Realeasing a new feature and expecting your users to just ‘pick it up’ is like going to China and expecting to ‘just pick up Chinese’. You need to help your users adopt the new features, regardless how far they are in their user journey.

But how?

In this blog, we’ll show you the best ways to drive new feature adoption for every type of feature launch, every type of audience segment, and every stage of the user journey.

If nobody knows you’ve launched a new feature, you can’t expect anybody to start using it.

And if nobody cares that you’ve launched it – because they don’t understand how it’s useful for them – then they’re not going to use it either.

Announcing new features is in fact…sales. You need to sell them to your users.

So how you announce new features is really important.

We’re going to show you how to do this for maximum effect…

  1. What drives new feature adoption
  2. When email is best for driving new feature adoption
  3. When in-app messages are best for driving new feature adoption
  4. When webinars are best for driving new feature adoption
  5. Other channels to think about

What drives new feature adoption

Btw. if you want to improve your product adoption – join our free Product Adoption School course!

As a rule, users don’t like change.

It means they have to re-learn how to use your app.

If they’re going to make that effort, they need to see that there’s a benefit for them.

Reality check incoming…

Users don’t care about features. They care about how they’ll benefit from them.

So driving new feature adoption depends on three things:

  1. Making users aware that a new feature is there
  2. Ensuring they understand the benefit or value it offers to them
  3. Getting them to try the new feature out & adopt it

So this is not just a matter of Aha – of recognizing the value. It’s a matter of Activation. We need to get users to experience the value.

Userpilot user journey: New feature adoption is a matter of Activation

Source: userpilot.com

Good news! That means you can use everything in this blog to drive adoption of existing, under-used or under-valued features as well.

Of course, what’s going to achieve those three things in any given case depends on several factors. For example:

  • The scale of the release: is it a complete overhaul or just an add-on?
  • Which user segments the new feature is most relevant to?
  • What Jobs To Be Done the feature addresses?
  • Have users been asking for it? Or is it your own initiative?
  • How will you measure successful new feature adoption?
  • What other messaging are you sending users at the same time?

That means there is no single “best” channel for driving new feature adoption 😕.

But don’t panic.

With our three factors in mind, it’s easy to build a framework for evaluating channels and messaging.

Let’s do that now.

Step 1: Define the Target Users

Answer these questions:

  • Who would benefit from this new feature?
  • How will it help them succeed?
  • Do they know this is a problem they have or do you need to educate them?
  • Can this target audience be broken down into smaller sub-segments who can be addressed separately?
  • Where can you reach these audiences?

Step 2: Detail the Objective

Answer:

  • What KPI are you trying to affect with new feature adoption?
  • What counts as Activation for this feature?
  • What steps does a user have to go through to Activate?
  • When and where are target groups most likely to be open to influence to do these things?

Step 3: Put it in Perspective

Answer:

  • How important is it to get users using this feature as opposed to anything else?
  • How much value can it drive for users and for you?
  • How else and how often are you already communicating with these groups?
  • What do your in-app analytics show about the effectiveness of previous announcements and attempts to drive new feature adoption?

If you’re unsure, going through this checklist will help you decide how to approach new feature adoption planning.

But now, on to some examples.

When email is best for driving new feature adoption

There are four key factors about email to keep in mind:

  1. It’s a crowded channel, where you have to compete hard for attention
  2. It’s outside your app – so anybody seeing your messages are doing something else at the time (a.k.a. your announcement won’t be contextual)
  3. But because of 2, you can use it reach people who don’t use your app
  4. You can personalize emails a great deal

So, email is ideal for the following segments:

  • Disengaged new users who have signed up but are not very active in-app or who have not yet Activated
  • Disengaged old users who have stopped using the app regularly and who are at risk of churning
  • Churned ex-users who could be won back
  • People on your mailing list who have never used your app, but may see value from the new feature and decide to try the app because of it.

Here’s a great example of an email-led new feature announcement employed by Groove.

Having tracked every user who requested a particular feature in Trello, at the time when the feature was ready to ship, Groove emailed EACH ONE OF THEM with a personal message to let them know.

Groove tells users about new feature with personal emails

Source: groovehq.com

The benefits for Groove were multiple:

  • Current users were shown a new source of value (along with instructions on how to use it on the blog)
  • Ex-users were given a new reason to try Groove
  • People in both segments felt valued and listened to through the personal message, deepening their relationship with the business

The feedback Groove got speaks for itself:

Feedback on Groove's personalised new feature email

Source: groovehq.com

And they got a 68% response rate for those emails. Not open rate. Response rate.

WOW! 😱

OK…maybe that was an unfair example. Groove knew these people wanted that feature so they had good reasons to think that the message was relevant.

In SaaS, email open rates tend to sit around 20% with clickthrough rates around 2%.

