Mar 30, 2015

Perceived effort and it's impact on Activation

I'm sure every product startup founder must have asked themselves and their teams these 3 important questions -
  1. How to get my product in front of my users/customers? => Acquisition
  2. How to get them to try it out? => Activation
  3. How to ensure they come back to it repeatedly? => Retention
For the last few months, I have been investing time in understanding the second question pertaining to "Activation".

Activation corresponds to different goals for different types of markets and products. For social products like Facebook or Twitter, it could mean adding X number of friends or followers. For SaaS products focused on certain business needs, it could mean completing a certain workflow. For e-commerce products, it could mean making the first purchase.

The key insight from all these goals is that the intended person understands the "value" your product brings in and the "perceived benefit" he can get as a result of using your product.

Demonstrating value can be tackled in multiple steps:
  1. Getting the right target audience in front of your product (basic necessity but extremely important)
  2. Making sure the 3Cs (Clear, crisp and compelling) of effective messaging are followed in your landing page
  3. Signup flow is simple and free of any friction
  4. Onboarding is smooth and helps the user to experience ONE small win in a short investment of time (Time-to-Value)
Each of the steps deserve an essay of its own, which I shall park for later blogposts. While I was reading up and researching more on these steps, I also learnt a very important lesson pertaining to user motivation.
"perceived benefit has to be greater than perceived effort"
I came across a couple of equations from Sean Ellis and Matt Wensing that illustrate the same point from the view of friction/pain of adoption.
Conversion rate = Desire - Friction
will_convert == pain_of_adoption < existing_pain_without_solution
 A real life incident that happened recently helped me understand the nuances of perceived effort. My main apartment door has a two-way lock. The inner lock started to get stuck and wasn't working well.

We were making use of the second lock which was on the top corner of the door. Though it was a little uncomfortable, we got used to this alternative. The outer lock didn't have any issues and so we didn't face any problem while stepping out. 

We didn't take the time to fix the lock. It required finding a carpenter, buying a new lock, getting the carpenter to fix it and replacing our existing keys with new ones in our respective key chains. Phew….that sounds like a lot of work.

It all changed when we were planning to go out of town for a week. We usually give the key to our househelp lady to water the plants whenever we are going out for a long break. Many questions cropped up. What if the outer lock snaps and she is not able to lock the door? {Could have happened to us too!). What if she uses the inner lock, got stuck and not able to come out?

The task with a higher perceived effort suddenly turned into an important and urgent one. We got the lock fixed and it didn't take much time. We ordered the lock online, called a carpenter to come home on Saturday morning and got it fixed.

There are a few key take-aways related to human motivation that we can understand from this incident:
  1. We find work-arounds to a problem even though they are not the best solution.
  2. We stick to those work-arounds as long as we can manage and it serves the purpose.
  3. A slight shift in context can bring a big change in our motivation to solve a problem.
  4. Perceived effort in solving a problem may not be the same as the actual effort required but "perceived effort" decides our motivation and thereby, our behavior.
  5. If we need to delegate the work to someone, we are not confident whether the temporary work-arounds we have put in place for ourselves will work for them.
Bottomline - If you are working on improving the activation rates of your product/app, taking time to understand the following questions will help you in improving the activation rates:
  1. What are the present work-arounds being used by your target audience to address their problem/need?
  2. Are they satisfied with their work-arounds?
  3. What trigger points / change in context would make these work-arounds vulnerable that they would start looking for a better solution?
  4. How can you communicate better in your landing page and signup flow that will eventually reduce the "perceived effort" of your target audience?
What other pointers will be helpful related to reducing the "perceived effort"? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.

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