When “better, faster, stronger” isn’t enough

Evolving our value proposition to create a sticky product

Nofar Albarak
Mar 16, 2020 · 5 min read
David and Goliath

Fighting Goliaths
I’m a product manager in an industry old as dust: business travel. The competition hasn’t changed for years — competitors offer legacy products with robust technology, but a poor user-experience compared to consumer-grade apps available in the B2C market. Think about calling to order a taxi vs. using Uber or Lyft.

For years, employees were trained to use one specific tool. Just recently, my product showed up in the landscape and became an alternative. In our marketing, we chose to focus on speed and ease of use as a go-to-market strategy.

Being David
We constantly came up with new key metrics and simple visualizations to express how easy and productive the tool is, and to encourage clients to adopt and promote it among their employees. We created onboarding campaigns to convey the value to users, to get them to try the tool and hopefully adopt it.

Back to the ride-hailing example — one of the key metrics is how long it takes users to complete their tasks, from ordering to riding. The quicker the better. If one app takes 5 min, while with the other app takes 12 min, then it’s no brainer which one to use, right?

Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Although we managed to prove that our tool is three times faster and thus more productive, many users still tried the app once and then forgot about it.

We did dozens of experiments to try and communicate our unique value to users. We a/b tested visual and creative, call to actions, value props, notification time and different types of messages and so on.

The experiments didn’t generate the desired results, but we did learn many things along the way.

Using data, you can learn when users are more likely to use the product, speaking with customers, will get the why, or in other words, the trigger that made them coming from the first place. (4 skills that set apart great product managers)

Stepping back
At some point, we shifted resources to interview users.
When we asked users why they were not using our tool, or why they didn’t keep using it, they answered: “we’re just used to the other tool — but yours is great when I can’t access the classic tool” — Aha! So what does that mean? We started to dig into the data and found that on weekends, and after work hours, our adoption was much higher than average. So we interviewed more users, and we spotted that because our tool is so fast, users remember to use it in specific moments when speed is useful. Even more interesting was that when the user wasn’t in their common environment, it was easier for them to remember the tool. When they had a few spare minutes, for example: while commuting, waiting in line, waiting for their food, etc. At that point our tool is the perfect match — it’s easy enough to help the users get the job done.

This reminded me of a book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal. In short, habit-forming products “load” a trigger, or create the expectation for something exciting to happen and that it will improve over time. This, in turn, builds up value, which motivates a user to come back, again and again.

Going back to the example of ride-hailing, imagine ad campaigns that encourage the user to order a ride just before they leave the house, or before the user says goodbye to a friend, and so on. Those ads focus on moments the user can utilize the tool, which makes them feel productive. Every time the user says goodbye to a friend and moves on, the user will think about ordering an Uber.

“You are looking for a habit path, a series of similar actions shared by your most loyal users, the more frequently your product is used, the more likely it is to form a user habit.” — — Nir Eyal.

Building the slingshot

We started to come up with a contextual marketing campaign visualizing daily moments where our users can utilize our service. We chose daily moments to increase the chance of users thinking about our service, just as we identified throughout the interviews with our most frequent users. Our assumption was that with time, they would replace their classic tool with ours, and fully adopt it during their normal workflow.

Our KPI was to increase retention — so we looked to hit a tipping point that dramatically increased the odds they would keep using our tool.

We set up an experiment to test the current creative vs the new one.

  • Control group — existing campaign, which focuses on the speed and ease of use.

We monitored the campaign, and after a few weeks, we could see that our assumption was right. The retention of the experiment group increased by over 20% in the first month. The effect lasted for 4 weeks.

We wanted to see if we could extend the effect — so we extended the campaign and created “carousel” messaging that meets the users a few times over several weeks.

To drive even better results, we personalized the messaging around daily moments — for example, in the UK you would probably use the tube VS the metro in the US.

At this point, we are 3 months into the experiment and the results look tremendous! We see that retention on week 8 is higher than the control group by 257%.

We set out with marketing campaigns stating that our product is super easy to use and that it takes just a few minutes to complete tasks, and we were right… but we didn’t communicate it in a compelling way. Bluntly stating that we were faster was not enough to defeat Goliath.

To win the loyalty of our users, we had to learn what compelled them to click… but also what made them stick. It was a team effort to move beyond optimizing our existing value proposition, and create a fundamentally new insight about why “faster” wasn’t good enough — we had to be embedded in our users’ routine. This way, our product can create economic value that is a function of the strength of the habits we create in users.

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