Feature activation can make or break your product. That’s not an exaggeration.

It doesn’t matter what features you build if your users aren’t using them. And if they end up not using most of your product’s features, then your product isn’t providing enough value. That’s what leads to churn.

Customer retention and feature activation are closely linked. Nail feature activation and you’ll quickly see an increase in retention.

In this article, we’re going to look at 11 easy ways you can boost your feature activation, and in turn delight your users and ensure they stick around for the long-term.

But before we get to those, it’s important that we’re on the same page when it comes to feature activation…

Contents

What is feature activation?

Activation is one of the key pirate metrics. For those who don’t know, pirate metrics are a commonly-used way of categorizing different KPIs.

They are:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Revenue
  • Retention
  • Referral

The initials spell out AARRR, hence the term ‘pirate metrics’.

pirate metrics diagram

As you can see, activation is the second pirate metric, right before the all-important retention.

Activation is generally used to refer to the moment when a user activates. This is the moment where they start receiving value from your product and is a key part in the user journey.

Generally, the best approach is for your users to activate as soon as possible. The faster the time-to-value, the more likely a user will activate, and the more likely they’ll become a long-term customer.

But we’re talking about feature activation.

This is is a little different.

Feature activation is the moment when a user starts using a particular feature, not your general product.

This means that features are activated all the time (at least if you’re doing your job right). Every time a user tries out a feature for the first time, that’s feature activation. When the user starts using it regularly and gets the value of this feature – we can then talk about feature adoption.

 

Why is feature activation important?

Successful products provide value. If users don’t get value, they churn. It’s that simple.

Your users only get value from your product when they adopt the key features that lead them to the desired results.

What do you need before feature adoption can happen?

Bingo. You need feature activation.

If you want your product to constantly provide value to your users, then you need to make sure they actually use it.

Feature activation is what drives users to engage with your product and extract more value from it.

Think about it like this:

The more features a user activates, the more time they’ll spend in your product. The more time they spend in your product, the more value they’ll get from it. The more value they get from it, the more likely they are to stick around.

So, as you can see, it’s crucial that you get feature activation right. It’s a key part of delivering a better product experience.

Luckily, you’re about to learn how to easily boost feature activation.

How to improve your feature activation

1: Personalize onboarding flows

As I wrote before: product experience in SaaS still lags behind experience in the real world.

Personalization has always been key to a successful product – in any industry.

Imagine you are working in a clothes store. A couple walks through the door.

You greet them and ask ‘How can I help you?’

‘We’re looking for some t-shirts for my husband’

‘Oh, great, we have this new collection of polo shirts on the right, would you like to see them?’

‘Uhm, no, I’m looking for something more basic and casual.’

‘Great. Let me show you to our cotton tees on the left then’.

The story would have been completely different if the couple was looking for pants or summer dresses for the lady.

As you can see – personalized ‘onboarding’ happened in real life all the time to give the customers the best possible experience.

Why don’t we leverage the same tactic in SaaS products?

If you just left the couple to their own devices in the massive store – it’s very likely they would wander around, not find what they were looking for, get frustrated, and leave without buying anything.

The same happens in SaaS when you don’t personalize your user journeys.

Since technology has developed so much you can now add welcome screens with embedded microsurveys to get to know your new users without a line of code (we can show you how on a demo!) – you really have no excuses.

Postfity.com welcome screen
Postfity.com welcome screen done in Userpilot

When it comes to feature activation, you don’t want a user to activate every single feature if some of those features aren’t relevant to their use case. That could overwhelm them and scare them off.

Instead, you need to figure out what a user is trying to do, and then show them the features that will help them achieve their goals.

Simply put: no dresses for the guy who’s looking for a men’s t-shirt.

A simple way of doing this is using a “choose-your-own-adventure” style of onboarding.

See how Webflow does it here:

feature activation webflow

Users provide Webflow with their job role as part of the onboarding process.

They can then be directed to the most relevant features for them. This makes feature activation far more likely.

2: Use checklists to guide users

Here at Userpilot, we love a good checklist.

Why? Because it’s a really effective way of channeling users towards features that you need them to activate. Plus, it’s easy to add to your product.

Checklists are usually used early on in your product’s onboarding flow. Your aim with the checklist is to help users reach the Aha! Moment (realize the value of your product) and then activation.

