In 2006, Microsoft ran a survey to find out what new features their users wanted in Office 2007. They found that 90% of the requested features were already present in their previous product.
This was a classic case of “discoverability” - a discrepancy between available features and what users actually know to be available. Due to this lack of feature awareness, Microsoft revamped the UI of Office 2007, so it would “expose some of its capabilities”. This would help users find and adopt features that they needed so they could work more productively.
Office 2007 would go on to sell over 71 million licenses, and a decade later, it was still the preferred productivity suite adopted by businesses and public institutions (by 68%, even with potential security risks and other options like Google Suite).
The story of Microsoft’s survey makes a compelling case for feature discovery - and the vital role it plays in awareness and subsequently, feature adoption.
Today, product-led companies live and die by quick feature releases and no product team can afford to have 90% of its popularly requested features ignored.
Time is money!
Development resource is expensive, and the development time is precious. Teams put in at least several weeks of work to add new features or revamp the existing ones. “The failure of adopting these features come at a cost of $24,000,” estimates Michael Peach, Head of Product Marketing at Pendo, “if these were built across a 2-week sprint by a team of 6 developers”.
“When you start to add that up, over sprints, over multiple features rolling out into larger feature sets within a product, that cost really begins to scale. If that feature is not being adopted or delivering value to the users, then that money is wasted,” he adds.
Recouping time and resources spent on feature development isn’t the only objective of product managers. The entire raison d’etre of new feature release is to deliver value back to users within the product experience. Of course, that fundamentally depends on users being aware, and then using said features, in order to extract value from them.
That said, the challenge of getting users to discover features still remains. This sense of deja vu continues to gripe teams across the B2C and B2B space - “how do we get our users to notice and be aware of what our product has to offer?”
Users will be users…
Discovery drives awareness. Users become aware of a feature when they discover it organically/accidentally or are led to and educated about it. And therein lies the challenge with feature discovery: user’s fundamental characteristics and habits.
In other words, normal human nature acts an impediment to feature discovery.
Users don’t always notice when something has changed – even when it is something that would necessarily make their lives easier or is a better way to achieve an outcome in a product.
Humans are known for their Momentum Behavior – we tend to overlook options that could help us because we have already selected a course and are sticking to it. Users can simply ignore features that would benefit them because they’re habitualized to their existing usage of an app.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), leaders in research-based user experience, momentum behavior occurs most often in digital products “when parts of the interface design are not strong enough to call to users when they need them.”
This means that users will continue to stick their head down while using the product, to do what they normally do – unless the design overcomes this and brings their attention to the feature at hand.
Momentum Behavior is the figurative dragon that product teams set out to slay and product teams use a whole arsenal of weapons, ranging from from emails, blogs, release-notes, description of What’s New! on the PlayStore and AppStore to, inevitably, in-app interventions.
Teams deploy announcement notifications, hints, tours, and walkthroughs that serve as first-hand introductions to the feature. Post introduction, they make use of tooltips, beacons, spotlights, and coach marks to grab the attention of the user, and nudge them to interact with the feature. The rest of this piece is going to explore popular ways that brands use to drive feature discovery and adoption.
What’s in a Nudge?
Before we explore examples of how product teams facilitate this kind of feature discovery, we have to note the importance of user context and its application here. Teams must be mindful about how they use these interventions; preferably triggered at appropriate points in the user journey - so that they are more of nudges than interruptions.
Context is important because of choice: a nudge is a medium or method that elevates one choice over another, whilst leaving the ultimate decision up to a user/consumer. Obviously, a user has to make different kinds of choices at different points in their journey, and thus a Nudge has to elevate these different choices along the user journey.
For example, let’s consider driving feature adoption for new and existing users. The new user should rather see out his/her onboarding tooltips, and get accustomed to the functioning and navigation of the product, before being presented with a completely new value-add. This level of prioritizing is necessary because product managers already have an uphill task of overcoming momentum behavior to grab user attention - they shouldn’t risk adding another challenge of naggy, intrusive pop-ups.
An example that comes to mind is that of Airbnb. When the app launched its Instant Book feature, a lightning symbol was placed as an indicator of the feature. A tooltip was added against the symbol to help users discover this new app convention, and what it stood for.
By letting users discover the feature when they were looking for a place to book (something they naturally do in the app), the product successfully introduces it and makes them aware of it - while not making it obstructive to the app experience. In future bookings, users will keep an eye out for the lightning sign to make their searches efficient and bookings quicker.
