You’ve built a product and found a user segment for which you have product/market fit. If users from this segment learn about your product and experience its value for themselves, they will choose it for getting the job done.

This is when you start planning how to get the word out to potential users about your product’s value. But what happens if you simply say that you have some new way of solving their problem? Odds are that their behavior won’t change.

Generally speaking, people want to go with the flow and are reluctant to try new things.

Just because your product might make someone’s life better doesn’t mean they will greet the product with open arms. A person often needs to be in certain circumstances before making life changes. Absent these circumstances, the product’s value will go unappreciated no matter how hard you try.

When working on activation, it’s easy for product teams to completely focus on the product and its value, at the expense of taking the user context into account. But for the product to be successful, it is essential to know the situations when people are primed to perceive your product’s value—plus the situations when they aren’t.

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People aren’t always prepared to “get” your product’s value

Here are examples where both objective value and product/market fit clearly exist:

  • Seeing a psychologist could benefit a great number of people. Many psychological methods have been scientifically proven to work. But if you mention counseling in an ad or personal conversation, most people will be completely uninterested. They are simply not in the frame of mind needed to perceive this value.
  • Many people are careless about online security. As a result, hackers could steal their money, passwords, or other important data. Password managers are a great tool for reducing these risks. However, informing people of this fact will not inspire them to take action.
  • Regular medical screenings help to catch diseases in the early stages and lead to better treatment outcomes. In many countries, these services are provided for free. Yet most people don’t consider it a high priority, so they get busy with other things and ultimately miss out.

Circumstances needed for appreciating product value

For a person to become ready and open to changes, such as using a new product, usually there are certain circumstances that have to be true in their life. This is the moment when a window of opportunity opens for them to see the product’s value.

In the case of a psychologist, this window might be the result of a traumatic experience (such as a difficult separation or bereavement) or recommendation from a friend who benefited from a psychologist in processing their own such experience. But people will seek help only when the problem gets particularly bad, if at all.

For a password manager, this window might occur when an employer introduces new security requirements or an important account gets hacked.

When it comes to visiting a doctor’s office, the trigger might come from fatigue or health concerns.

Many new clients seek out home security companies after a theft or burglary has just happened. Only now does the client find themselves in a context where they are able to assess and appreciate the value of such a product.

In all of these cases, potential users in the target audience had to undergo certain experiences before they could contemplate or perceive the product’s value. Otherwise, they would have remained unreceptive.

The importance of time-limited value windows for activation

So far we’ve looked at a few products that have value windows during which target users are able to appreciate value and activate.

What’s important is not the value or effectiveness of the product per se, but the person and their situation in terms of being open to change and new things.

There are certain moments and situations in our lives when we have a high motivation to change. Usually this comes from unhappiness at how a certain aspect of life is going, or perhaps from confidence that we can make it significantly better.

Switching to a new product

So when working on activation, it’s not enough to understand merely what job the product does or what its added value relative to the competition is. We also need to know which situations pry open that window so that people can see value.

When the circumstances aren’t right, trying to show value to these very same users will fail. They won’t appreciate the product’s value and won’t activate.

Windows come in many different forms:

  • Big life events (a move, new job, or wedding)
  • Novel problems and “growing pains” at a company (growing from 100 to 500 employees, entering new markets, expanding product lines)
  • Recommendation from a respected industry professional or peer

How to find the value windows for your product

How does one go about identifying the situations and mechanisms that prime people to see your product’s value? The very same approaches that form the core of product research:

  • Analyzing the behavior of successful users (who saw value and have started using the product regularly)
  • Analyzing the behavior of unsuccessful users (who tried the product and then abandoned it)

Specific methods can include in-depth interviews, surveys, and session analysis. The choice of method will depend on the product type and level of user understanding.

Here are some of the questions you should try to answer:

  • What happened in the user’s life prior to them deciding to use your product? How did the user accomplish this job before? What situation were they in previously?
  • What triggered them to start using your product?
  • What was the path from discovering your product to deciding that it makes their life better and justified the investment in learning?

For the Workplace from Meta team, this research in the SMB segment gave lots of actionable insights for improving activation. The team used a combination of in-depth interviews and session analysis to get these insights, which included:

  • If the initial users exploring the product and deciding whether to adopt it did not include at least one C-level or other senior executive, success was extremely unlikely.
  • Success became more probable when the company was using old methods for communication like email, SMS, and legacy chat platforms.
  • In some cases Workplace would come onto a company’s radar when new employees joined from other companies. An employee who had previously used it and later moved to a Workplace-less company would often champion it at their new workplace.

These are just a few of the insights we gleaned. But they gave plenty of food for thought on how to boost activation. These ideas can cover both the product level (how to structure the in-product activation flow) and the channel level (who, when, and how to acquire users).

What an understanding of value windows can do to benefit product activation

Most teams will focus on the product experience for new users. This is their comfort zone.

But if we realize that there are a finite number of circumstances and mechanisms for surfacing product value, we gain another lever for improving activation. We can try to make these situations more frequent.

Example: Many GoPractice users study with our simulators at the recommendation of a colleague or superior who is a few years ahead in their career. Sometimes this comes after seeking advice on how to strengthen a certain skill, or because a colleague or superior is looking for ways of bettering their subordinates that are more time-effective than traditional mentorship.

This insight yields a potential lever for activation.

We should make sure that as many experienced people in the industry as possible get to know GoPractice products and believe in them as the best option of their kind on the market. And there are plenty of methods for trying to make that happen.

Similarly, working with well-regarded physicians who are trusted by patients goes a long way in encouraging uptake and activation for beneficial medications and procedures. 

This mechanism is depicted in “Dopesick”. (Unfortunately, in the particular case shown in that TV miniseries, trust was abused in order to push something that ultimately hurt patients.)

Or imagine that you’re working on a service for online notarization of documents in the U.S., which has become possible in a number of states thanks to recent legislation. Analysis of successful users showed that the most common use case was for signing mortgage documents. User anxieties about the validity of e-notaries formed a major barrier to acceptance.

That team found an elegant way to thread the needle. They incorporated their product into a white-label solution that integrated directly with mortgage services. This enabled them to deliver product value a) in the context where it is needed most and b) in a way that eliminates the problem of trust.

Conclusion

When thinking about activation, be sure to understand the contexts in which users are able to perceive your product’s value. Then you can do more than just improve the in-product experience of new users—you can shape and even create situations in which value will be appreciated.

To find these value windows for your particular product, start by researching your successful and unsuccessful users. Ask what happened in the user’s life that triggered them to start using your product. Get a feel for the journey to value, as seen through the user’s eyes.