Feb 20, 2020

5 lessons from Elevate app on creating an engaging product

One of the common work-related challenges that I face in my professional responsibilities (irrespective of B2B / B2C, startup/established organization, mobile app/web product etc) is how to make a product more engaging so that the adoption and retention rates are high. 

What motivates a user to try out a software product? What's required to sustain the same motivation for a longer time? As a product manager, what do I need to do to enable both? 

Over the past 6 months, I've been using this mobile app called Elevate and I'm loving it. Except for a few days, I have been maintaining a solid streak of using this app daily. What makes me come back to this app every single day? Why am I loving it? Let me try to jot down the answers to these questions from a "user" POV and capture the key lessons from a product management perspective.

I came across this app through an Instagram Sponsored Post. I don't remember the exact phrase used in the ad, but something on the lines of being a "trainer for your brain". This was the external trigger but there was already an internal trigger running in my mind. I was grappling with these questions - Why am I becoming so dependent on the calculator on my phone/laptop for silly calculations? What happened to my mental arithmetic capabilities that helped me a great deal during school and college? I shouldn't be taking my mobile phone out for simple calculations like 18*12 ! This was the first and foremost factor that motivated me to install this app in the first place. 

Though the product is extremely engaging, there is also one more solid reason why I use this app every day. My 8-year old daughter loves the app and she sits beside me while I'm playing. She encourages me to do better and whenever I get a High score, she gives me a high-five. And she reprimands me as well when I lose all my lives 🙂 Even on days when I forget to play, she reminds me and we sit together to play.

Lesson 1: External triggers will ONLY resonate IF there is already an internal trigger/push.

Every day, the free version displays 3 different games pertaining to Reading, Writing, Speaking and Math skills. And you don't get to see the 3 games upfront. When you open the app and start your training, the three games reveal themselves one after another. No two days are the same. The app provides a wide variety of games and there is an element of surprise to find out which games are part of a day's training. The app doesn't reveal all the games available to a free user in one go. As the user crosses certain milestones, new games are unlocked slowly and steadily. Each game has different music, varied sets of elements and pictorial representations, so you don't feel a sense of monotony.

Lesson 2: Provide scope for variety and surprise the user with new content. For gaming or social media apps, this is easier to accomplish, but we can still think of ways to make the experience more engaging for mundane apps as well. Why does business software need to be static and boring?

As you play the three games in a given day's training session, the app rewards you with Good Job, Great Job and Excellent Job, depending on your performance. And the visual representation of this scoring is done with the help of a hexagon. The fact that the hexagon gets completed ONLY if you get an Excellent Job is such a fascinating trigger. The need for completion/closure pushes you to play the same game until you hit the Excellent Job, thereby completing the hexagon. The visual elements typically used in similar gamified applications are a CIRCLE or a PROGRESS BAR, but for some reason, I find the use of a hexagon to be unique in this case. I don't remember the number of points I score in a given game, but if I hit the full hexagon mark, it gives me a sense of achievement.

Lesson 3: Human need for accomplishment/achievement can be such a powerful motivating factor. When deciding on the gamification strategy, it is not about the number of badges or scoring structure. The main objective should be to think through how we can get a user to experience a sense of achievement at the end of a session/workflow.

The app provides interesting insights into your growth across varied skills. As a person who loves interpreting charts and graphs, I do spend some time going through my Performance charts every single day. It gives me interesting comparisons of my levels relative to other Elevate users. It doesn't bombard me with too many metrics but only the most relevant ones. Though I use the app every single day, I spend a max of 15 minutes per day, which includes my training session as well as the time I look through the Performance charts. I don't like playing addictive games as they consume so much time and attention. After the Farmville experience back in 2010, I consciously stay away from gaming both on my phone and my laptop 🙂

Lesson 4: Products that require high engagement needn't necessarily take up all of a user's time. Social media apps can also be better designed so that a user can spend 10-15 min per day and yet feel motivated to come back to the app every single day. Of course, that may never be prioritized by the current social media behemoths who monetize users' data and attention.

Elevate delivers on the promise of being a trainer for my brain. I do feel a sense of improvement in my writing, reading and Math skills ever since I started using the app. I'm more conscious of the choice of words I use while writing my blog posts. I'm more accurate while doing simple mental Math calculations. I'm able to grasp the meaning and context better while reading. These are in fact the desired outcomes of any user who signs up for Elevate. It is not about the badges, scores or streak days BUT more about whether the app delivers value.

Lesson 5: As Product Managers, we tend to focus more on the metrics (DAUs, MAUs, event tracking, workflows etc) but it is more important to measure whether the user feels a sense of progress. As Kathy Sierra says, "Upgrade your user, not your product. Don't build better cameras, build better photographers"

Any Elevate fans reading this? 🙂 What do you love about this app?

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