Feature Adoption Funnel: What Is It and How To Improve It

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Let’s talk about the good ones.

Let’s think about your users that’ve been on your product for a while. The good, activated users. The ones that routinely log in, do something, and go about their day. Some of them may even be power users, utilizing every nook and cranny of what your team has built. Others may use your product for the bare minimum, but they use it consistently.

These users are dedicated—loyal, affectionate users that aren’t going to churn. But most probably could do more with their subscription. They could use more features and achieve higher value.

Why aren’t they already?

Habits. Humans aren’t change-friendly creatures, and while some users may only need the bare essentials, others could gain more value if they simply changed their habits. This is what we call a feature adoption challenge—how do we reliably encourage, train, and compel users to embrace your product’s features?

What is feature adoption?

Feature adoption is repeat usage by customers of any specific product feature.

This article isn’t for everyone.

Hot take, but before worrying about increasing feature adoption, you need active, healthy users first. Feature adoption shouldn’t be conflated with product adoption, which corresponds with a more bare-minimum threshold of a user simply using your product for something.

Take GitHub, for example. Feature adoption is about encouraging users to utilize GitHub Hooks or GitHub Co-Pilot; product adoption is simply about getting users to set up and utilize their first GitHub repository. Distinct challenges.

So, if you’re struggling to land recurring weekly or daily users, this article isn’t for you. And that’s okay; it’s better to solve the onboarding challenge first before worrying about feature adoption. While feature adoption can improve overall product adoption, your focus should be on helping users see some value in your product.

For those with healthy users, why care?

So you have healthy, recurring users. Why even care? After all, they’re paying you money and using the product for something as is.

Typically, working on feature adoption will impact the business in four possible ways:

  1. Dramatically reducing churn to competitors. Your users may switch to another platform to use features your product has but hasn’t made easy to adopt! Great feature adoption improves retention rates.
  2. Encourage evangelists to praise your product. If users feel like they are continuously getting more and more value from your product, they’ll be more likely to evangelize your product publicly.
  3. Inform go-to-market teams pricing. If you have a concrete understanding who adopts certain features and why, you’ll be able to inform your go-to-market team and product managers on how to augment pricing to better form fit around value.
  4. Increase Upgrades / Expansions. Depending on your pricing model, users are more likely to upgrade/expand usage if they are gaining more value from your product.  

Of course, there is the bonus benefit of ensuring the hard work your engineering team has put into bespoke features will be used!

Let’s talk about the Feature Adoption Funnel

Pioneered by Justin Butlion, the Feature Adoption Funnel is a framework for understanding and evaluating your feature adoption rate. There are four stages to the funnel—Exposed, Activated, Used, and Used Again. Let’s dive into each.

Diagram from projectBI representing the four stages

Exposed. Users that have come across the feature / been exposed to it. This may be via a feature page, pop-up tooltip, or sub-modal.

  • Recommendation—exposing a feature to a user may not matter if the user has developed muscle memory to dismiss a prompt. For instance, apps that overuse on-app onboarding tips may expect users to dismiss prompts without actually reading them.

Activated. Users that have activated the feature. This step isn’t relevant to features that don’t need to be turned on.

Used. Users that have used the relevant feature once.

  • Recommendation—users should use a feature in an intended way to qualify for this step. If a user doesn’t complete a feature’s flow or goes about it in an unintended way, then the user should remain at the activated/exposed stage.

Used Again. Users that return to utilize the relevant feature again.

  • Recommendation—if you notice users often use a feature twice in quick succession and never return, then you should redefine used and used again to include a non-trivial timespan between them.

Common Pitfalls

Let’s discuss why users may fail to cross a funnel step.

Exposed

  • No Common Paths. Users may not be exposed to a feature because their routine usage of your product doesn’t lead them to paths to discover a feature. For instance, a new integration will have poor feature discovery if your user only visits the integration page when they onboard onto your product.
  • A feature is tucked away. If a feature is accessible in a dropdown or list, without a called-out “New” tag, users may gloss over the addition. Either that, or there's too much UX friction to use it - this is why user pull is so important.
  • A feature is poorly named. Your user may not realize a pertinent feature exists if they associate a feature’s actions with a different name. For instance, a user may misunderstand an Archive feature if it’s named something different like Declassify. Focusing on app messaging is critical to fostering exposed users.

