Instagram with hashtags like #BBG, #BBGTransformation and more. Kayla has crafted a world of fitness and inspiration using her users’ language and for that reason, they will pick her over other fitness influencers time and time again.

How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention
“Sweat with Kayla” App Screenshot found in the iTunes Store

3. What are you doing to surprise and delight?

Human relationships are built on reciprocity. If you see someone in the elevator and they smile at you, you’re likely to smile back (I hope!). If a colleague at the office says hi to you, you’ll say hi back. This idea can be translated to product experience. If an app that you are using gives you a free delivery code or shows you a secret app feature, you might get excited. A great examples is this delivery discount that Postmates shared with me last month:  

How to Optimize Your Product for Customer Acquisition and Retention
Screenshot of Postmates App Pop-up – Jan 2017

Let’s say the app does this a few times. As a user, you may be likely to keep using that app because there has been a series of small gestures that have earned your loyalty.

There is a whole world behind acquisition and retention. In fact, they are so important that people have built careers around them! Those people know that they need to monitor pulses of both acquisition and retention to understand if their company is doing a good job. You should too! One thing to keep an eye on is abandonment rate or how many people you might be losing during acquisition. Abandonment rate is a symptom of something that is off in your onboarding or signup process. Another pulse to keep an eye on is churn, or in other words, how many people are leaving your product or service. Churn hurts retention and being able to have a low churn rate is ideal because it means you need to onboard fewer customers. In summary – keep your abandonment rate and your churn rate down!

Alright, y’all! I hope this little guide helped you grasp the basics of acquisition and retention. My best advice to you is to continue to learn about acquisition and retention. Build up your bank of information on this one, because if you do this – trust me, you’ll be the one dropping knowledge bombs in meetings.


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