The Growth Marketer's Guide to an Aha Moment

Written by: Ty Magnin Ty Magnin 

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Growth marketing is one of the toughest jobs in tech. Your goal is to optimize for conversions, so your responsibilities can range drastically—from helping with marketing copy to working with engineers on UI elements. You have to make calculated decisions on what to iterate to bump up sign ups even a single percentage point.

As a result, most growth marketers have a solid understanding of their product's value. But the best growth marketers are thinking about that value from the user's perspective. They know that value isn't obvious, and that you should always be working with the user to help them see it. That's why nailing down the aha moment is central to your entire growth marketing strategy.

For those unfamiliar, an aha moment is the moment when new users first realize value in your product. It's an emotional moment. One that can be expressed as 'WOW!' or 'Aha!' and can be impactful enough to create a first impression that keeps users coming back for more.

Finding and improving your product's aha moment is no small task, so we put together this ultimate guide to walk you through the process and make your job a little easier. We've also combed through all of our own research and reading to curate a list of the best resources on nailing down your aha moment (check them out in the last section, "Resources to Master the Aha Moment.")

Here's how to guide users to Aha!, the growth marketer way.

How to Find Your Aha Moment

When a user first subscribes to your product, they begin looking for ways in which your product can be valuable to them. The moment that it clicks—when they realize that they can truly benefit from the app—is their aha moment. Users might actively acknowledge this moment, or it could happen subconsciously. This experience is usually what separates the users who stick around from those who ultimately churn.

Your job is to find what set of actions or behaviors correlate to that value discovery. And once you find high correlation, you can make calculated adjustments to nudge more users towards those Aha!-inducing behaviors.

Start with patterns in the data

Whether you have your own analytics platform or integrate a tool like Optimizely, look closely at what separates converted users from the pack. Did the users who convert:

Put together a list of 10 to 20 behaviors or combination of behaviors that you believe correlates to retained users. You're looking for a set of behaviors exhibited by users who stay, not behaviors exhibited by users who leave. That means:

  • Behavior exhibited by most retained users AND by most churned users = no correlation
  • Behavior exhibited by few retained users AND by few churned users = no correlation
  • Behavior exhibited by most retained users AND by few churned users = correlation.

A correlation between behavior and retention is your first clue that you're on the right track, but it isn't everything. If you're in the early stages of your startup, you likely don't have a big enough user base to jump to conclusions based on data alone. Confirm or adjust your hypothesis with further investigation.

Supplement with user feedback

Reach out to top users for qualitative feedback to supplement what you've already learned from the data. If the numbers have shown that there is a correlation between specific behaviors and retention, users can tell you why.

For example, your data might indicate that users who stick around usually use both the messaging feature and the calendar feature. But when you actually speak to the users, you learn that easy team scheduling is the biggest benefit for them. So instead of pushing users toward these two features, you can guide them through scheduling their first all-hands. Users give you context so you can understand the motivation behind the actions.

Reach out with a personal email to kickstart the discussion:

Hey Jack,

Thanks for using [our product]! We're so happy to see you using all our features, and would love to show other customers how they can have a similar, awesome + complete product experience. Would you be willing to have a brief 10-minute conversation about what got you excited about [company name] in the first place?

Your feedback will help us create a better app experience for users like you.

Talking to people on the phone will give you supplementary information that the numbers cannot. You'll learn about moments when the customer considered other options, and what was memorable (or not memorable) about their first time experience.

Learn from churned users

Just as you can learn from retained users, you can also learn from users who churned early—those who didn't reach the aha moment at all. These people thought your product was useless, despite having gone through the same user experience as those that stuck around. They're your opportunity to learn what went wrong.

Users churn either because they're 1) not a good fit for the product, or 2) because friction in the experience kept them from finding value. If it's the latter, this is your opportunity to target and eliminate the friction, so that more of those churned users start sticking around.

One-time visitors aren't going to be as willing to get on a 10-minute phone call with you. But those who have been disappointed in your product will still take advantage of an opportunity to quickly leave their opinion. Use exit surveys to catch users right before they leave your site.

nudge_new.pngQualaroo is a tool that lets you time these surveys right as a prospect moves his mouse to the back button. Hit unengaged users with a multiple choice question to see why your aha moment didn't land.

Personalize the Journey to Aha!

Knowing the core triggers for Aha! gives you the ammo to create several, more tailored onboarding experiences. You're no longer limited by one experience that you've blindly been optimizing for the entirety of your user base. Instead, you can create personalized journey for several different types of users—whether they're marketers, engineers, or CEOs.

Open source publishing platform Ghost gives you two options right at the start of their free trial—a developer option and a blogger option.

Aha moment ghostDevelopers want to access the code so that they can see how easy it is to use and maintain. Bloggers want to learn how to publish a post and pick out a theme. By creating two separate onboarding experiences, Ghost is appealing to 2x the user base they'd reach otherwise.

