8 minute read · Published December 13, 2023

A user activation plan that grows your business

Latest Update March 26, 2024

Do you remember Microsoft Zune, the media player that was supposed to beat the iPod? 

This guy does. When his best friend convinced him to get it to share music files between devices, he didn’t hesitate to put it on his holiday list. Well, the day came, and the friend never got it (ouch!). 

That’s how this writer became the only one in his elementary school with a Zune that he couldn’t share with friends. Even the music store was hard to use. The player ended up in a dresser drawer. Five years later, Microsoft shut down the product that failed to capture the market by 2011.

When new users turned on their Zune and tried to learn how to use it, they didn’t enjoy or continue the experience. It was a failure in user activation.

User activation is the most critical stage after someone gives your SaaS product a chance. If you can’t win them over, you lose them to your churn rate and never get the opportunity to grow your business and create passionate customer ambassadors.

Unless you like swapping new and old users like a toddler juggling in a ball pit, you need an activation plan that actually works.

Let’s dig deeper into user activation, strategies to improve your user activation rate, and some examples of what it can look like for you. By the end, you should know how to onboard new customers better than the drive-thru next door!

What is user activation? Why it’s more important than ever

User activation is part of the onboarding experience. It’s when you prove app value to the customer and push them to use the platform for their own use cases.

While “user adoption” is about forming habits and using a SaaS platform regularly, the “user activation” stage focuses on the initial experience to win customers.

Imagine you download a B2C brand app for custom shoes. As a new user, you know you can get top-quality shoes with unique designs and a custom look, like adding your signature. You can use the design for creative purposes, and it stays on the app, or you can buy and wear the shoes.

But when you open the app, it throws you in without direction, and you get dizzy—like you’re swinging at a pinata, blindly clicking through the platform. 

Now imagine that the same app starts with “Let’s design your first shoe.” 

Now we’re cooking. 

You might answer some questions, like whether you want high heels or sneakers. 

After a few minutes, you’ve designed your first shoes and clicked to order them. You’ve officially experienced the app's value and used it. Without making you sound like a scene from iRobot, you’re activated!

User activation strategies are powerful because they turn new users experiencing your app into fulfilled and, ideally, long-term customers.

When you’ve successfully activated your users, they continue along the stages of successful product adoption.

Product stages to consider for user activation

As you embed product stages into your customer lifecycle strategy, you can grow your business and consistently gain new users—while retaining the ones you already have. 

Here’s a quick snapshot of crucial stages to consider within your activation strategy:

  • Discovery and exploration: Users try apps to see which ones work for them. This is the user acquisition event.
  • User activation: Users get onboarded and learn how to use the software, which will influence whether they will continue using the app or not.
  • Adoption: Users enjoy the app, know how to use it, and consistently leverage it.
  • Super users: Customers know every feature and how to optimize their workflow—and results—to the fullest extent.
  • Ambassadors: Congratulations! Your users love your product, and they share it with their neighbors, friends, and even the people they don’t like (they can’t help it, can you blame them?).

As you develop your activation stage, you can create and merge successful strategies (like the ones we implement at CommandBar).

Strategy #1: Personalization that captures attention

Nobody likes to hear their alarm in the morning. They might have scheduled it. But they didn’t really ask to be startled while dreaming of sandy beaches in Punta Cana. 

Alarms are a lot like spam.

Both are loud, and annoying, and nobody wants them.

If your user activation strategy consists of unexpected popups, you might be blurring the lines between onboarding and spam.

The best way we can eliminate that poor experience is by switching from irrelevant information to relevant, personalized communication.

CommandBar’s nudges and discrete message highlights eliminate friction while onboarding. Users still get the information they need, when they want it. This makes the process highly personalized to their actions and unique user journeys.

We also include spotlight search features that include extensive docs and help resources for users who want to dig deep and utilize the app to the fullest. 

User activation shouldn’t be the star of the show. It’s the user. Your strategy should help guide them to a successful platform experience.

Strategy #2: Onboarding that educates and engages

Compelling user onboarding optimizes activation by incorporating education and user engagement. Self-learning is increasingly popular among younger generations, and it is reflected in today’s effective activation strategies—you can tap into their desire to explore and get to know the app on their terms. 

For example, CommandBar’s Questlist provides an onboarding checklist experience that automatically activates users.