It’s a good way of increasing feature activation for the most important features of your product.

Here’s a checklist from Sked Social:

sked social feature activation

Users who completed the tasks on this checklist (ie. completed feature activation) were 3x more likely to convert to paying customers.

👉 Wanna create a similar checklist without coding? Check out how easily you can do it without coding with Userpilot’s Chrome extension

The best checklists keep it simple and stick to around 4 tasks. This way you don’t overwhelm the user.

Another tip is to check off the first task on your user’s behalf. This is called “Endowed Progress” and it motivates users to carry on completing the other tasks.

3: Make onboarding contextual

Contextual onboarding means showing the right message to the right user at the right time.

In other words, it means your onboarding is relevant to their in-app behavior.

So, for example, if a user navigates to a certain part of your product, that’s when you tell them about what it does.

This is the opposite of telling a user everything at once, as that often leads to overwhelm and isn’t effective at driving feature activation.

Here’s a good example from Google Analytics:

google analytics contextual onboarding

The tooltip tells users about the real-time reporting feature. The user will hopefully then click to see it in action.

By waiting to tell users about the real-time reporting feature when it’s more relevant, the chances of feature activation are massively increased.

Incidentally, Userpilot makes contextual onboarding incredibly simple. You set custom events, for example scrolling to a certain part of the page. These custom events then act as triggers for your onboarding elements. It’s fully customizable and requires virtually no code.

4: Segment users for personalized messaging

Another effective way of contextualizing and personalizing your onboarding is by segmenting users.

Tools like Heap or Mixpanel enable you to view your product usage analytics. You can see which accounts have activated certain features.

If you see that a few accounts haven’t activated features that they should’ve done, you can create a segment of those users.

You can pass that information to an onboarding platform like Userpilot and use it to show messaging that resonates with those users.

This will help nudge them towards feature activation.

5: Send educational emails

Not all feature activation has to be prompted within your product. Sometimes you need to think outside your product too.

Emails are a useful way of engaging your users when they aren’t using your product.

You can use emails to educate your users about features they may not even know exist. The email should sell the benefits and focus on the value that users will get. You can even include a CTA that takes the user directly to the feature.

Here’s an example from Figma:

figma feature activation email

In this email, they announce a new feature: their plugins. The email introduces some of the benefits of the feature, and then provides links to some of the plugins.

For users who receive this email, feature activation is just a click away.

By the way: don’t forget to join our email list!

 

6: Announce new features

Speaking of new features, you’d be amazed how many SaaS companies spend months working on a new feature but then don’t announce it when they launch.

If you ship a new feature and expect that users will find it on their own then well…best of luck with that, but I won’t be on your feature activation scores!

Instead, shout about it.

Write up a quick blog post that explains how the new feature will help. Even better, include a video of you showing the feature in action.

Then share this on your socials and by email.

You can also announce new features within your product itself. This is known as in-app marketing.

If it’s an important one, then you could add a modal when users first log in.

If it’s a minor one, then maybe you could just have a tooltip that points out the new feature in a more subtle way.

Here’s how Drift do it:

drift feature activation

Drift adds updates to a slideout section within their product. When they add a new feature, they announce it here.

Postfity also announces new features in-app, but using the more subtle native tooltips:

native tooltip

Native tooltips are small icons (‘?’ or ‘i’) appended to specific features (or frontend elements triggering them, to be precise) that simply stay there and wait until the user hovers over them. This feature is also unique to Userpilot (wanna try it on your app for free? Click here). You can change the colours of the icons to something that will stand out from your UI, and grab your users’ attention.

By announcing new features, you’re making users aware of them. That awareness is what will increase feature activation.

7: Retarget with social ads

Here’s a neat idea that we don’t see a lot of companies using yet.

Normally, retargeting ads are a form of marketing. Someone visits your site, goes away, sees an ad tailored to them, and comes back. Eventually, they decide to try out your product.

But retargeting ads can also work to increase feature activation and drive engagement with your product.

It works a little something like this…

Your user plays around with your product, but hasn’t activated one of the key features. They get distracted and do something else, forgetting about your product entirely.

The next day, they’re on Facebook and they see an ad about your product, reminding them to try out that feature they were thinking about.