That’s largely because:

  • Most people get more emails than they can read
  • An email that doesn’t immediately explain why it matters to the reader is likely to be glanced at and deleted

When you’re asking somebody to check out your app via email, BY DEFINITION you’re interrupting them.

They weren’t looking for what you have to offer at the time you’re offering it. They were doing something else – ie checking their email.

That’s a big hurdle to overcome.

So here’s some best practice advice on how you can beat the averages.

#1 Get to the point and show the value immediately

Here’s a great email example from Grammarly.

New feature adoption: Grammarly get it right with email

Source: grammarly.com

Using a simple graphic at the top of the message, Grammarly not only spells out what the new feature is but also shows how it looks in-app. That will help drive new feature adoption by creating or demonstrating familiarity.

This does a really good job to getting the reader to Aha! and showing them how to Activate.

#2 Segment, segment, segment

You might not be able to personalize every single email like Groove, but you should do everything you can to make your emails as relevant to each person who’ll receive them as possible.

That means segmenting your lists.

It’s common sense. Just take the four groups we mentioned earlier in this section.

Current users, ex-users and prospects all have a completely different relationship with you and your SaaS. At the very least, you’d provide then with different calls to action!

But maybe your audience can be broken down further. For example, a social media scheduling tool could be valuable to both B2C and B2B users, but in different ways.

The stats are pretty clear on this:

#3 Focus on One Single Point

Keep emails simple, short and focused on just one message. Don’t complicate them with multiple calls to action.

Avoid known spam trigger words, and enhance the immediate impact of your email with graphics.

Personalize where you can – using recipients’ names can make all the difference – but most importantly of all, explain the value your feature will achieve for them.

When in-app messages are best for driving new feature adoption

Email is good for reaching people who aren’t using your app.

But for current users, it is much less effective than in-app messaging.

If somebody’s using your SaaS product right now, they’re already engaged with it; you have their attention; you’re not interrupting them and asking them to change what they’re doing like you are with email.

It minimizes friction – the amount of effort needed to give the new feature a go.

In-app messaging: Mailchimp modal

Source: mailchimp.com

The biggest benefit in-app messaging has for getting people to try new features is that it can be triggered and delivered at the precise moment when it is most likely to be effective.

That is, in-app messaging can be extremely contextual and immediate.

The overwhelming majority of SaaS companies today offer self-serve onboarding in their apps.

It’s widely agreed that this is the most effective way to get new users up to speed – letting them learn at their own pace and in line with their own priorities.

New feature adoption is a type of onboarding. We’ve already shown how it involves taking users from Aha to Activation.

So it makes sense that in-app messaging is one of the most powerful channels to introduce users to new features.

Here’s just one example of how Facebook used a modal to tell users about the features in its new layout:

Facebook modal

Source: facebook.com

Remember, there are three things needed for new feature adoption:

  1. Making users aware that a new feature is there
  2. Ensuring users understand the benefit or value it offers them
  3. Getting them to try it out

Putting a pop-up modal over the main display as soon as a user logs in, certainly achieves 1 and it makes it as easy as possible for 3 to happen.

But if a user doesn’t understand why, for example, a “dark mode” is useful to them, then they’re less likely to try the new layout. Facebook may force some people to adopt it by making it hard to dismiss the pop-up without agreeing, but that approach is not without risk.

So, the content on the modal really needs to be focused on what the user will get out of the new feature.

Slack modal

Source: slack.com

This example from Slack is less intrusive.

  • It doesn’t stop users interacting with the rest of the screen
  • It makes getting rid of the modal very simple

It’s also more contextual. It is shown to users only when they are about to start writing a message which may need the new formatting feature.

Userpilot hotspot and tooltip

Source: userpilot.com

When we added NPS surveys to Userpilot, we let users know about it in an even more subtle way.

If you’re looking at a Slack thread, you’re either reading or you’re writing – so it’s a fair bet that the formatting feature pop-up would be contextually relevant to a high proportion of people seeing it.

But in our app, there are many different activities for users to take. NPS surveys are relevant to some but not all of them.

Users don’t want to be forced to interact with your feature announcements if they’re not relevant at the time.

Maybe Facebook can get away with it, but not every SaaS is a Facebook!

We used the following techniques to highlight the new option on the navigation menu:

  • A small, animated hotspot to draw the user’s eye to that point
  • A tooltip that pops up when the hotspot is highlighted, providing more information for those who show an initial interest

It’s easy to ignore if you’re not interested, but there’s enough there to hit the three new feature adoption goals.

Github tooltip

Source: github.com

Here’s another example of a simple, unobtrusive tooltip from Github, highlighting a new search feature – in the context of the existing search bar.

Userpilot banner announcement

Source: userpilot.com

A simple banner – like those above and below – can be very effective in drawing a user’s attention to an announcement, without stopping them from getting on with the task they have in hand.