Here's how to personalize your users' journey to Aha!.

Segment your new users

Create two or three buyer profiles and slightly tweak your onboarding for each type of user. You can group your users in one of two ways:

  • Programmatically. Use a tool like Clearbit to enrich your leads so that you can group prospects based on demographic, job title, company size or industry.
  • By letting them self-select. Similar to the Ghost example above, you can have your users choose for themselves how they're planning to take advantage of your product. This option doesn't work for apps whose different core features are more complex, and therefore require explanation.

For each category of user, you can create a separate, focused path to Aha!. Take a look at how API suite Twilio accomplishes this.

aha moment twilioBecause developers can range in their job titles and expertise levels, Twilio wouldn't benefit from enriching their leads programmatically. Instead, Twilio lets users select from a “jobs to be done” menu. This way, they can be guided through their specific use case on this huge and versatile platform.

Start with user preferences

If the value in your app lies in your recommendation algorithm, you can hyper-personalize the first time experience by asking users to set up preferences first-thing. But make sure that:

  1. Your recommendations are tied to the core value of your app (think Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

  2. Preferences are as painless as possible.

Asking users to fill out long forms before diving in creates friction, increasing the probability that a user will get scared off by step one. But if a few well-timed questions get your user to understand a core value sooner, then it's a risk worth taking.

Take a look at how Glassdoor accomplishes this.

glassdoor form

Glassdoor has learned that their user's experience improves the more insights they have into their specific industries. They ask for their job title from the get-go, so that they can have a tailored experience during the first-time walkthrough.

Get Users to Aha! Faster

Sign-ins, multiple screens, installs, videos— the more you ask a user to understand before Aha!, the less likely it is that they'll stick around for it. That's why a lot of SaaS products give you access to some features before letting you hit points of friction. You can have an aha moment without entering your credit card info, without agreeing to Terms of Service, and even without logging in.

Airbnb, for instance, gives you access to all their listings, before asking you for information.

Airbnb search

Airbnb demands a lot of information from users upon signup. So instead of forcing to people through the friction of signing up at the beginning, they let users check out the listings and details. Only after they have that aha moment, does Airbnb ask them for their information.

Here are just a few ways you can guide your users' to their aha moment faster.

Try Aha!-first onboarding

Bring your aha moment front and center. Give users the capability to try out part of your platform before hitting them with any friction, such as a signup page or in-app tutorial.

Content marketing tool Buzzsumo lets marketers try out some of their features right from their home screen.

aha moment buzzsumo

Not only will this ensure that users start with the aha moment rather than journey to it, but it's a great way to qualify your leads. Users that sign up for your trial will already have realistic expectations for the value of your software, and you can spend your onboarding getting them ramped up to take full advantage of it.

Less watching, more doing

Most SaaS products become more valuable the more you use them, so it can be tempting to throw all of your features at new users. But people don't need to experience all of your product at once—they just need to be guided through the behaviors that induce Aha! Rather than overwhelming users with explanations, use non-intrusive tooltips to guide your user through some of the most important actions.

Take a look at project management tool Asana's “learn by doing” approachaha_moment_asana.png

Their in-app cues guide the user to create their first project, overlooking the messaging, calendar, and report features. They seek to accomplish the most important goal first—inducing Aha!—and leave the rest for later.

Resources to Master the Aha Moment

As you're beginning to create new onboarding flows and design experiments, you'll need to stay up to date with the best insights and strategies around aha moments.

At Appcues we've learned a lot about finding the aha moment from working with lots of different SaaS companies. We've also interviewed, researched, and read a ton of resources so we can keep learning, too.

Below, we've compiled all of the best resources on nailing down your aha moment—for you to read and master. Here's everything you need to know about:

  • Tactics to build towards your aha moment
  • Strategies for driving aha moments with user psychology
  • How real companies engage users with aha moments
  • How to drive long-term user engagement beyond the first aha moment

Check out the links below to learn more about how fast-growing companies and SaaS experts retain more users by helping users find their product's value quickly—and how you can do the same.

Tactics to build towards your aha moment

You know you need to drive users to an aha moment as soon as possible to help them see just how valuable your product will be. But there are a lot of different ways to design user onboarding, and it can be difficult to know where to begin.

There's no one right way to design user onboarding around your aha moment. But some good first steps are to define your product's aha moment and understand how to help users get there. These resources give you tactical tips for getting started.

  • Finding Your Product's First WOW Moment: An aha moment by any other name is still as important. This piece provides another look into specific ways to talk to your customers, gather user feedback, and analyze data on user behavior to find that pivotal moment that shows users the value of your product.
  • The Definitive Guide to Improving Activation: This guide is a deep dive into how you can quantitatively find the first, most important moment of value for your users. It includes the tools to use and experiments that you can run to confirm that you're optimizing for the actions that correspond to long-term retention.