With their mind slightly blown, they click the link in the ad and are taken straight to the relevant part of your product.

If that doesn’t drive feature activation, nothing will.

8: Make the most of your log-in page

Most log-in pages are a simple form, but that means you’re missing out on a prime piece of real estate.

Think about how often a user will see that log-in page. Why not use it for more than just logging in?

It’s a perfect opportunity to tell your users about a specific feature, potentially even a brand new one.

Sell the benefits of the feature, show it in action, and then when your user logs in they’ll want to go and try it out.

I know we’ve already used Drift as an example, but this one is too perfect not to include:

drift sign up page

Only about a third of their sign-in page is used to sign in. The majority of the page is actually introducing users to a new feature.

It shows a screenshot so users know what to look for, it runs through the benefits of using the feature, and includes a smiling face to add a human touch.

Users can then log in and give it a try.

That’s how you use your log-in page to boost feature activation.

9: Add reactive walkthroughs

There are two types of onboarding: proactive and reactive.

Proactive onboarding is the kind of onboarding that happens early on. The welcome screen, the introductory tour, the checklist, etc. It’s onboarding that you give to the user whether they like it or not.

But reactive onboarding is just as important. This is the kind of onboarding where your user decides whether they want it. It reacts to their behavior.

In that sense, there are parallels between reactive onboarding and contextual onboarding.

A good example of reactive onboarding comes from Platformly:

platformly feature activation

It’s a relatively complex product, and you couldn’t possibly explain each and every feature in one introductory walkthrough.

Instead, Platformly has individual walkthroughs for each and every feature. These walkthroughs are completely optional. They’re reactive. When a user wants to see it, they can do. Otherwise, it just sits there waiting.

The benefit of this is that you provide relevant information. A user only learns how to use a feature when they need to use that feature.

You can add reactive walkthroughs like this with our new Resource Center widget.

userpilot feature activation

👉 Wanna see how you can create similar reactive walkthroughs without coding? Let’s jump on a quick call and we’ll show you how!

Not only does it display relevant help docs and support information, but it can show users relevant onboarding flows if they choose to open them.

Even if the user doesn’t click on the actual walkthrough, it’s a way of making them aware that certain features exist.

It’s a great way of driving feature activation but on your users’ own terms.

10: Write compelling copy

A lot of SaaS companies overlook the importance of the copy they use in their product.

It’s often referred to as UX writing or microcopy, and it’s becoming increasingly important.

Most products have more copy than you think. Usually, it’s nothing more than an afterthought. It might even be written by your dev team.

This seems a waste of a great resource. Marketing teams know the power that the right words can have. Great copy can influence behavior.

So why not use copy to influence behavior inside your app? Why not use copy to, say, increase feature activation?

Consider this example from Hubspot:

hubspot ux writing

This modal starts with a question. That means it instantly engages the user. Then it explains the benefit in a clear and simple way.

Clearly, Hubspot took the time to get the copy right here. And it shows. This message is far more likely to drive feature engagement.

Think about the words you use within your product, and how you can make the copy as engaging as possible.

Here are some pointers.

11: Provide templates

A key selling point of products these days is flexibility. Tools that enable users to do anything they need to do.

But this flexibility comes with its own problem. Sometimes, users see a blank canvas and freeze. They don’t know what to do next.

That’s where templates come in.

Providing templates for your users does two things. Firstly, it helps them get to grips with your product and see what it does. This improves feature activation.

Secondly, it gives you the chance to show off features that your users might not have known about. Again, this will improve feature activation.

Look at the sheer number of templates Notion has:

notion templates

That’s just a small selection of the templates available.

Think about some of the most common use cases your users have. In fact, go and look at the most common use cases your users have. A little research never hurt anyone.

Then, take those use cases and translate them into templates.

This way your users will get value from your product faster.

Key takeaways

  • Feature activation happens when a user tries a specific feature of your product for the first time.
  • It’s important to boost feature activation because the more features a user activates, the more engaged they are with your product. This will keep them around for longer.
  • There are many ways of improving feature activation, including segmenting your users and then showing personalized messaging, announcing new features via email, and making sure your onboarding highlights the benefits of certain features.

About the author

 

 

 

 

 

Joe is a freelance copywriter, and founder of slowstartup.co, where he helps startup founders to slow down and focus on building a sustainable business.