Increase conversions with gradual engagement

Increase conversions with gradual engagement

Friday 1st of June 2012
Written by: David Humphreys

How gradual engagement can be used to increase conversion: Learnings from Spotify Australia

Web services and applications often face a big challenge. "How do I get people to use my online service or application when I need to get so much out of them?" Whether that is a subscription to an online service or just a lot of financial information for an application form, how can we get all the information we need out of a user without triggering their "this is too hard" reflex?

Gradual engagement (Luke Wroblewski - Sign up forms must die and Jakob Nielsen - Feature richness and user engagement) is a design approach that involves engaging the user in phases, by offering access to basic functionality in exchange for the user providing just enough information or action to allow that functionality to work. As the user familiarises themselves with the application and receives value from their interaction, more information and commitment can be sought from the user. This allows the user to become engaged and invested in the service or application and significantly increases the likelihood they will take the next step towards eventual conversion which may be registration, purchase or upgrade to a paid service.

Sounds simple but surprisingly very few sites or applications adopt this approach. The recent Australian release of Spotify saw a use of gradual engagement that seems to be causing users across the country to embrace the service. For those who don't know... Spotify offer a free and legal music service, and has more than 10 million users. "There are no gimmicks, no trial period and no catches".

Successful gradual engagement requires a great understanding of your users, their motivations and the ability to plan your product around these things.

Core motivation

Let's start with why Australians have responded so positivley to Spotify in the first place. In short the desire for legal, free or cheap digital music. Simple as that. Those are the three key words 'free', 'cheap', and 'legal'. Let's add 'easy' and 'social' to the mix because that is what Spotify adds so effectively over other local services.

So what about Spotify that enables this process of gradual engagement? It's no one thing, but a series of features and engagements that captivate users over time and settles them in the level of engagement that they are comfortable with.

Key features:

  • Free download of highly functional application
  • Does not require credit card details up front to use the basic free service
  • First few days of free streaming seem to be ad free
  • Upgrade button in the top bar of the application, is not obtrusive but always there gently reminding you of the possibility
  • Two price plans to ease you into the idea of paying for something you could just enjoy for free
  • Provide a free trial of the mobile application
  • Effortless and non-intrusive social sharing
  • Seamless Facebook integration

Once the user is hooked and can see the value of the service, Spotify creates some key points of dissonance that are designed to gently prop the user to reflect on their current level of engagement with the free product and consider purchasing a subscription.

  • The ads in the free Spotify are not too intrusive and at least in early stages seem focused on highlighting the features of the free services. Indeed, it seems on the first day or so there are no ads at all. This is the key balancing act of the Spotify business model. The model says "It's OK for people to use the ad supported model but the ads need to create just enough dissonance that they will drive users who are less tolerant of ads to purchase a subscription because they value the service and want it without ads".
  • Over time audiophiles start to notice the  low quality bitrate of the music and start to desire a better audio experience for their music. Users who are engaged and delighted enough by the free service are driven to subscribe to the premium service with the higher quality bitrate.

However, other elements of the Spotify user experience may turn potential users off, in particular, the close association between Facebook and Spotify. What will be a seamless and painless social music experience for most users may cause other users to hesitate or turn off over a sense of lack of control on what is posted on their Facebook Timeline and lack of clarity around what happens to their data.

Spotify's gradual engagement strategy addresses user's core motivation – make listening to the music I want to hear easy. I'm happy to pay if the price is right and the service good enough. It seems to work. A month after a soft, invitation only launch in the US in July last year unnofical figures reported on Allthings D pegged the service a 1.4 million free trial users and 175,000 paying subscribers. Part of that journey to success is the slow, winding path to subscription.

In summary, the key learnings from the Spotify experience can be summarised as follows:

  • Gradually engage your users by offering them free and increasing functionality in exchange for more information.
  • Create sufficient pain and dissonance to encourage users to commit to the next step but be careful not to put users off.
  • Tempt users with increased functionality and value to encourage progression to the next step.
  • Be careful you don't lose trust by asking users to provide credit card details when offering a free service.  This immediately builds distrust as users aren't stupid and know you are betting on the fact that they will forget to cancel the services before the free trial ends.

Be careful how you integrate with social network sites. Our experience is that users want significant control over what is posted on their wall and don't want to share some things on Facebook. Users may abort if it is mandatory for them to share the application on social networking sites.

Usability tip

The use of social networking icons to encourage content sharing

It seems to be all the rage to include social networking icons on every content or product page in the hope that your users will share your website on Facebook, Twitter or other websites.  Everyone seems to be doing it, but do users want this feature?  We don't have a definitive answer on this and I suspect it depends on the nature of the content.  However, recent testing we did with average internet users for a travel website indicated that users didn't always want to share the site or page using social networking sharing tools.  Users were unsure about exactly what would be shared (the page? The site? Their quote?) when they clicked the Like or share button. Most commented that they were just looking for some way to forward the page to an email address or said they would copy the URL and paste it into their email program (which can have its own issues when emailing long URLs).

So whilst the jury may be out on social networking icons on content pages, be sure you include a link within the page to share or email content to a friend and use a recognisable email icon to communicate that function.

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