“User” and “Customer” are Different Animals In the Freemium World

The New York Times’ recent piece on Evernote inadvertently cracked open an important question in the “freemium” discussion: What’s the difference between a user and a customer? The language attached to freemium business models requires specificity because these businesses associate…

The New York Times’ recent piece on Evernote inadvertently cracked open an important question in the “freemium” discussion: What’s the difference between a user and a customer?

The language attached to freemium business models requires specificity because these businesses associate expectations with distinct user groups. With freemium, there’s a vast canyon between free access (users) and pay access (customers); they are not synonymous. That’s why the following clarifications are necessary:

User — A visitor who accesses a site, product or platform, but does not pay. Example: I use Dropbox, but I don’t pay for the top-tier services (yet …)

Customer — A converted user who now pays for premium access or services. Example: As my storage needs increase and I become more reliant on Dropbox, I’ll likely convert into a paying customer.

I realize this entire post teeters on nitpicky semantics, but heated debates require clear boundaries.

Sidenote: I highly recommend the Times’ Evernote story. It’s a great representation of the opportunities and obstacles that come with freemium models, and it has actual numbers.