Strategies for driving aha moments with user psychology

Understanding user psychology is key to nailing first impressions with users. By knowing how users think when they're using your product, you can craft an onboarding experience that helps them see value right away. Here are the most valuable guides for harnessing user psychology to drive users towards the aha moment.

  • Leveraging User Psychology for User Onboarding, Part Two: There are certain commonalities in human psychology that affect how we deal with tasks, options, and incentives. These have a big impact how users see the value of your product. This piece breaks down three principles that product designers can use to drive users towards the aha moment: the Goal Gradient Effect, the Choice Paradox, and the Zeigarnik Effect.
  • Drive User Engagement Through the Familiarity Principle: According to psychologists, the more exposure we have to a certain stimulus, the more we like it. This guide explains how to use psychologist Robert Zajonc's “familiarity principle” to exposure users more to your product and brand, which helps them quickly and clearly see your product's value.
  • Getting Users Psych'd—User Psychology for Better Onboarding: This guide adapts a framework from Dropbox Growth Engineer, Darius Contractor, to explain how events in onboarding can add to or subtract a user's emotional energy. The resource explains how you can increase a user's “positive psych” to build towards an aha moment.

How real companies engage users with aha moments

While every product has something unique to offer, identifying the aha moments of really sticky products can also inspire your user onboarding. These resources break down how different companies like Pinterest, Netflix, Wistia, and Stripe are building user onboarding flows around their unique aha moments.

  • The 5 Best Walkthrough Examples for Web Apps: Product walkthroughs can be a really effective way to guide users directly to an aha moment—but only if they're done right. After studying over 300 user onboarding experiences, we've chosen what we believe are the 5 best examples of product walkthroughs that bring users closer to their aha moments.
  • The Best User Onboarding Has Nothing To Do With Your Product: This guide from Chris Savage, co-founder and CEO of Wistia, makes a strong case that helping users find value involves fostering a human connection. In this piece, Chris explains exactly how his team did this when building Wistia's onboarding.
  • Casey Winters Reveals How Pinterest Perfected User Onboarding: In this guide, Casey Winters, a member of the team behind Pinterest's onboarding, describes the three main ways that Pinterest designs their user onboarding to help users reach aha moments.
  • Shortening Your Time to WOW: If you're having difficulty helping users reach that first moment of value, this is the resource for you. We've highlighted four different techniques that can help users get to their aha moments faster, and show how eight companies including Netflix, HubSpot, and Stripe use these techniques.

How to drive long-term user engagement beyond the first aha moment

The first aha moment is incredibly important because it shows your user why they should keep using your product. But throughout the customer's lifetime, you have to continue showing them this value.

Onboarding doesn't stop after the first aha moment. To build up a solid customer base full of long-term users, you have to think about user retention at every stage of the customer lifecycle. These guides show you how to continue engaging users throughout their entire customer journey.

  • Your User Onboarding Flow Is Too Shortsighted: Product teams typically optimize for early-stage aha moments, but there are critical moments in the user journey that happen later. These help drive early users to become long-term users. Check out this guide to learn everything you need to know about middle-stage aha moments.
  • Product Insights to Product Experiments: The Two-Step Process to a Better Customer Experience (ft. FullStory and Appcues): Watching how users behave in-app during user onboarding can show you exactly where your problem areas are. This piece explains how to use FullStory replay sessions and Appcues onboarding tools to discover problems in onboarding and fix them at three different stages—when the user first opens your app, when they're discovering the aha moment, and when they're learning about new features.
  • How to Design Persuasive Call-to-Actions for Every Step of the User Journey: Calls to action are key to nudging users to take action toward the aha moment. The best calls to action are well-timed and correspond to specific events that will help them find value. This is a guide for creating the most effective CTAs at four different steps of the user journey.
  • A 360° View of User Retention (ft. Appcues, Amplitude and Customer.io): This so-called 360-degree view of user retention covers three different stages of customer retention: the first-time user experience that drives toward the aha moment, the new user experience that deepens the value, and the later-in-the-lifecycle marketing to keep users coming back. Here, we compile advice from SaaS experts Jackson Noel (co-founder of Appcues), Alicia Shu (product marketing manager at Amplitude), and Janet Choi (marketing manager at Customer.io).

There's No Static Solution

Facebook's famous 7 friends in 10 days mindset went viral the second Chamath Palihapitiya mentioned it. People presumed that if you take a data-driven, super analytical approach to your aha moment, you'll have one, clear answer. But as Chamath says, Facebook used that as a simple keystone—a goal that united the whole team.

So don't think of the aha moment as some singular holy grail that you must quest for. A number of factors can contribute to an aha moment, and your understanding of what those factors are will improve as your user base grows. What's more important is that you work on improving your early product experience, so that users find value quickly and stick around.

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