Activated

  • Activation not known. If a user doesn’t know that they need to switch on a feature to use it, they may never look to activate it.
  • Internal approvals. If a user needs an administrative role to activate a feature, they may not activate it because they struggle to fetch permissions to do so.

Used

  • A feature isn’t appealing. Maybe users don’t need a certain feature, so they aren’t using it because they don’t want to.
  • A feature isn’t understood. Commonly, users may misunderstand what a feature can do for them and therefore don’t put the effort to adopt it.
  • Used Again

Dissatisfaction. If a user is dissatisfied with a feature, they won’t return to it.

  • Unprompted. If a user previously used a feature because they were prompted to do so, and that prompt doesn’t re-occur, they may not return to a feature because they haven’t developed a habit of doing so.

What is Feature Segmentation?

Different classes of users may use features in various ways. For instance, an early employee at a seed-stage startup will have distinct needs from an enterprise user. While both users may utilize similar features, their end goals may be distinct.

Correspondingly, you should evaluate feature adoption funnels on a per-user segment basis if you feel like users have distinct needs for a feature.

How to tackle Feature Adoption.

Let’s discuss various strategies to improve feature adoption at various stages of the feature adoption funnel.

  • Improve Awareness. You’ll improve all stages of the funnel by fostering awareness of a certain feature. You can communicate a feature’s value via (a) in-app nudges or modals, (b) email newsletters, (c) change-logs, (d) checklists, or (e) even paid ads targeting converted users. If you’ve ever received an ad for a product you actively use, the responsible marketing team is likely targeting feature awareness.
  • Improve Accessibility. Ensure your feature isn’t hidden in deep menus or settings pages—this will improve all stages of the funnel, especially usage. Redesign your UI to better expose a critical feature. Alternatively, use action-enabled nudges to enable users to use a feature at the opportune time.
  • Knowledge Bases. Use webinars, help centers, case studies, and even re-onboarding calls to inform, train, and activate users on new features.
  • Gamification. Using checklists or rewards, encourage users to use premium features by rewarding them—either psychologically or financially—for feature usage. This should be used sparingly as an overtly gamified app will result in more transactional users.
  • Feature Efficiency. Redesign your feature to encourage the Used and Used Again by minimizing necessary clicks or cognitive overload when using a feature.
  • Feature Announcement. When a new feature is launched, make sure it is announced on company socials, broadcasted in newsletters, and called out on the website.

Products to measure and iterate on feature adoption.

There are various products that can dramatically assist with targeting feature adoption. Let’s explore these products in the context of each category.

Product Analytics. Track your feature adoption funnel by using an event-based analytics tool. Common examples are Posthog, Amplitude, Mixpanel, Heap, and others. Using these tools, you can measure what percentage of users drop off at various stages of the funnel on the path to adopting the feature.

Onboarding Tools. Use Appcues, Pendo, Walkme, and competitors to build UI components that inform users of specific features or prompt surveys to get user feedback on why features aren’t getting good adoption.

Marketing Automation Software. Use customer.io, Marketo, or Hubspot to engage users at various junctures to encourage them to commit to bespoke features.

Session Replay Tools. Use Fullstory, Posthog, or Highlight to playback user sessions and closely examine why they may not engage with a certain feature. These products are best paired with an event-based platform so you know which users to study.

Testing and Experimentation Tools. Use Optimizely or VWO to iterate on changes to your feature to determine if it impacts the funnel.

Help Desk Tools. Use products like Intercom, Help Scout, or Olark for users to engage with via chat to access your team.

CommandBar. We built CommandBar with one primary goal—to assist teams in achieving strong feature adoption by exposing features in the CommandBar, a search bar filled with action-based options. CommandBar can nudge users about premium features, easily expose help content to guide users towards best practices, and reveal otherwise tucked-away bespoke features.

CommandBar customized for Gusto (left) and Netlify (right)

Conclusion

After achieving healthy product adoption, feature adoption is the next big challenge to maximizing value for your users. Utilizing the feature adoption funnel and relevant tools, you can drive lower churn, higher engagement, and better reviews from satisfied customers. Finally, users adopting new features will give your engineering team a sense of pride in what they’ve built.

We are incredibly passionate about feature adoption at CommandBar. If you want to chat with us on our own philosophies on feature adoption, book some time today.