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How do you create a sticky product that guarantees repeat users?

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Hanmei Wu is the CEO and co-founder of empowermenta tutoring service and an online platform that connects students with counselors.

Sticky products are the lifeblood of any successful startup and by definition generate repeat users and encourage them to tell others about the product. Products that are ‘sticky’ have clear value for your users: it saves them time, makes their lives better or they just enjoy the experience of using your product.

This piece will focus on building a truly tacky product – one that users will keep returning to for the benefits, rewards, and satisfaction that come from using it.

What is a sticky product?

A great sticky product is a pain reliever, not a vitamin. Products that provide inherent value, satisfy customers, and give users an experience they’ll want to repeat are all elements of sticky products that consumers continue to use. If you build sticky products the right way, solving customer pain points as your main north star, you’ll spend less time trying to keep users on the platform (because they want to use it) and more time improving your product experience to really surprise your users.

The best sticky products:

• Provide value to users as quickly as possible;

• Solve the problem, don’t serve as a patch solution;

• Create a “hook” that brings users back to your product;

• Remove barriers to using your product;

• Teach users how to achieve ideal results with your product;

• Are simple and easy to use; and,

• Are based on regular user communication through surveys, interviews and focus groups.

How do I know if I’m building a tacky product that users really want to use?

Understanding your product-market fit is the first step to determining if the product you’re building is one that users really want. The easiest way to determine this is to talk to your customers early and often. Getting to know your early adopters and potential customers is essential to evaluate whether your solutions are the best way to solve their problems.

There is no need to think about how to start chatting with customers. The important thing is that you do this as soon as possible. Here are some existing frameworks to make sure you’re asking the right questions of your customers:

1. Customer conversations: These are one-on-one conversations with your users that are typically short, informal, and focused on three to five questions.

2. Focus groups: Focus groups include multiple clients in one meeting and take the form of an open discussion guided by one to two big questions.

3. Surveys: These are the easiest communication tools to share with customers and can be embedded in your product or sent to customers through communication channels.

What if you don’t have any customers to talk to early on? Your next best option is to chat with subject matter experts in your industry. It’s important that your team members always think like your customers, even before you’ve had a chance to build a minimally viable product. By establishing an advisory board of professionals to address for these early conversations, your team can validate your current assumptions about building a product that meets customer needs.

Why does data and community matter when building sticky products?

Data is one of the most important resources a company or startup can use to build and maintain a sticky product, especially if your team is not the direct user of the product. Data can also help you evaluate valuable metrics such as customer retention, churn, conversations from your marketing efforts, and user engagement. Understanding why users leave or keep coming back is critical to building products people love. When you build the plane while piloting it (a position startups and companies often find themselves in), data can be a reassurance to steer your product development on the right path.

In addition, data can help you identify your satisfied customers. Happy customers are the catalyst for building strong communities advocating for your product. Word of mouth is still the strongest referral source for any product. Using data to find your satisfied customers can influence not only product development, but also marketing and communication strategies. You should continue to nurture this community through channels including your website, social media and media coverage. The same things that kept your current customers happy are the benefits that will attract new customers to your product. Your early adopter community will also be the first group you should tap into for the aforementioned early conversations.

Building a tacky product is one challenge; keeping users who use your platform constantly is where sticky products go from OK to great. The key to building products that people will want to use is to keep the user top of mind through every stage of development and iteration.

By continuously delivering value, you’re creating something that not only solves your customers’ problems, but keeps them coming back for more and sharing it with their friends and colleagues.


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