Learn from the best: how Slack grab a user’s attention in 10 seconds

This article shares an exercise that I’ve done with very early stage product teams unsure of how to grab the attention of potential new users, or slightly more mature ones that have confusing feedback about their value proposition from early adopters. This isn’t meant to be a golden formula, but rather a vehicle for constructive discussion, and would work just as well with any product as an interesting ‘review and refresh’ exercise.

A great strap-line, or slogan, should convey your product’s value proposition immediately, and memorably. If your product is new, and your brand has no recognition or gravitas, then you’ve maybe 10 seconds, to let micro-copy summarise what your product stands for.

How to get there?

Bootstrapped startups generally tend not to have the budget for an expensive branding agency (and what’s Lean about spending on that!?). So I’d thought I’d share an article that is based on an exercise I facilitate with new product teams at a point in their prototype build where they really need great micro-copy for marketing sites, advertising, or the product itself — and we usually fit it in the rare downtime between development Sprints.

Why is a great strap-line so important?

“ Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer. To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.” — Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group

Warning: users are not investors, so this isn’t the place for the ‘high concept pitch’, e.g. “Whatsapp for white goods”, “Uber for dogwalkers”, etc. If your product is an ‘X’ for ‘Y’, your early adopter superfans will hopefully do the comparison for you!

Remember, just like good product design and UX, ‘Simple is beautiful’. Whilst we don’t want to repeat the high concept pitch to the wrong audience, you also haven’t got long to parade convincing narratives and data in front of potential users, either in an advert or a product splash page. These aren’t pitch competitions, you have a matter of seconds.

Step 1. Gathering the right people in the room

I have found this activity works best with about 5 or 6 people, and I like to make sure that it is a mixture of disciplines in the room; product manager, developers, designers and marketing types need to be evenly represented.

Step 2. Revisiting your value proposition

Within the group, the chances are that you’ve a version of this in your mind, or nearby on something like a Business Model Canvas.

Quick reminder what we are looking for:

  • A product value proposition tells a person how your product or service is going to benefit him or her.
  • It is a concise statement that clearly conveys (implicitly or explicitly) what you do and makes people confident that you are better than your competitors (signalling)

Step 3. Reverse engineering what great looks like.

I’ve used Slack as an example here, because it is so well known, but there are plenty of other examples of ‘what great looks like’ that may suit your exercise better.

One of the strongest indicators of success is the ability of consumers to easily understand the product you’re offering them. Slack is a great example of a company that nails its strap line, and isn’t afraid of iterating on it on a regular basis — so let’s start the exercise by analysing their approach to try to understand why it is so effective.

“Slack is where you access the messages, the files, the decisions, the key moments in the life of your business. It’s where work happens.”

It’s powerful. What does this strap-line tell us about the product?

Let’s unpack all the information Slack are conveying here:

Activity:Each person take 2 minutes to write on post-its all the bit of information that we can infer directly, or that is being signaled in this strap line.

Examples could be:

  • Where work happens: it suggests one central place where all workplace communications can live
  • Key moments in the life of your business: this is not social media, this is an application that could be core for my business.
  • Messages: what you can do with Slack
  • Files: I can upload and share files with Slack
  • [Access] the decisions: suggests to me that I can search it and use it as a record
  • Where work happens: this is something that may increase productivity and decrease wastage

Activity (10 minutes): Encourage the team to share what they have written down on a wall, or white board. Ask them to talk through and describe what they inferred from the example copy.

Having started with what great looks like, move on to your own existing copy.

Activity & discussion: write up existing value proposition strap line for your product on the board.

Discuss.

What are you trying to signal to users?

Activity: Create a wish list on the board or wall of all the different key messages, features and problems that your product solves.

This is a bit like reverse-engineering. Try writing all the ideas of the things you want to communicate in your strap-line. Does they match with what you have? Very often it isn’t the case.

Activity: using the inspiration from what we’ve seen, and the ideas the team has had about what they want to communicate, spend 4 minutes ‘having a go’ individually.

This is an exercise that is meant to get the brain thinking, not come up with an answer right away. Discuss and record the ideas from the team, and try to work them in to a new draft strap line. Spend some time looking at the attempts from the team, and comparing them with the wish-list. Are all the ‘wishes’ represented?

One size does not fit all

Think about where these examples would fit best, where could this be deployed, and where could you change it for different channels?

Take inspiration from more examples from Slack of how they tweak their strap lines for different channels:

Google search:

Homepage:

Twitter:

Slack constantly tweak their copy, and use different versions for different purposes and against different constraints— these will be the result of constant iterations, and are evidence that they are testing, and refining the different version of their strap-line all the time.

What next?

Hopefully the exercise has prompted a discussion in your product team, and you may have even redrafted your copy and found a consensus within your team. Now test it. Proposition test your target audience with the different strap lines. Different version may appeal to certain audiences more than others, but you won’t know until you test it out. Like good design, you should iterate, iterate, iterate.

Final thoughts

Whenever I’ve ran this exercise it has generated new ideas and encouraged useful discussions about the micro-copy associated with the product and its value.

The minimum take-away that I hope you can take from this exercise is tighter, richer copy for your product’s strap-line that communicates your product’s value proposition better. Hopefully, you’ve also thought more about how your potential users (and maybe even your team) understand your product’s value proposition, and have some new ideas and direction that can inform your product marketing strategy.

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