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User acquisition is great, but user activation is better: Three tips to getting it right

Wednesday, 5 February 2014 | By Rose Powell

No matter how fast your start-up is growing and how impressive your download stats are, if you want to build a thriving and sustainable business you need to focus on developing active, repeat users.


Event coordinating software start-up Attendly’s “founder apprentice” Michael Calle has been working in marketing and user acquisition for years, first in a digital agency and then as a freelancer for a range of Melbourne start-ups.


“A lot of start-ups focus on getting users in, which distracts start-ups from retaining them. But without a strategy to keep your customers or users on board, you’re dead in water,” Calle says.


He shared the top three tips he learned on the customer acquisition frontline with StartupSmart.


The first impression matters most and tutorials or guides are key


While start-up budgets are almost always tight, scrimping on investing in onboarding processes such as guides or video tutorial is never worth it.


“It’s really important to be very clear about what the user will do next. If it’s not immediately obvious and you haven’t been helped through the process, that’s an issue and you can probably just say bye to that user,” Calle says.


He says supporting users through their first experience of the product through video or animated tutorials or guiding comments will boost retention from the very beginning.


Reach out to users after their first experience


Whether a user found you via search, a free offer or personal networks, it’s important to follow up with them shortly after they finish with your product to encourage them to try it again.


Calle says he’s modelled a couple of campaigns on start-ups such as car hire group Uber or payment gateway Stripe, which use free or trial offers to attract new users to the product and then follow up comprehensively.


“Once you’ve got an activated user, you want to make the re-engagement process seem as organic as possible. Automating emails, asking feedback or with the follow-up offer or both, is a great way to encourage them back,” Calle says.


He adds start-ups are increasingly using an email framed as a “personal letter from the CEO” as a way to re-engage users and build their loyalty to the start-up.


Recognise the value ex-users can provide and don’t stalk them


“If you’ve already burned through a range of users, it’s really hard to get them back and it’s almost not worth the effort,” says Calle. “You’d need a very compelling offer, either a big discount or introducing a new feature these users said they needed.”


But just because they’re probably not going to use the app or product again doesn’t mean you should ignore them.


Calle says one of the most revealing campaigns he’s ever run for a client was a recent one for Attendly, where they exported emails of ex-users and contacted them through Facebook to ask for their feedback on why they stopped using the service.


“Not too many re-engaged with the product, but we got a lot of really interesting feedback we’ll keep using as we iterate the product,” Calle says.