As a product manager, you constantly have to find, prioritize, design and measure product improvements. Often, the first instinct when doing this is to think about features: “Users should be able to do X or Y”. A more sophisticated version is to think about user objectives: “We should help users achieve Z”. However, neither of these two approaches comprehensively covers what makes a product a great user experience and a successful business.
To facilitate more holistic thinking about product improvements, I find the following two frameworks helpful, that I will describe in greater detail below:
- The Growth-Stickiness-Monetization framework
- The HEART framework
Neither of these frameworks is perfect, but in conjunction, I have found them extremely useful.
The Growth — Stickiness — Monetization framework
The idea behind this framework is that a successful product has to achieve three things:
- Attract users into the product (Growth)
- Retain those users and deepen their engagement (Stickiness)
- Make money from those users, directly or indirectly (Monetization)
The thinking in this framework is an amalgamation of ideas in Eric Ries’ Lean Startup (sticky, viral, and paid growth) and Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz’ interpretation of these ideas in Lean Analytics, combined with real-world observations.
Growth features focus on a) getting new users into the product and b) keeping them there. In other words, they create the onramp that a new user takes to get into your product.
While the first aspect, getting new users into the product, could be interpreted as the job of Marketing & Sales, there are many possible product features that can improve this, like viral loops, referral mechanisms, or the signup flow.
The second part, keeping new users, is not to be confused with Stickiness. It speaks more to user onboarding / new user experience (NUE), meaning how you explain the functionality of the product to a new user and demonstrate immediate value. Product features targeting this aspect are for example product tours, example documents, FAQ and help sections, or product-integrated assistants.
Growth features can typically be measured using metrics like growth rate, virality coefficient, customer acquisition cost (CAC), conversion rates, or new user retention (e.g., one-day or seven-day retention rates).
Stickiness means a) deepening the engagement of users, and b) reducing churn of existing users. These two are grouped together in the framework, since for many products, they are strongly correlated — if you are a very engaged user of a product, you are unlikely to churn, and therefore the best way to increase retention of existing users is by increasing their engagement.
How Stickiness features look depends very much on the product itself. In order to find and design Stickiness features, one has to look for the goals that users are trying to achieve with the product (the “job that the user has hired the product to do”), and then make achieving that goal easier / better / faster / more convenient. The better the product/market fit of a product, the stickier it will become.
Metrics for Stickiness features are typically things like time spent in app, DAU over MAU, number of daily app visits, or number of key actions performed in app (e.g., number of posts per user in a social app).
Monetization features make a product a business. Any feature that extracts some of the value generated by the product, and feeds it back to the company as a cash flow, is a Monetization feature.
What Monetization features to build depends on the business model of the product, and ranges from ads over freemium/premium features and microtransactions to e-commerce and subscription models.
Measuring Monetization is typically done through average revenue per user (ARPU) or customer lifetime value (CLV).
The HEART framework
The HEART framework is a Google / GV framework for UX metrics. HEART stands for Happiness-Engagement-Adoption-Retention-Task Completion. You can read more about it in this excellent Medium article. In contrast to the Growth-Stickiness-Monetization framework, the HEART framework “zooms in” on the experience that a user has with a feature (or the whole product). When thinking about new features, I find it helpful to supplement the Growth-Stickiness-Monetization framework with the HEART framework for the following reasons:
- Separating Retention from Adoption and Engagement. The Growth-Stickiness-Monetization framework groups retention with other aspects, namely as part of Growth for new users, and Stickiness for existing users. This simplifies the framework and bundles effects where they occur in the user lifecycle, but loses a longitudinal view of retention. Looking at retention separately is especially important if engagement and retention are not correlated — e.g., think about games, in which short-term engagement might be different from longer-term motivation to keep playing. Pokémon Go was a huge and addictive success very quickly, but many players did not stick around, since rewards that kept them playing declined after some time.
- Breaking out Task Completion. I find this aspect especially useful for productivity-focused products. If your product is extremely fun, engaging and addictive, but users don’t get their jobs done, can your product really be successful in the long term? If you, for example, have a real estate app, and it has a very engaging UX, with interactive maps and pictures and virtual tours, but very few users manage to actually buy property that they found on your app, your chances of long-term success are slim. Targeting and measuring Task Completion separately helps avoid falling into that trap.
- Capturing “Happiness”. While more difficult to directly measure, user and customer happiness is another factor that can make or break a product in the longer term. Small moments of delight (for example, Slack’s “loading” messages) or frustration (like accidentally hitting a keyboard shortcut performing an action that the user didn’t intend to) are probably not going to impact user engagement and retention in the short term, so they will be difficult to measure and A/B test. However, in the longer term, customer happiness will drive both retention of existing users, as well as growth through referrals, word-of-mouth, and customer testimonials.
Both frameworks are imperfect
As the title of this article indicates, both frameworks are imperfect. The growth-stickiness-monetization framework, for example, does not break out retention for products in which it is not correlated with engagement. The HEART framework does not at all cover monetization. In combination, however, I found these two frameworks applicable to most digital products. Even in cases where they don’t perfectly fit, thinking about the product in these categories can help identify and clarify those aspects that differ.
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