Making the right first impression

Boosting your activation rate

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First impressions matter.

In life, yes. With software products, hell yes.

Users rarely give you a second chance if their first interaction with you was negative.

That’s why activation (and activation rate) is one of the most important metrics in the user journey.

Most people define Activation as the "aha moment" for the product. i.e. when a user finally gets it and they get some value in your product.

Improving it can have a massive impact on retention, revenue and referrals.

I recently did a workshop for Amazon AWS for Startups on Activation where I outlined my framework for improving this key metric.

I’m sharing it with you today, as well as access to the 60-minute training (free).

Let’s get into it:

This newsletter is kindly sponsored by - A big thanks to them. has another gem, this time an Ultimate Guide to PLG Communication which is a huge 70-page guide on all things PLG email.

It's full of examples on everything from onboarding to adoption to expansion.

When I work with teams, I use a simple framework to increase activation:

  1. Understanding user goals and value

  2. Articulating that value

  3. Getting users to value by:

    1. Reducing friction

    2. Increasing Motivation

    3. Personalising the experience

  4. Helping the user to create habits around the value

Doing these steps provides a strong strategic footing to improve activation.

Here’s a quick low down on what an activation rate is:

Now here’s why activation matters so much:

Tech companies lose 69% of their users after the first week.

Fintechs lose 73% of their users in the first week. (Source: Mixpanel)

The first week is critical.

Most of your churn happens during this period. This is because most users haven’t even activated.

If you can’t ‘activate’ these users, you’ll never get them to your ultimate business goal: revenue. 

So if you’re not laser-focused on helping new users reach their goals within the first 7 days, you’re likely leaving money on the table.

Here’s my approach to improving activation:

1) Understand User Goals and Value

You need to understand what users want to achieve and what their goals are.

You need to know what they define as value.

Then you can tailor your product to get them to that value. Here’s how you can learn this:

You can do this from basic customer research:

  • Talking to users

  • Surveys

  • Analysing competitor reviews

Then you want to ask yourself questions such as:

  • What was the context that brought them to you?

  • What was the barrier they had before?

  • What goals do they want to achieve?

  • What is their desired outcome?

2) Articulating Value

You need a clear value proposition that shows how your product helps users to achieve a goal.

Explain how your product solves customers’ problems or makes their life better.

Create messaging that outlines specific benefits the customer cares about.

3) Getting Users to Value

“The first mile of a product's user experience needs to be obsessively crafted to make new users succeed.” Scott Belsky - Founder of Behance.

It’s all about your user onboarding. You need to guide users to the value in your onboarding flow.

I love testing out new prdocust and checking out their user onboarding flows. You can read some of my onboarding breakdowns here. Or hire me to run an onboarding audit for you.

You need to be working to get users to the best of your product quickly, but with as much necessary context as possible.

You can do this by:

i) Reducing Friction

The user has decided to sign up for your product.

They're excited.

Don't bore them with unnecessary questions.

Only ask what you need so they get to the product faster. Adding some friction is fine. (Actually, I recommend it in some cases)

But reducing friction isn’t enough. You need to also:

ii) Increase Motivation

To get a user to complete a product action or upgrade, you need to motivate them.

You must excite or articulate value first.

Otherwise, users won't take the next step.

Kajabi increases motivation by using:

  • Clear positioning

  • Different types of social proof (Customer + revenue numbers, testimonials, imagery of the customer)

  • Visual aspects of the product

  • Messaging that aligns themselves with the audience

  • A money-back guarantee to overcome objections

Keep motivating users throughout the onboarding journey.

iii) Personalising the experience

Your goal is to find out what users want to achieve.

Then help them get there.

Personalisation can help in a big way. One-size fits all doesn’t work well - especially in an era of AI.

So during onboarding, ask about specific jobs to be done. (If you have insights from the earlier customer research great, you can ask better questions around this.)

This helps you to tailor the user experience based on the desired outcome.

One of my favourite approaches to this is using templates based on answers they gave.

Miro does this beautifully:

Doing that you can get users to start engaging with the product quickly but in the right way.

Then you want to:

4) Help users create a habit around the value

Get your users trained on key actions you want them to do regularly.

Get them ingrained on using the tool so it becomes hard to leave. This leads to longer term retention and maybe they stick around past the first week.

You want to be fully within their workflow.

If you build this habit, you're more likely to come back.

Tip: Read Hooked

Onboarding, Engagement and summary emails are a great way to do this.

Applying this framework will take you far.

But to improve it over time, you need to measure and analyse performance. To do this, you need to use product analytic tools such as Amplitude, Mixpanel or

Create funnels and look out for drop-off. Then it’s about running experiments and optimising parts the weakest parts of the customer journey.

You can watch the activation workshop here.

And get my free onboarding checklist here.

When you’re ready, here’s I can help you grow:

Get the Startup Growth Roadmap - my playbook of 25+ templates that's helped 300+ founders and marketers to scale their startups.

Book a free 30 min strategy session to solve your most pressing marketing challenges

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