Users are pointed in the right direction and shown how to do each activity, step by step. When customers are done, they know exactly how to use your app’s features. The checklist provides flexibility, so users can follow their curiosity and control their experience.

CommandBar’s Copilot is an AI assistant that helps users understand the app. They can ask questions, and the AI uses the brand’s content, docs, and other resources to answer them. As your brand publishes more content or improves help resources, the AI absorbs that information, learns it, and gets even better at helping users. 

Copilot is a substantial advantage for SaaS companies that want to provide immediate, engaging activation and interactive customer support.

Strategy #3: Incentives that drive user behavior

Understanding your customers and user intent can inform your user activation process.

By providing easy in-app feedback opportunities, you can learn from your users and identify opportunities for improvement.

Additionally, the better metrics and analytics you can gather from user activity, the better you can understand user behavior and incorporate positive user experiences into the onboarding process.

Companies can also incentivize users via action-based learning. 

For example, through CommandBar’s Questlists and nudges, users are challenged to try something new, follow the journey forward, and quickly see the results. This provides an immediate use case for users and adds a healthy sense of accomplishment.

4 great examples of user activation

Below are some real-time examples of customer activation events in action.

Headspace

Source: Headspace home page

When new users join the Headspace mental health app, they get introduced to meditation immediately. While it primarily serves as a tutorial on meditation and using Headspace, users benefit automatically from breathing and thought exercises. The app creatively launches users right into the experience. 

UberEats

Source: UberEats home page

UberEats has a simple but effective user activation strategy. It’s a direct call to action, asking you to type in your address. You don’t have to sign in. You can provide your directions and you automatically get a catalog of all restaurants available to you. 

At the bottom, there’s a deal you can claim too. Instead of visiting the app or site and sifting through restaurants, UberEats gets you started on ordering food immediately, with incentives to follow through—and minimal friction.

ClickUp

Source: ClickUp home page

You dive right into creating your own workflow when you sign up for ClickUp. The app asks you questions and helps you create the right project board for your needs. If you have questions or want to explore a feature, there are quick resources and videos to learn how. Its self-guided and customizable user experience is a great example of an effective strategy.

Canva

Source: Canva in-app experience

The design platform greets new users by asking how they plan to use Canva. Then, users are greeted with a window with personalized suggestions. It also includes project-based categorized icons, an opportunity to search for ideas, and help to get started. This is a great example of equipping users to follow their own curiosities and needs, instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all activation experience. 

Measure success with these 5 user activation KPIs

If you’ve tried to learn how to bake bread for the first time,  you’ll know what it’s like… you think you’re a pro and you got it all right—then it comes out of the oven. It looks totally different than you imagined. 

You thought you would get beautiful, fluffy bread. Instead, you ended up with a hard disc (great for frisbee golf, though). 

It’s the same for strategies. Without key performance indicators (KPIs), you don’t know if it’s working until the end. 

That’s why it’s important to identify KPIs and user activation metrics to gauge success.

You can use the following:

  • Activation rate: Measuring a “success” for activations. It’s usually a milestone achieved by users (like project creation) divided by the total number of users who signed up.
  • Active user rate: You can include two rates, like daily active users or monthly active users. Both help determine user behavior. This helps measure how successful your transition between activation and your adoption stage was, and how customers are progressing.
  • Churn rate: You can measure how many users leave the app (or stop using or paying for it). It’s important to track and collect feedback on why it’s happening.
  • Retention rate: Users are sticking with your app, paying for it, and enjoying the value.
  • Feature adoption rate: When you create a new feature, how many people start using it consistently? Use this to measure how effective your activation and adoption strategies are through new launches.

Activation made easy

By now, you should have some techniques in your toolkit to improve your user activation plan. There are many opportunities to show value to your new users and win them over for the long haul. 

But if you still feel overwhelmed by the options, strategies, and metrics to consider, you’re not alone. 

User activation is the hardest part of scaling a successful platform. You need new users to fall in love with your app. Thankfully, you can make user activation easy!

CommandBar offers the tools you need—many mentioned in this article—to streamline your user activation process, increasing activation and adoption.

With its AI-assistant tool and frictionless onboarding features, you can captivate new customers and usher them through full adoption to become brand ambassadors. Sell them on the value of your app in real-time (for their own use cases), so they can become paying, happy life-long users. 

Start building your fun and engaging activation experience with CommandBar today.

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