Why it is Tough to Gravitate Users from an Old Product to a New One

And How to Proceed With It [Design In-Sanity]

Wow! That’s one Godzilla of a title! I’m notorious for having a poor control over limiting words but never have I given an article this long a title!

Hi! Hola! Namaste! Ciao! I’m sorry, my stock of “hellos” is limited!

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Well, I’d like to blame it on (not really ‘blame’, ’cause I really enjoyed it) the new set of fanfics that I’m currently working on. Got distracted! Plus, I was having a real tight writer’s block — one that simply refused to budge.

Anyway.

I’m Sudeshna. Welcome to Design In-Sanity, a never-on-schedule blog where I bring you all the weird ideas flying around in my head — only talking about design ideas here, just to be safe — so that you and I together can Unleash Our SUPERPOWERS!!!!

Loki gif “you and me: thumbs up” from Thor Ragnarok.

Umm…I’m usually Loki’d all year round but now with the new series out, I’m too LOKI’d to function properly 😬

Anyway, (snapping out of the day-Loki-dream 😍), let’s get to the point.

Today’s article revolves around something that many many people have questions about. Some have found solutions, some have hit dead-ends, while others are still on the way to a fruitful research.

I won’t say that I have achieved salvation but I’m surely on my way to discovering something. A positive something that will help me, and others, to understand what makes a habit-forming product bring down another strong habit-forming product.

I’ll share what I’ve learnt till date, and on later dates, I shall keep sharing more! So, shall we begin? 😎

Graphic banner for section “What makes a product tick”, showing a monochrome illustration of a woman holding a mobile phone.

What Makes a Product Tick?

Let’s play a game: “Imagine-imagine”.

Imagine if you were the king of a small territory, but you dream of taking down a big empire! Ooh! Quite ambitious, are we?

Now, remember that people love living in there. No royal arse threatens them to do so; they just love the way their life has woven around that empire.

And to the world, you’re no one. Nobody knows you. Yet.

What would be the first thing that you’d do to make your ambition a reality?

I’d say that you’d need to understand what makes that empire so strong. Is it the gold? Or the defence? Or the benevolence of the one who sits on the throne? Or is it the age-old faith that people have in their emperor and the empire? Or is it just an old habit of living the way they are used to?

Black and white image of chessboard with checkmate in action.

Okay, now pop your imaginary balloon, and make an impressive super-hero landing on reality. There you go!

Successful products and that successful empire are exactly the same:

  • Both start by giving people what they have been lacking. Not just any knick-knack but something that really matters, and makes their lives simpler.
  • Both rely on the loyalty of their people to spread the word and bring in more people into their realm.
  • Both see to it that their people are so content and busy that they never once think of stepping outside.
  • Both carefully device ways to influence or manipulate their people so that they (empire or product) become a habit in the latter’s lives — one that is so hardwired that the people find it difficult to get away from.

Let’s take a few case studies to verify the words. What d’ya say?

Abstract image for Google, made using Canva, by Design In-Sanity.

Google

Ah! What can I say about this integral part of our lives! Has there been one day when we don’t Google something? Not in my life!

Wait, pause. Rewind eight words back. Stop.

Did you notice that? We tend to say “I Googled”, “Google this”, “Google that”. Do we ever say “I Bing-ed”? Or “We Duck-Duck-Go-ed and found this”?

No! Not even Chandler Bing himself says that.

See, that’s how much Google has influenced us. It has become part of our lives and part of our speech.

I made a crazy imitation of Google’s logo on Canva using some tortillas in the image above; I can put it up anywhere without even labelling it, and people will know what I’m indicating at.

That’s the impact it has made.

And it’s not just the search engine from this whale that has us all enveloped within its brand blanket. Take Gmail, for example. And all the associated tools that come with it: Drives, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Photos, Contacts!!! And so many more!

My first ever email account was with Yahoo. Eventually, I created a Gmail account. Then two, then three, and it went on and on as needed. The Yahoo account? Yes, I still have it. Its existence is solely for the purpose of logging in to my FB account.

When I look around, I see a whole galaxy of Gmail accounts of all my acquaintances, with maybe one or two tiny — really tiny — specks of Yahoo or Microsoft accounts.

Google has not only given us a way to communicate but also to create, store and share several important data.

The point is: Google started attracting the market by offering an email service that is totally hassle-free to create and extremely easy to use. Once people started using their service, they got so habituated to it that before they knew, they had already dumped years of information into Google’s database.

So?

So, if you ask any of these people to abandon Google, and shift to a new email service, they’ll take a look at their data and ask, “What about those? Can’t just leave them in there.”

Graphic banner for section “Data Dumping & Accessibility”, showing a monochrome illustration of a man pointing at the text.

That’s one very important part where a new competitor meets the first big roadblock.

Next, consider all the situations where you have used your Gmail account to create an account on another platform. Do we have the count? NO! It’s like our phone number; we use it for linking almost every account.

Plus, we have this awesome, easy way to ‘login with Google’! Think a newbie in the market can give us that?

Well, the newbie has really some large — nay, colossal — shoes to fit in!

Facebook logo.

Facebook

A similar set of scenarios can be cited for Facebook which has dominated the networking industry.

Can you believe it? A new platform walks out of a garage, and in a matter of time, overthrows long running players like Orkut, MySpace, Hi5, Friendster, and a few others. And eventually, it brings other key platforms like Instagram and Whatsapp under its umbrella!!

Here, Facebook has provided people with everything that its seniors did not think of providing: easy chats, easy sharing, privacy, a cool interface, an intuitive UI, tagging…Oh, tagging! Imagine getting tagged in a friend’s photo. You and those in your friend list start interacting with the post, thus triggering a chain of other interactions and communications.