Spotify banner announcement

Source: spotify.com

Another great thing about in-app messaging is that you can trigger the alert:

According to user behavior:

  • If a user is logging in but not completing tasks, you can trigger alerts to guide them towards particular features
  • When a user completes a task, you can direct them towards related features and activities (eg scheduling a Twitter post that could be published on LinkedIn as well)
  • On the basis of needs that they have demonstrated – for example, help requests and support tickets logged, patterns in navigation etc

According to user segment:

  • If you group your users according to their use cases, characteristics etc, you can provide tailored onboarding experiences and wider user journeys. That includes highlighting different features to different groups who could benefit from them
  • If new features are available only to premium tier users, you can use one set of alerts to encourage them to use it – and another to let non-premium users know it’s there and encourage them to upsell to access it

The advantage of in-app messaging for driving new feature adoption is that you have complete control over the experience. That enables you to deliver the alerts at the best possible time to drive action (and Activation) NOW.

But what if the value is not immediately apparent? Or if the process of trying out the new feature is complicated?

No problem. In-app has that covered too.

You’ve probably seen plenty of Product Tours over the years. Maybe a video. Maybe a series of slides.

They’re not popular. Look at this Facebook Group chat:

Everyone hates product tours...

Source: userpilot.com

When you need to convey more information in-app than can be fitted into a modal, banner, tooltip etc, why not use an Interactive Walkthrough?

Rather than just SHOWING your new feature, Interactive Walkthroughs teach users by supervising users as they ACTUALLY USE IT.

This is so much more powerful than a Product Tour, as there are huge amounts of evidence to show that people learn best by DOING.

Plus, they are realizing some value by carrying out the task for themselves.

At Userpilot, we are massive fans of Interactive Walkthroughs and this blog takes you through some of our favorites.

Another advantage of interactive walkthroughs is that you can use them as reactive secondary onboarding – when your new feature stops being new, but the new users still need to be guided to use it.

One final point on in-app messaging.

When you launch a new feature, make sure you provide lots of documentation in your Help Center to answer FAQs, help learners who prefer to read instructions, and to deal with problems that users may encounter.

This can save you a lot of time, effort, and resources in customer support when you launch a new feature!

When webinars are best for driving new feature adoption

What can a webinar do that email and in-app messaging can’t do?

This really boils down to two factors:

  • Webinars add a human element, of people talking to people directly
  • That allows a kind of immediate interactivity which can be hard to replicate elsewhere

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the big strengths that webinars have.

You can use them to demonstrate how to use a feature, so that viewers can literally see where you’re clicking, what messages your encounter etc.

This is great for complex releases and major UX updates.

In a 30 minute webinar, you can go into a lot of detail and cover a lot of ground.

However, there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Don’t turn your webinar into a boring product tour where you JUST show how the new feature works. An Interactive Walkthrough would be better!
  • Take advantage of the “human” side of webinars to tell stories about how other users have succeeded with your features, about their pain points and Jobs To Be Done.

You can create EMPATHY with webinars in a way that is very difficult with the other channels we’ve looked at.

Drift webinar announcement

Source: drift.com

That’s really important when your SaaS brand highlights community, trust, transparency and authenticity.

When you’re presenting a new feature webinar live, it’s always a good idea to let viewers ask questions and answer them as you go along.

This makes the session a genuinely interactive dialogue, which is more engaging for the people taking part.

It is also likely to answer use case questions for people who watch the recording that you hadn’t thought of!

Even if you don’t get many attendees first time around (webinar attendance rates sit at around 44% of sign-ups), the recording will provide an asset you can use again and again in future – referring people to it in-app or via email.

Other channels to think about

Most of the time, you will want to use a combination of some or all of the methods we’ve talked about above.

But there are tools you can use that we haven’t discussed:

  • Social media and communities – These can be good for reaching interested non-users as well as users, but it’s important not to be over-salesy in channels you don’t own. It’s very easy to turn a community against you by not playing fair
  • Blogs – There are two cases where blogs are particularly helpful: firstly, for presenting detailed changelogs of all your updates over a time period; secondly, where you need to bring user stories to the fore. Always use plenty of screenshots of your app in blogs to keep the explanatory value high
  • Web push notifications – Not popular with everyone, but if you can get your visitors to sign up for them, you can draw their attention to feature releases via their browser even when they’re not in your app
  • Retargeted ads – Another great idea is to drive users back to your app with ads based on their browsing activity. Again, you can use this to make contact with people even when they’re not in your app, without the competition for attention that emails have to deal with
  • Product Hunt – Mostly for acquisition purposes, you can present your new major releases (that you think can move the needle in your industry/niche) to a wider audience on PH.

In-app messaging is far and away the most effective method for driving new feature adoption among existing users.

And all of the in-app methods of doing feature releases we’ve talked about are available through Userpilot – so if you’re interested in promoting your latest developments to your user base, get in touch to arrange a free demo!
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