How to Get Users to Use Your Product on a Daily Basis

This is Part 15/18 in the series “How to Build an Innovative New Product or Company” on the topic of engaging your users’ “fast systems” to transition from occasional to continual usage of your product

A recap of a point I made in Step #4 of the “4 Steps to Develop a Strategy”:

Let me be clear: no user will use your product unless it helps them solve a problem or accomplish a critical job they are trying to solve (even if it solves a buyer’s problem and the buyer is their boss). To get product usage, you need a user’s internal triggers to fire and then you want to be the reaction they have to that trigger firing. You cannot create usage by giving people a product and saying it does something new that they are not trying to do. Amazon on a cellphone does this for many people: whenever they think they need to buy something, it’s easier to open their phone and buy it than it is to write it down on a shopping list and buy it later in a store. The internal trigger fires and Amazon is the brain’s go to response…

Does your product even have a daily usage value proposition?
Talk to your users. What are the problems/actions they tackle on a daily basis? How often do they think about the problem that your product solves? If your product is solving a weekly or monthly workflow then doing any of the steps below to drive daily usage will end up annoying your users. In that case, you may need to add features that tackle ancillary daily needs.

LinkedIn and Zillow both struggled with this. For LinkedIn, people would use their website once a year when they were considering a job move. For Zillow, it was once every few years when they were considering buying a new house. LinkedIn realized they could not use their core job-matching value proposition to drive daily usage. Thus, they bought the newsfeed aggregator Pulse and recast the front end of the site to make it more focused on staying up-to-date with your professional contacts. Zillow added Zestimate, a way for homeowners to see an estimated value of their house—something many enjoyed doing on a more regular basis.

Products typically solve daily + small problems or weekly/monthly + large ones
Few problems both are large and daily. Amazon found one for making it easy to buy anything—every day someone at least thinks they need to buy something. Problems that are both large and daily typically have many alternative and competitive options.

Daily and small problems are what users must care about.

Large and rarer workflows are what buyers care about: this is where ROI lives. The problem is that habits are only formed on daily usage. Infrequent behaviors never move from conscious to subconscious action and thus are always at risk that the behavior will be forgotten.

When trying to excite users, it is much easier to make something that is both high frequency and small appear important and thus gain attention around a solution (e.g., as Facebook does). Much harder is the inverse (e.g., as a faster tax preparation software). Said another way, our brains more naturally focus on what appears urgent than what is important.

If your product has daily users but no large ROI, then look for less frequent, larger problems to add in. If your product has a large ROI but no daily usage, look in the other direction: for small minor headaches that affect your users every day and solve them. In the “4 Steps to Develop a Strategy”, we discussed building a product with features that naturally align buyers and users and this is part of the art of doing that well.

Using your product to get users’ “fast systems” to take over and make your product a daily habit

In the prior article I wrote about psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s insight in Thinking, Fast and Slow that the brain alternates between two systems. One is the brain’s fast system that lets us brush our teeth and drive our car on a daily basis without having to think about every action and habit. The other is the brain’s slow system that lets you learn these behaviors initially.

Our goal here is to take a product that users are using on a semi-regular basis (e.g. linkedin or Zillow) and move them into a subconscious daily routine rooted in muscle memory.

Nir Eyal has a “Hook Model”

  • An internal or external trigger fires, causing the user to think about your product
    • An internal trigger is when a user wants to accomplish something and your product is the first to come to mind. Ideally this is a part of their daily routine: a habit. Why does a user take a frequent action? It may be for a social connection, to avoid being out of the loop, or to avoid missing out on discussions.
    • An external trigger is when the product causes the user to pay attention to it. This could be via a daily email (with a clear button showing the action to take) or an app notification on the phone.
  • An action is done by the user in response to the trigger
    • As a product owner, your goal is to make taking the action easy.
  • A variable reward is delivered …
    • The reward should be a surprise; predictable rewards don’t stimulate repeated action.
    • Users will take the action to learn what the reward will be; intrigue and curiosity are motivators.
    • For example, when you open your email inbox, it can reveal all kinds of messages—predictable spam or notes from coworkers, but also updates from friends or new ideas. Posting a Facebook post can cause reactions and likes from friends.
    • Social rewards are particularly powerful as demonstrated by the value people put in their Uber rating or Quora’s ability to encourage its users to contribute to the platform for recognition.
  • … and finally, the user makes a small investment back into the product
    • The user puts something back into the product—such as liking something, adding a new friend to the network, building a virtual house, or entering some more profile information. Over time, the investment adds up and makes it harder to walk away from the net investment. Also, the investment allows the product to continue to personalize the interactions and make them appear more meaningful; thus, the better the algorithm gets and then the more it may be used.
    • Over time, even small investments can lead to big changes in behavior.

Eyal shares a few worthy quotes. Habits, which you have to form to get to daily usage, are actions taken without thought. Those can be abused as they “can quickly degenerate into mindless, zombielike addictions.” Also: “If it can’t be used for evil, it’s not a super-power.”

Your customers can also put stage-gates and speedbumps in place that inspire the use of your product
Salesforce is a great case study. In many companies, Salesforce is a product that all salespeople use on a daily basis and keep updated with information—even when many salespeople might prefer not to.

What incentivizes sales team members to enter their sales updates consistently? There’s a natural inclination to just put a sales lead into the system when they’re about to close a deal. But doing so would skew their manager’s view of the pipeline, makes it much harder for their manager to help problem-solve active opportunities. Also, the salespeople themselves might be more likely to forget the history of interactions with a lead.

Some companies make keeping Salesforce updated a requirement to use shared resources. For example,

  • You can’t schedule a conference room without referencing the Salesforce opportunity in Salesforce that the conference room is needed for;
  • A pre-sales engineer won’t review and help support a deal unless it is in Salesforce;
  • And if you want to schedule a flight to visit a prospect, you can’t without referencing a Salesforce opportunity

For your product, what are the emails users have to send to get approval to do things on a daily basis? If you build around those workflows, then adding speedbumps like the ones mentioned above could be one way to provide a source of constant but soft pressure to ensure users reference your product often.

For managers, can you build a one-stop-shop they can reference to run their weekly review meetings from? If they can just look at your application and have no need to create PowerPoint slides then the managers will create a constant pressure on their team members to keep your platform updated.

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All books and other resources referenced in this article