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Forming Habits To Improve Retention
Welcome to a fresh Growth Croissant! 🚀 🥐
I’m Reid, your host on this journey. I’ve been lucky to be part of incredible teams that launched and grew notable consumer subscription products: Hulu, Crunchyroll, HBO Max, and Substack.
Growth Croissant will be an evolving home for our learnings, painful lessons, and frameworks for making hard decisions. My goal is to deliver you a comprehensive and actionable guidebook on how to grow your business.
Welcome back to our ongoing series on better retaining your paying subscribers — one of the best ways to drive sustainable improvements to customer lifetime value (“CLV”) and long-term revenue growth.
Here are the topics we’ve covered so far on how to improve retention:
Growth tactics to retain folks that are on the fence about canceling.
Better onboarding to connect new subscribers with your value proposition.
Using audience surveys to identify your core audience and how to 10x the degree to which you solve their problem.
Community-strengthening features (e.g., status, inside jokes) to encourage loyalty.
The post below will cover ways to improve retention by helping subscribers form healthy habits around using your product.
Compared to previous posts, today’s post may tip toward product managers or larger consumer subscription products. But as always, maybe a kernel of insight sparks an idea or way you can use the below, regardless of your situation.
Encouraging healthy habits
Often, with a new product, you ask customers to create space in their lives to use it — no easy task, especially if the payoff is less immediate or noticeable. For some consumer products, like learning and health & wellness apps, folks want to use the product but may need help carving out new space in their lives to use it (and overcoming the search for a quick dopamine hit).
To that end, many products aimed at self-improvement guide folks to form healthy habits around their product. These products encourage more frequent and consistent usage early on through a combination of features:
Letting customers participate in competitions or challenges.
Setting goals and tracking progress.
Feeling rewarded by hitting goals and maintaining streaks.
These habit-forming features are a prominent part of the user experience and propel users and paying subscribers toward their goals. These features also make the product better to use over time, helping improve retention and laying the foundation for a sustainable business.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Strava, one of the leading fitness tracking apps, uses challenges as a central part of their product to help folks strive toward their goals (and better retain users and paying subscribers).
Users can set personal challenges (e.g., ride 200 kilometers in a month) and earn badges for their “Trophy Case”. Users can also form group challenges with friends, enabling the always-effective elements of peer pressure and some friendly competition.
Strava also enables folks to create and join “Clubs”, connecting people with similar goals and cultivating healthy competition amongst strangers. Here’s a look at the Santa Barbara Bicycle Club home feed and the club leaderboard for most miles this past week.
Strava also sends notifications when you’ve become a “Local Legend”, awarded to the athlete who completes a given segment the most over a rolling 90-day period, regardless of pace or speed. Even more motivating — Strava lets you know when someone else has nabbed your title.
Other popular fitness apps use similar features to drive engagement and improve retention. If you’ve ever hopped on a Peloton bike for a ride, you’ve probably found yourself out of the saddle and overexerting yourself to climb the leaderboard. Not only does the leaderboard allow you to compete against friends and total strangers, it also spotlights how you’re doing relative to previous personal records, a compelling reason to keep coming back to try to beat your former self.
Other popular fitness apps — Apple Fitness, Nike Run Club, Fitbit, and many others — deeply ingrain similar elements of motivation into their apps to help push users toward their goals. Challenges, leaderboards, and awards & recognition help drive folks toward their goals and enable these businesses to better retain users and paying subscribers.
Streaks are another popular habit-forming feature, which prominently shows users how consistently they’re using a product as they strive toward a goal. The longer the streak, the more painful it is to break, allowing streaks to become increasingly powerful as a retention mechanism.
The first time I remember stumbling across the concept of streaks was with the meditation app Headspace. Meditation is a notoriously difficult habit to form. To make it easier, Headspace highlights how many days in a row someone has meditated, right next to earned and yet-to-be-earned milestone badges. Headspace also gives users images showcasing their streak (i.e., “shareable assets”) with easy one-click share options. Headspace also sends data-informed congratulatory messages along the way to get them past habit-forming moments.
Headspace also prompts new users to set a reminder to meditate at a time that fits their schedule and goals. There are also options to let Headspace send a push notification or add the time to a user’s calendar.
Lastly, Headspace sprinkles in a little social value by allowing users to add up to 5 “buddies”. If one of your buddies falls out of their meditation habit, you can send them a “nudge” to encourage them to get back into it.
There’s probably no product better at tapping into the value of streaks than the language-learning app Duolingo, which uses a similar toolkit as Headspace:
Streaks are a prominent part of the in-app user experience.
Shareable assets to celebrate significant milestones.
Users can set goals and reminders.
Friends can challenge each other via a “Friends Quest”.
Duolingo also views streaks as an important “growth vector” — a part of the product they continuously test and optimize to improve user retention. From a company blog post, one example is a “Streak Wager”, which allows users to bet in-game currency that they will be able to maintain their streak. The added incentive from the wager led to a significant improvement in retention during the always-crucial period right after someone starts using a product (e.g., Day-1, Day-7, and Day-14 user retention).
Another example is “The Weekend Amulet”, which allows users to maintain their streak if they don’t use Duolingo during a certain weekend, when users are generally less likely to use the app. The Weekend Amulet led to an increase in users maintaining their streaks and an improvement in user retention.
Duolingo has learned that users will reach their language-learning goals more consistently if they approach it like a marathon, not a sprint. Rather than a few deep binge-learning sessions (that lead to folks not using the product anymore), streaks help cultivate consistent usage over time and help folks reach their goals.
That’s why streaks are such a key part of the Duolingo product. In Lenny’s Newsletter,(former CPO of Duolingo) says this about streaks:
To date, the streak feature is one of Duolingo’s most powerful engagement mechanics. When people talk about their Duolingo experience, they often bring up their streak.
It’s a perfect example of how integral these habit-forming features become to the user experience. If these features were removed, it totally changes the story of the product and how people use it.
While it’s possible for products to dabble with habit-forming features as peripheral or one-off features, these features need to take center stage and become a key tenet of the product experience to influence how people use your product and have a meaningful impact on retention.
For certain products (especially those in the “eat-your-vegetables” or self-improvement category), habit-forming features can be an effective way to improve retention. To have a meaningful impact, habit-forming features must be deeply ingrained in the product — so much so that removing these features would dramatically change the user experience.
How could you encourage folks to use your product more consistently over time? Would habit-forming features make sense as a core part of your product?
If you have any stories about how habit-forming features have improved retention, please share them in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading,
PS — this week’s Croissant is coming to you from Portugal, so please forgive any delayed reply to comments or email responses! :)