Everyone wants to build the digital products of the future that are used and loved by customers. But what makes some products thrive and others die? What principles do sticky products follow? And is there something – really anything – that makes products just a little bit more sticky?
What makes an idea stick?
In 2006, Chip and Dan Heath wrote Made to Stick, a book in which they reveal why some ideas stick and others don’t. Even though it has been 12 years since the book came out, the same ideas are still relevant today. Chip and Dan narrowed the “stickiness” of ideas down to six principles. These are:
- Simplicity: Simple ideas stick. The more complexity you’ll add, the harder it is for people to remember.
- Unexpectedness: Surprise is what breaks through the noise. We want to encounter something we didn’t expect and that is worth remembering.
- Concreteness: The more concrete your idea is, the better. Try to ask: what do you mean exactly and narrow it down as much as you can.
- Credibility: Sticky ideas need to be credible.
- Emotions: Emotions are important for making ideas stick. People care about ideas because they feel something.
- Stories: Stories help sell ideas because they make the idea more human, more relatable, and overall more interesting.
What does this mean for making digital products stick?
When you are building digital products the same principles that make ideas stick can also be applied. Let’s explore what this means in detail.
1. Products need to be simple to use
The last 10 years have seen significant improvements when it comes to simplifying processes such as navigation, functionality, or onboarding. The idea is to make the user experience as simple and frictionless as possible. “Create more value by creating less” has become a mantra in the world of web design and user experience.
In short: The simpler your product is to use, the more likely it is to stick.
Wouter de Bres, Director of Product Design at Degreed, writes:
“Products that are easy to understand are more likely to be used, because less elements, features and styling reduce the cognitive loading speed of the interface and product, which leads to a more confident and happy user.”
Simplicity – according to de Bres – is achieved by mostly using less: Fewer features, fewer styles, fewer font sizes, less choice, bright colours, whitespace, clear proportions, a grid. We see this executed everywhere in simple design, simple navigation, and an overall simple user experience.
Simplicity also creates focus. When we use fewer features, fewer elements, we focus on what’s really important. And by doing that our users have an easier time getting a better business value out of our product.
Neal Taparia, who runs jigsaw puzzle and brain training site im-a-puzzle, explains, “When we reduced our puzzle options to only the most popular ones, we found that our bounce rate dropped by over 15%. Our users didn’t want to think, they wanted to play, and we had to make that as easy as possible for them.”
Source: typeform.com – using fewer elements allows your users to focus on your core value
2) Digital products need to contain unexpectedness
A lot has been written on digital products and the element of surprise. Aurimas Adomavicius at Devbridge has written a great post on investing in delight, the last element of the product experience pyramid that is unexpected and because of that delightful.
Here are some examples, how digital products integrate elements of surprise:
Slack displays inspirational or funny quotes (that can be edited!) while you are waiting for the program to start.
Source: screenshot of slack’s loading bar
Usersnap: If you are stumbling over our very own 404-page, you might get a free cookie 🙂
Grammarly: Every week, Grammarly sends you your progress report and how you compare to the rest of the Grammarly users. It’s part productivity check, part silent competition and full-time fun to get these little insights every week.
Pandora: This is a business model that is built on surprise. The music-streaming service lets you choose a genre/mood/artist/or song and plays similar songs. Being a big Pandora fan myself, I was able to find new favourite artists and songs completely by accident.
Your idea needs to be concrete and so does your product. In a market that is oversaturated with great products, it is crucial to narrow your product down and to position it within the existing market. Smart positioning is crucial when it comes to making your product sticky because you want the right audience to connect with it.
Judy Loehr, VC at Cloud Apps, has outlined 5 go-to-market considerations. These are an audience, channels, pricing and packaging, customer acquisition cost, and -only last – messaging. She writes:
“1. Audience. This is first and foremost. Nobody sells to one homogeneous blob of prospects. What are your unique target segments? (…)
2. Channels. Once you know your audience, you need to know where they are looking and where they are learning. This will help you to understand how to best reach your target audience.
3. Pricing and packaging. (…) You can’t just try to copy what other companies are doing in terms of pricing and packaging. You need to “right size” for your segments and strengths.
4. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) strategy model. Work through your acquisition model and costs.
5. Messaging. Messaging comes last. You can only solidify your messaging within the context of everything else.”
Your product needs to be able to speak for itself. It needs to deliver value and users want to tests that before they buy.
We are more likely to do something if we feel it’s from a trusted source. Credibility and trust can be created through various elements and frameworks. Some of them might be:
- certificates and awards
- customer stories
- case studies
- free product trials
That is why most products offer a free trial period to give users a chance to test how a product works for them.
At Usersnap, we offer 15-days (no credit card needed) to test out our Usersnap Classic visual communication tool. Feel free to check it out 🙂
More and more, products are not just about what they can do, but how they make you feel. MailChimp is one example of bringing emotions to the forefront of their product and making the user experience fun and rewarding.
Everyone who has used Mailchimp knows the image of the monkey arm, dripping with sweat, that is about to push the “Send”-Button. What is happening here is a mirror of our own experience, nervous to hit the “Send”-Button. It is not just a mirror, however, it is designed in such a hilarious manner that we are able to laugh at ourselves. The monkey arm – in this case – is a comedic device resulting in tension and relief and making sending newsletters indeed fun!
A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions.
Above all, products need to tell stories. The first story is about how a product tells a story to its users. The second is about the story users tell themselves.
In his famous book „All Marketers are Liars“, Seth Godin writes:
“Consumers are complicit in Marketing. Consumers believe stories. Without this belief, there is no marketing. A marketer can spend plenty on promoting a product, but unless consumers are actively engaged in believing the story, nothing happens.“
What does it mean for your users to be using your product? In how far are you adding to their story, their identity?
Take Fitbit, for example: Just using the App on your phone makes you think of yourself differently. You are a person caring about their fitness, their health. The story, Fitbit tells and the one its users are telling themselves is that tracking your steps is the first step (no pun intended) to “Living your best life”. In that, Fitbit is adding to the identity of each of its users.
Wrapping it up
The six principles outlined in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick can also be applied to digital products. Credibility, Emotion, and stories are not just what make ideas stick, but products as well. When you are using digital products today, try asking yourself what is it that keeps you coming back to these products? Is it because they are simple to use? Or how do they add to your own brand and identity? Learning from other products might be helpful when it comes to building your own.