Tooltips can be informative or instructional. Informational tooltips describe what a feature is or does, while instructional tooltips are more behavior-oriented, calls to action that might not fully describe what a feature is. The Airbnb example we just saw is an informative tooltip.
When a user is about to update his Facebook status, the app is quick to inform him about the privacy feature that controls the audience - people who can view and engage with his post. This is an instructional tooltip, as it suggests the user to tap and change his privacy setting.
Vine, the short-form video hosting app, also used instructional tooltips (above, right), to help its users discover features - in this example, how to follow accounts and curate content on their home screen. In both the app, these nudges are situational, and not intrusive.
Tooltips are particularly handy when the app has to direct the user to a new page or access a feature that is not in plain sight. These tooltips are generally actionable, with a call to action, in the form of a button.
Let’s take an example of this tooltip from Masterclass, the online learning platform. The web app, above, features a beacon that brings the user’s attention to ‘Labs’ on the header of the site. This is where the new feature ‘Highlights’ is placed. To understand the context here - this nudge is placed for an existing user, who has just come onto the site and hasn’t decided on which lesson to continue with. Hypothetically, if the user was already on a lesson, and the tooltip was shown, this would be a low perceived benefit (trying a new feature) versus high perceived cost (clicking away from the lesson). This is why product teams have to think twice while planning their feature discovery nudges and their placement strategies.
Tooltips are not the only Display Nudges that come with call-to-actions. Apps have always been particularly fond of Coach Marks - “a transparent overlay of UI hints”, as the NN/g describes it.
Google Pay, the digital wallet app, introduces users to its tap-to-pay feature with a coach mark. The Tez Mode (translate: Quick Mode) is presented to the user for the first time with minimal text - minimizing the number of instructions can drive the users’ attention to a single, primary action, which is to try the mode.
Gmail unveils its Snooze feature, also with the help of a coach mark - highlighting the menu icon with the headline ‘Deal with it later’. The shorter the text (about feature & its benefits), the more likely it is that users will read it and then actually follow that instruction.
The advantage of Coach Marks is how effective they are to bring focus on a single interaction - rather than attempting to explain every possible area of the user interface, the coach marks are relatively easy on the user’s cognitive load. They come as annotations, that do not match the app’s UI so that users can immediately distinguish between hint screens and actual elements of the interact.
When Gmail rolled out Smart Compose, the app allowed users to discover it when they were about to type out an email. By placing a feature announcement in this part of the user journey, the app is trying to ensure discovery, drive awareness and educate the user on how it works.
Here, users may want to adopt a new way of accomplishing the task of typing since the perceived cost of learning seems to level with the benefit of performing the same task in a more efficient manner. Momentum behavior may or may persist, but users can immediately try the swiping suggestion feature since they have already begun composing their email.
Instagram Stories is a great example of feature discovery done well. By January 2019, the app reported 500 million daily active Stories users worldwide. With several iterations of the feature behind them, the product team at Instagram now introduces users to the Story experience through the feature itself. Pinned to the beginning of every new user’s story-tray, it really isn’t hard to find.
Here, there is an offset between the perceived benefit and cost - benefit of discovering the existence of a new feature comes at the cost of using that feature. On launching Stories, the app introduces gestures required to navigate through it. It comes as no surprise that the app also introduces its regular updates ( of the library of stickers, filters and camera modes) via stories.
With half a billion users having successfully adopted Stories, it is safe to say that feature discovery plays an important role in building user awareness, and in the process, setting course towards adoption. When considering a new feature, product managers are increasingly aware of how users intuitively interact with their interface. Finding and learning about different routines often require an additional investment in time and users tend to stick with their preferred methods as a result. In addition to this, development time is an expensive resource - which is why product teams double down on their discovery strategies and also bring user context into play.
The impact of feature discovery should not be understated. This was marked by product designer Sam Garnett as he shared an epiphany he had from his first trip to the Indian subcontinent. He was at the hand-wash of an ashram he was staying at and he found that the taps had run out of water. It took him three whole days to notice a jug of water placed a few feet away. “An issue of discovery”, he rued, but the realization and the ensuing awareness stuck with him for the rest of his trip. By keeping an eye out for a vessel at every hand-wash he encountered, Sam had adopted a local feature, long after discovering it.
At Hansel, we’re helping product teams drive feature discovery by enabling product and growth teams with code-less and customizable Feature Adoption Nudges, like tooltips, beacons and spotlights, deployable to any platform of choice. Go to Hansel.io to get instant access and deploy Nudges to your app of choice in under an hour.