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Design Strategy

Product Design

Create a Digital Product Onboarding Process That Makes Your Brand the Life of the Party

Abby Milan

August 17, 2021

You’re more likely to enjoy yourself at a party (remember those?) if the host hands you a drink right away and introduces you to people with similar interests. You immediately get the impression that you’re welcome and that your presence matters.

Is your digital product doing the same with its users?

Welcoming those who download your product with a slick, engaging onboarding process is not unlike being a great host. You only get one shot to make your user feel wanted, oriented, and comfortable before they either a.) decide to download your product and return, or b.) leave faster than a GIF upload on 5G.

So you have to get it right from the very beginning.

If your onboarding process isn’t shipshape, you’ll likely battle your churn rate, have difficulty increasing subscriptions, and see a decrease in sales and customer satisfaction.

According to The Manifest, 23% of users who download an app never return to it after the first use. Yikes.

Luckily, with a little elbow grease (and strategic design, UX research, and marketing), you can get your user onboarding process working like a well-oiled machine.

Choose Your Digital Product’s Onboarding Adventure

You’ve customized your brand’s design and UI to reflect exactly what your product stands for. Guess what? You can customize an onboarding experience that fits your brand, too.

There are several iterations of onboarding methods, each with its own unique attributes. What’s going to fit your brand the best?

  1. Value ads (or Quick product tours) Need to quickly show off your product’s value to convince a user to stick around? This method employs a set of paginated screens that can give a high-level overview of your product. The user will get the gist of it in no time. And if they want more detailed information, they can log in to your product for more.

  2. in-depth education Some digital products come with a lot of ground to cover for the user to get the full effect. With an in-depth education onboarding process, your user gets a guided walkthrough complete with tips and coaching. This type of onboarding is typically used for desktop apps because of the increased real estate and has a higher completion rate because a user can go at their own pace. The direct-message app for work teams, Slack, does this really well. Their onboarding tooltips are helpful without being overwhelming and they allow the user to decide how quickly they digest the information. Pro-tip: users love going at their own pace, no matter what method you use!

  3. Personalization This is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure onboarding experience because it customizes the onboarding process for the user. It works like this: your user enters information about themselves and your onboarding process spits out a guide and tips most relevant to their interests. If you’ve ever used Ellevest or Pinterest, you were asked about your interests or your savings goals, respectively. In return, your onboarding process reflected information that would be most useful to you.

  4. Guided assignments Do you like marking things off a to-do list? Maybe some of your users do, too. A guided assignment onboarding process is all about the user completing tasks as you guide them through learning your product. Gmail's guided assignments appear as onboarding tooltips that persist on the page until the user completes each step. Todoist creates a task list users can check off as they move through onboarding. Your user builds confidence as they complete each task. Who can argue with that reward?

  5. Full Product Experience With Late Sign-up Non-committal users might like this method the best because it gives them a chance to sign up only after they get a good handle on your product. First, your product offers one or two of the right onboarding processes listed above (based on what's best for the specific product). Then, the user can choose to sign up. Duolingo does this very well. The type of onboarding you use depends greatly on your type of product. If your product is of the “note” or “to-do list” variety, a guided assignment process might be a good idea because of the relative straightforwardness of your product. If your app leans more detail-heavy like a photo-editing app with a lot of features, you might opt for more of an in-depth education approach. Can’t decide? You can use more than one type of onboarding method. Choose your own onboarding adventure!

How to Give Your Users the Best Onboarding Process

After you’ve chosen which method(s) is(are) right for your brand’s onboarding process, it’s time to design it. And while you can throw a great party at the last minute, you can’t throw together a great onboarding process. It takes strategy and design expertise to create something your users are going to connect with.

To make sure you’re putting your best onboarding foot forward, use some of our proven tips.

  • Know who your users are Who are your users, and what challenges do they have that your product solves? If you don’t know what might stop your users from downloading your product, it’s time to double down on user testing. To design an effective onboarding experience that will retain your users, you have to know your users — inside and out. This includes knowing how they like to learn. Are they more build-it-without-instructions people, or do they do things by the book? The only way to find out for sure is to ask them.

  • state why your product is awesome Make it clear from the get-go exactly what your value proposition is. What are you offering them? The less time it takes for the user to have that a-ha! moment, the better. How do you do this exactly? Try a beautifully branded welcome screen stating your value prop in three slides or less. Go on, we dare you to try it.

  • Keep it simple We’ve already talked about your one shot. But we may not have mentioned that shot is a very short one. Avoid onboarding processes that are too drawn out or confusing. Especially if you've done a good job of laying out your value proposition, users tend to get antsy and want to dive in and start using your product. Some users may want to jump ship and go explore without the help of an onboarding tool. In this case, give them an opt-out option. In the same vein, allow for an easy exit. And make the onboarding process simple to find in case the user needs help later. Airtable, a spreadsheet database product, does onboarding right. Despite being a robust product, their onboarding process is short, sweet, and to the point.

  • Find the friction and fix it Fast, efficient, and easy. That should be the goal of every onboarding process. That means any friction needs to be removed. The Manifest reported that 72% of app users desire a 60-second or less onboarding experience. A simple friction fixer is your sign-up page. Make the login process as simple as possible. Allowing for social logins ("Login with Google/Facebook/etc.") or requiring only a phone number or email will help get you the highest adoption rates. Bonus points if you can use verification codes instead of passwords. Female-centric investment product Ellevest gets onboarding points for collecting all user info upfront. An appreciated, frictionless experience. Another solution to friction is to explain why requesting permission is necessary. Asking too soon or without reason can cause users to exit onboarding, and/or reject permission. This can be frustrating down the road when the user goes to, say, upload a photo but the app doesn’t have permission to access photos.

  • Put Your Brand First A trusted product is a successful product. And you can’t build trust without a strong brand. So, show off your brand right away in the onboarding process and start building trust. Users who get a good feel for your brand will be more enticed and follow through with completing the process. An easy way to hook people through your branding is by including surprise-and-delight moments with animated illustrations or clever images.

  • Make the process fun by gamifying it Turning a boring onboarding process into one that’s fun, engaging...even rewarding? Boom. Instant likeability for your product and brand. Gamify your onboarding process by adding progress bars to a task list so a user is motivated to complete all the steps. You could also consider giving a discount or bonus feature to users who make it all the way through the onboarding process. Everyone likes a gift!

  • think through your entire product Your onboarding process shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal at the very beginning of a user’s relationship with your product. You should have onboarding processes for your product’s various features so your users never have a chance to feel confused. For example, if a user migrates from a free account to a paid account, think about what new features are available that they need to learn about. Planning unique onboarding experiences for relevant touchpoints will boost your user’s confidence and trust as they dive deeper into your product.

  • Follow through & always be assessing Once you’ve created the perfect onboarding experience, sorry, but your work isn’t over. There’s no rest for the weary as you must continually assess your users’ needs. Employ tools like user testing and interview users to better understand how to improve your onboarding process. As you observe your users going through the onboarding process, pay special attention to where users get stuck. Ask them what they imagined should have happened wherever they got tripped up. Then refine and iterate on your designs until you have a streamlined onboarding process. Lastly, keep users coming back by engaging with them. Include in-app chatbots for support, ask users to allow notifications, and email them with helpful tips on complicated features that are explained in webinars, docs, or videos. By reaching out to your users, you show them you’re there for them—this doesn’t go unnoticed.

No matter what kind of onboarding experience you choose, taking the time to make it shine is well worth it. And though you can’t offer your user a drink when they open the proverbial door on your product, we’re sure you’ll think of something just as welcoming. Cheers!

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