User acquisition is a business imperative for any enterprise. Expanding user base in new demographics and geographies or expanding the market by getting new entrants into the category are critical strategies to that end. But, both B2B and B2C enterprises would agree that acquiring new users calls for substantial investments which could be a pain point. However losing existing customers inflicts even more pain on enterprises for the simple reason that a customer once lost is perhaps lost forever.


In many categories, users are acquired through expensive ad campaigns. The user, having now discovered the app, downloads it and on opening may be greeted with a message to accept notification alerts. According to analytics firm CleverTap, only 60% of Android and 45% of iPhone users opt-in to receive alerts and notifications. Even those who do opt for notifications may not act upon them, leading to continued poor app usage. 77% of users never use an app again 72 hours after installing. There are could be several reasons for this. The app and its category may not require frequent usage and hence not pass the toothbrush test (require to be used at least twice a day). App fatigue is also real – an average user uses not more than 5 apps regularly. The most successful apps are those, that as a result of good behavioural design, which get used regularly. The ideal situation is one of life being difficult without them (taxi aggregator apps, maps, search, food ordering, OTT, mobile payments come to mind). No wonder user retention is considered the new growth.


How can enterprises improve the chances of retaining users? Design Thinking, a holistic problem-solving approach may have some answers. Empathy and feeling the pain points of an actual user is at the core of this approach. We call it Emotion Engineering & Design. Combined with usability testing which removes a lot of guesswork of how users might navigate through a digital experience, it is possible to offer a consistently friction-free experience to users. Here are some broad, time-tested heuristic principles and approaches which brand owners can integrate in their digital experiences.


The product-emotion cycle:


Every experience evokes an emotion in us, including the use of a product. Even everyday objects like a poorly designed door knob may trigger a negative emotion which in turn affects our behaviour – e.g. lose our temper. This has a cascading effect on how the product behaves too as it is also under ‘stress’. Hence, moments which evoke positive emotions through the digital journey should be baked into the strategic thinking and design.


Three levels of emotional design:


Don Norman, an American researcher, professor, author and co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, propounded that there are three types of designs: Visceral, Behavioural and Reflective. The first evokes desire purely based on looks while the second approach makes users feel smart enabling them to accomplish things while compromising on aesthetics. The ideal state is the third approach which makes the user feel complete and empowers them to tell stories about the experience and thus themselves.


One mind, three brains:


At a subliminal level, different parts of our brain are at work when we interact with any experience and control our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The old brain, also known as the instinctive brain, is linked to pleasure and survival. It looks for change instinctively – e.g. subtle movements on a website grabs the viewer’s attention. The mid brain or the feeling brain makes instant decisions based on the myriad things we see and experience every day. The neo-cortex or new brain is about higher reasoning and thinking. If an app or digital experience appeals to all three brains it stands a better chance of evoking a memorable experience.


Rational brain, emotional decisions:


Strategists and designers should remember that all of us take emotional decisions and justify it later with rational reasons. Professor Baba Shiv of Stanford University said, ‘the rational brain is good at rationalising what the emotional brain has already decided’. Brands like Apple do it so well on their website – the combined impact of the design, photography and text impact our emotional brains.


Give to get more:


Marketing automation brand Hubspot is known for its free, useful content without an obligation of being a customer first. Food delivery brands like Zomato have gone beyond mere listing of restaurants to offer free video content such as recipes. These rely on the Principle of Reciprocity which is essentially about offering something relevant first without any obligations. It subliminally makes the user feel indebted and ‘hesitant’ to leave.


Don’t let boredom creep in:


Offering something new by way of visual stimuli or some new element improves chances of engagement. Fresh content every time the app is opened – think of your favourite streaming app in this context, processing new information prevents boredom.


There are more such best practices which can help enterprises stem user churn, across categories such as BFSI, utilities, FinTech entertainment and more. A combination of analytics and usability tools and such guidelines can reduce the guess work in figuring out the success factors of digital experiences especially in the context of retaining users.


(By Ravi Teja Bommireddipalli)


The author is the CEO of digital experiences agency Robosoft Technologies. Views expressed are personal.


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