Chapter 2

How to Turn User Engagement into Long-Term Loyalty

Executive Summary

As many digital products have seen a surge in new users since March, the focus is now on transforming user engagement into long-term loyalty. It’s easy to assume user acquisition is the central metric for determining business value, but long-term retention is critical for every product, whether you’re at a Fortune 500 company or a five-person startup. We spoke to Sue Cho, Head of Lifecycle Marketing at Calm, and Rohith Nandagiri, Director at HBO Max, about how to develop a data-informed retention strategy to keep users engaged.

Takeaways from Executive Experts at Calm and HBO

Sue and Rohith described their predictions for user experiences in the future: Companies that can seamlessly integrate the offline and online with multi-platform user journeys will differentiate themselves in competitive markets. To get there, companies must foster a culture of clear communication and data democratization.

  • The future of user experiences is cross-media and cross-device. For example, HBO and Calm partnered to develop The World of Calm, an immersive visual journey series that provided both companies an opportunity to make big bets and tie together different media into a unified experience. It was an ingenious win-win partnership — HBO differentiated its content from other streaming services and attracted valuable new audiences who don’t belong to classic user personas. Meanwhile, Calm extended their user experience beyond their app. It was a successful trial for the company’s plans to pivot to even more “off-screen” experiences in the future.
  • Beyond meeting users’ expectations, you have to truly deliver surprise and delight. Delighting customers requires thinking out of the box, testing, and continuously iterating strategies until a winning idea emerges. It is also essential to have a clear understanding of your “North Star” metrics, so you can easily connect your work in experience innovation back to customer and business impact.
  • Be selective about what data you leverage for personalization. Users expect companies to understand context and subsequently adapt products based on time and place. Anything else is an interruption. As a result, companies need to think of usage data as a flywheel — as you create new product experiences, analyze and use the data to define what to build next for users. The process of personalization should focus on using the data at hand to build upon an existing connection, unpacking the emotions and sentiment of users in the process.

Learn more here about personalization from experts at Forrester and Amplitude’s head of personalization products.

  • Invest in data accessibility alongside governance. The HBRAS survey found that for most organizations, between 25 to 50 percent of team members within digital product teams have access to product data and/or insights and regularly use them to make decisions and optimize product experiences. Arming more team members with the ability to answer data-related questions (versus requiring them to learn SQL or rely on an analyst or data scientist) is an accelerator for a company. But alignment and control in data democracy are critical factors for success. You have to protect your users by governing their data effectively — that means leveraging dedicated IT partners who can help determine and set up permissions. Limiting team members to necessary data only also protects them from data paralysis.
  • Over-communication and transparency are winning strategies. Both HBO and Calm publish charts to Slack channels, share team dashboards, embed reports in emails, and present data in decks and team meetings. They have actively built a culture of data transparency, ensuring team members understand the context and implication behind a data point and how data insights map onto essential metrics and key goals.

Takeaways from Executive Peers

Our attendees described the pain points and opportunities they’ve observed from evolving experiences in relation to user behavior changes. Many mentioned challenges with scaling — data democracy and self-service tools can help address these issues.

  • Managing internal expectations is vital. Teams are getting excited about the vast opportunities associated with digital right now, but the “new normal” is still unknown. Therefore, many companies are tackling a “feast or famine” sentiment. Team leaders must pinpoint the behaviors that are here to stay and determine how to best respond.
  • Pursue a data-informed culture versus a data-driven one. The latter doesn’t account for the unpredictability of human emotions and decision-making, while the former supports creativity, creating and testing hypotheses, and making game-changing bets. Data isn’t everything, but it is a useful guide.
  • Design and scale experiences for different audiences. Some companies are seeing audience profiles that vary so drastically in their needs, leading teams to consider developing entirely different products. What should the same banking app look like for a twenty-year-old versus a grandparent? Should they be different apps entirely? There is no right or wrong answer — the decision tree will vary depending on the company’s mission and vision.
  • Double down on the core value props. Rather than overreact to new behaviors and new users, focus on the factors that helped you acquire these new users in the first place. Teams want to translate the influx of new behaviors into higher-value subscribers, but it can be challenging. Many attendees described experiencing a real fear that they must prove their value immediately to users through new features or products, or else they’ll lose their attention and trust. Brand value can be demonstrated in many different ways — data and testing can help teams go beyond reporting on user behavior and provide insights to inch up engagement and generate more revenue.
  • Invest in frictionless cross-medium and cross-device user journeys. At a minimum, you’ll want to invest in helping your team understand the user experience from web to mobile to other mediums. The user journey map will be your stepping stone to identify friction points.
  • Baseline metrics are important. But they aren’t just vanity metrics or internally focused data — pioneering teams must invest in defining their North Star metrics. These metrics should be incredibly unique to each product and clearly indicate value for both the company and the user. It requires tying occasionally disparate behavioral data back to essential outcomes.

Action Items

Summary What you can do What your team can do
Determine your North Star metrics, which will help your teams rally around a core set of metrics that are critical value drivers for both your customers and business.
  • Set the context for the most important business and customer outcomes.
  • Sponsor a North Star workshop or task the team with reading the North Star Playbook.
  • Map behavioral data across product areas back to important business and user outcomes.
  • Participate in a North Star workshop.
New customers may have unique needs that don’t perfectly map onto existing customer profiles.
  • Use detailed behavioral data to re-map the customer journey, so it spans all mediums. Identify any friction points and opportunities for improvement.
  • Segment your new customers: build detailed cohorts (behavioral, financial, geographical) and create unique reengagement plans based on their makeup.
To stand out from the crowd and boost retention rates, you must delight at every touchpoint of the multi-platform user journey.
  • Task teams with reading the Mastering Retention Playbook to learn proven methods for building a data-informed retention strategy.
  • Create a culture of safety that allows your teams to experiment.
  • Brainstorm ideas for cross-media opportunities that can expand the customer journey beyond one channel or platform.
  • Run experiments to ship and learn even faster.
Data democracy and reducing ad hoc reporting allows teams to move smarter and faster.
  • Survey the team to understand how they feel about data — do they have data paralysis, or are they extremely comfortable accessing and understanding it?
  • Talk to your IT department and set up access permissions.
  • Set up training sessions for internal users to learn about interpreting and analyzing data.
  • Discuss findings of the data survey with the team.
  • Map user events that are critical to understanding your customers’ product experiences. Use maps to ensure your teams have solid data dictionaries and schemas in place.

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