I’ve always thought that I should floss.  I didn’t have moral objections to flossing.  I would try it from time to time.  I just never seemed to keep it up even though my old dentist kept insisting that I was at risk of gum disease.

My dentist's advice

Then I moved and had to find a new dentist.  He showed me a few pictures of the teeth of flossers and non-flossers, gave me a new brand of floss that was high quality and had a nice minty taste, and asked me to commit to flossing for the next fourteen days right before going to bed.  Then he bet me that if I did this, I would keep flossing.

I put it in my calendar and on my to do list and followed through on the commitment.  Ten years later and I’m still flossing daily.  I like it.  It's a part of my routine.  In fact, I’ll sometimes even helpfully lecture my family members about its importance.

The lesson for your mobile app or web service

There is a lesson in this for your mobile app or web service.  My dentist was able to convert me from a monthly active flosser to a daily active flosser.  He did it by:

  1. Making visceral the benefits of using the application
  2. Improving the user experience 
  3. Finding a natural place for my use of the application in my daily schedule/workflow.
  4. Helping me make a habit of using the application

We are building our applications (or new modules or features) because we believe they will be enjoyable and/or useful to our customers.  Some customers agree, get it, and become power users.  Many remain occasional users.  We need to apply my dentist’s wisdom to help engage our customers with the value of our service.

Consider an example.  A blogging application.

Let’s consider an example.  Imagine you make a blogging application.  How might you apply my dentist’s wisdom:

1. Make visceral the benefits of using the application.  HubSpot did this well in their State of Inbound Marketing Report where they highlight that: “businesses that post daily will generate 5 times more traffic than those that post weekly or less”.  Source.

2. Provide a great user experience I am using Squarespace for our website and this blog in part because of how easy it is for me to update and manage.

3. Help users make the application a part of their lives and workflows.  

  • This is user-centric design.  Go watch the users at work and understand how the app does fit in and how it could be changed to fit in better.
  • But customer engagement analytics can help.  Look at the patterns and flows of the power users and of the users who transitioned from occasional to power.  When do they blog?  What other features do they use?   Share this knowledge with other customers so they can imitate and learn.
  • Share specific examples.  Again, I think HubSpot did this well in this post from a user.

4. Help users make a habit of using the application

 If I were a blogging application vendor, I would analyze the usage data carefully to help my customers.  I would correlate the frequency of blog posts to the time of day of the post and to the resulting sustained commitment to blogging.  I would validate this with customer interviews and then come up with some rules of thumb to helpfully motivate my occasional customers.

Perhaps it would go something like:  Commit to writing one blog every morning for the next 2 weeks.  Keep a list of ideas.  Pick what tomorrow’s will be before you go to bed.  Then, before you open your email, take 20 minutes, write it, and post it.  If you do, you won’t stop.