Signing up for something is easy. Exciting, even! Starting a new project or process is a step that feels full of possibility and potential. We've all begun projects with hopes of losing that weight, learning that instrument, writing that book, or using that fancy new software to hit our Q4 goals. But the hard part is sticking with it. Life gets in the way. You go about your day. You forget. You get busy. Good intentions fade. It's not intentional. Everyone knows, from their own life experiences, that our motivation starts high and begins to wane instantly. We just couldn't find the time to make progress on those digital Spanish lessons! At this rate, it would take years for us to become fluent.

So, given this basic behavioral insight into human nature, why would we treat our users like they're a different species? Think about the things you need to stay motivated: reminders, encouragement, reinforcement. That’s what your users need as well. And you can increase your users’ rate of progress by reminding them why they signed up, where they are now, and what rewards await them in the future. A carefully crafted trigger will result in a subsequent increase in their rate of progress. 

But how do you know when and where to surface these triggers? How do you know which combination of triggers will be most effective? That's the purpose of Trigger Happy Analysis. Let's dive in.

The Purpose of Progress Markers

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the use of progress markers in acquisition cohort analysis allows you to measure how quickly users move from one self-defined “yay” or “aha” moment in your product to the next. Understanding this rate of progress means that you can isolate the areas where your customers are slowing down and lapsing, as well as pinpointing areas where you'd like to accelerate progress even more. This is the key to driving adoption and reversing any drift towards disengagement.

But how can you do that? What exactly are you supposed to do with those handy-dandy progress marker measurements? Well, think about what you’re trying to do: You’re trying to increase a behavior -- your users’ rate of progress between successive progress markers -- over time. And to do that, three things must be present: motivation to perform an action, ability to perform an action, and a trigger to initiate the action. 

Remember, most people start out with motivation -- but motivation must be nurtured in order to be sustained. Sometimes people can get confused or unsure about what actions to take - and that can affect their ability. Triggers are generally the most effective component to focus on in order to create a desired behavior change, especially for already-motivated individuals. And hot triggers -- triggers which allow users to take immediate action -- are particularly effective tools.

But before we talk about triggers and the ways you can come up with an implementation strategy, let’s first discuss how you can determine what action people are trying to take to get to that “yay” moment, why they’re trying to get there, and what’s slowing them down. Once you ascertain all that, you can come up with your plan to increase the rate of those behaviors.

Discovering Root Causes

Once you have all of your progress marker measurement data in front of you, you’ll begin to notice points where your cohorts, on average, accelerate their progress -- and decelerate it. It may be that you’d love to get your users to accelerate between progress markers even faster; or, perhaps you notice a significant slowdown in certain areas that you feel you should prioritize.

Once you’ve located the first priority point where you’d like to affect change, it’s time to dig a little deeper. Let’s say you notice your users are lapsing in between the final onboarding “yay” progress marker and the first time they should have an “aha” moment in your product. What’s causing them to slow down here? Remember, as we’ve discussed, lapses can occur for a number of reasons.

They may be unintentional, and occur due to unconscious decisions driven by:

  • Confusion as to what to do next; the user doesn’t know how to make progress
  • Forgetfulness due to distractions or intrusions
  • Uncertainty about next steps

Lapses can also be intentional, and may be a result of:

  • Anxieties and fear of failure
  • Worry -- perhaps users worry the task will take too long
  • Interruptions -- users may feel they don’t have time to integrate the tasks into their daily routine

To get to the root of the problem, observe users as they try to make progress from one marker to the next. Conduct SLOW interviews to understand their motivations and identify the cause of the lapse (or, if you want them to accelerate already-fast progress, what could facilitate their progress). Now it’s time to hone on on the type of trigger that would best help your users increase the rate of their progress between their “yay” moments. 

Place Your Bets

Now that you believe you’ve uncovered the root cause of a lapse (or a way to increase already-rapid progress) it’s time to create your trigger. Recall that hot triggers are most effective at fostering a behavior change, as they allow a user to take immediate action.

There are three main types of triggers, and all can (and should) be hot in order to allow users to take action immediately:

  • Engagers: These triggers are just what they sound like: reminders for your motivated, engaged users to interact with your app. Because these users are already motivated to interact with your product, all they need is a nudge to drive them back to your product.
  • Enhancers: These triggers can help remove confusion and clearly lay out the next step(s) your users should take to make progress
  • Enticements: These types of triggers are generally targeted to users with low motivation, and as such should form your last choice. These trigger types include rewards or clear demonstration of the value that would be derived if a given action were taken

Whatever type of trigger you decide to employ, an effective hot trigger should fulfill four main criteria:

  • Trigger the action: This could be via emails, notifications, or in-app reminders.
  • Make it easier: A hot trigger makes it easy for users to immediately perform the action you’d like them to perform in order to make progress. It should also clearly convey the action you’re asking them to perform.
  • Provide feedback: Feedback can help clarify confusion or uncertainty, alleviate worries or concerns, and reinforce value
  • Celebrate progress: Celebrating users’ successes can keep motivation high and propel them through their “yay” moments

Microcopy is your best friend when it comes to crafting effective triggers. Good, succinct, clear microcopy can:

  • Alleviate uncertainty by helping users understand what to do next
  • Allay anxieties and worries that you’ve identified
  • Clarify and remove confusion about processes
  • Reinforce successes, which will help boost motivation
  • Remind users it’s time to interact with your product

Begin Your Trigger Happy Analysis 

Before you implement your trigger, remember that you need a baseline for comparison. How fast, on average, have previous cohorts moved between given progress markers, without the trigger? For your trigger to be considered successful, it will need to demonstrably accelerate the rate at which users move from one “yay” moment to the next. 

 Here are some things to keep in mind as you run your Trigger Happy Analysis:

  • In order to be able to measure the effect of your trigger, you’ll then need to to connect it with its corresponding event using code, just as you did with your progress markers.
  • Test only one trigger at a time. If you add more triggers -- say 10 -- you won’t be able to tell which one is working.
  • To get an accurate idea of whether or not your trigger has accelerated the rate of progress between progress markers, run your analysis on 3-4 new acquisition cohorts before comparing it to previous cohorts’ progress. One or two cohorts aren’t enough to establish a pattern of success. Three or four are just right.

Your measure of success is a snap: If the measured rate of progress from the post-trigger cohorts exceeds that of the pre-trigger cohorts, you’ve hit on the right trigger to drive progress. If not -- if the rate of progress remains the same or worse, slows down -- it’s back to the drawing board. Re-examine your trigger. Does it fulfill the four criteria we mentioned above? Does it:

  • Trigger the action -- Is your trigger timed correctly? Does it allow for immediate action?
  • Make it easier -- Is your microcopy confusing or unclear, or excessively wordy? Is your call to action clear?
  • Provide feedback -- Are you conveying the value users will derive if they take this action?
  • Celebrate successes -- Have you congratulated the user on their past successes to help motivate them forward?

Triggers, as we’ve seen, are one of the most effective ways you can accelerate the progress of engaged users. Triggers are also a great way to help push lapsed users back towards the path of engagement. But it all comes down to your pre-work: First, establish user-defined progress markers so that you can definitively measure rates of progress between “yay” moments. Then, prioritize the places you’d like to accelerate your users’ progress. Next, devise your targeted trigger and implement it. Finally, measure the new rates of progress across 3-4 cohorts to see if you’ve established a new, preferred pattern of acceleration.

Keep adding triggers, one-by-one, and before you know it, the Trigger Happy Analysis you’ve performed will pay off in the form of a healthy, engaged user base.