Basically, one post on Facebook can be a magnet for people from different friend lists. This is what drives more and more people to check their profile more frequently, thus putting Facebook on the throne of “frequently used apps”.

This is a habit.

Just like Google, Facebook also stores a large chunk of our life’s memories and contacts. We can use our FB account to login to platforms in a snap.

So, what are the odds that one would dump Facebook to go for a new social media platform?

Graphic banner for section “The Probable Path to Victory”, showing a monochrome illustration of a skeptical man with one raised eyebrow.

So, what’s the secret to creating a new Super-Product?

Tip: Offer a gradual and easy but steady shift to the new product instead of expecting them to jump on board a totally new and alien ship.

See it as going into a new relationship immediately after dumping an age-old one. You wouldn’t expect an “Yes” to a marriage proposal right away, but would rather give the new relationship time to evolve.

People make similar kind of emotional investments into the apps they use. So, shifting to a new one isn’t always easy. But here’s what you can do:

Allow importing old data 😃

If your app is a competitor of something like Google or Facebook that has a lifetime-worth of data preserved in it, then you might want to allow your would-be fanbase to import their old data.

In order to prevent your servers from blasting due to overload, you may ask your would-be users to import only those data that they think are necessary. For this, you can provide them with options as to which category or date-range they would like to import from.

This will, in turn, help users to get rid of redundant data that they had always wanted to erase but were too lazy to do so.

Avoid drastic differences 🤯

Old habits die hard. Habits follow the LIFO rule: Last In, First Out. That is, any new habit has a greater chance of being kicked out of the system than those that have been residing since long before.

So, keeping this in mind, try not making the interface miraculously different from that of your most successful competitor.

Of course, I’m not asking you to copy the other app but, y’know, try keeping the positions of most of the essential buttons and links more or less similar to the older app. Where there are chances of offering a better usability, definitely do so. But don’t change everything just for the sake of creating something new.

When people are habituated with a product, they know it like the back of their hands. Expecting them to crawl out of that comfort zone is quite a lot to ask. So, plan your product accordingly.

Gradually allow the same and better facilities 😏

Y’know that thing about logging in quickly with your Google or FB or other accounts? It’s pretty cool; absolutely hassle-free.

As your products eventually gains more customers, try bribing them with these kinds of facilities.

Your product may already be much better than an existing one in terms of features and usability. But going ten steps ahead, and offering things that further make their lives simpler will be a big bonus — for both the customer and you.

When people who haven’t yet tried your product see that you are offering all that an existing product is offering and even more, they will consider at least once to moving over to your product. And that, my friend, is the first step towards your success.

Make your product 9x better 😎

In the 2006 article “Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers”, John T. Gourville has beautifully explained why a new product needs to be at least nine times better than an existing one.

Surprisingly, most of the factors preventing a person from shifting to the new product are related to behaviour or psychology.

Quoting him:

First, people evaluate the attractiveness of an alternative based not on its objective, or actual, value but on its subjective, or perceived, value. Second, consumers evaluate new products or investments relative to a reference point, usually the products they already own or consume. Third, people view any improvements relative to this reference point as gains and treat all shortcomings as losses. Fourth, and most important, losses have a far greater impact on people than similarly sized gains.

How many times have you met people who are like, “Awesome! Let’s try something new!!” versus the number of times you have met those that go, “Nah, I’m fine with what I have. I’m comfy!”

One can easily announce that the latter kind is much more abundantly available.

So, if you’re planning to build a new empire with genuine benefits for the people, keep in mind that you will first need to address their emotional and behavioural needs.

An image of the Dvorak keyobard.

The Curious Case of The Dvorak Keyboard

Did you know (you may know but I love beginning a line this way 😜) that an alternative — in fact, a smart alternative — to the QWERTY keyboard was invented back in the 1930's?

The Dvorak keyboard, named after its creator Dr. August Dvorak was patented in 1932, although after several iterations, a standard layout of the keyboard was finally approved by the American National Standards Institute in 1982.

Now, here is the curious part:

Contrary to popular belief, the QWERTY keyboard was not invented for promoting faster typing speed. It was actually invented to prevent typists from jamming the metal type bars in their typewriters. This keyboard places the most commonly used letters far away; so, bye-bye risk of jammed typewriters!

Now this was back in the early1870's.

Almost half a century later, came the Dvorak keyboard. Now, this was way smarter than its older counterpart in that it placed the vowels in the centre row, almost right beneath the territory of the left hand. The rest of the letters were arranged to allow quick typing via alternate strokes of the left and right hands.

The Dvorak keyboard intends to distribute the workload among all the fingers equally, thus decreasing pressure on any one hand and on one side of your vision, and increasing accuracy and hence speed.

But if the Dvorak keyboard is so ergonomically created, why aren’t we using it?

Habit, my dear friend. Habit runs the world!

It has been observed over the years that people would rather prefer to go hunting-and-pecking their way through QWERTY keyboards until they get accustomed to it, than to try and adapt to a much faster and ergonomic alternative.

Moral of the Story:

If people can ignore something as efficient as the Dvorak keyboard for the sake of sticking to their comfort zone, imagine what hopping to a new product would be like! It’d be a nightmare!!

Taking a leap of faith isn’t the most favourite activity. So, when you plan your product, make sure that people do not find themselves standing before an alien spaceship.

Ta-da!!!

That’s it, my dear reader! Phew! I had been working so hard to make this article really good that I had almost ended up completely messing it up! Well, better late than 💩.

See ya next time, whenever that will be! Take care! Love ya! And keep that creative spark burning, buddy! We’re nothing without it.

Love, Laugh, Live, Loki!! The mantra of my happy life! 😁

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