gradual engagementThe advent of Web applications has an interesting effect on the venerable 4Ps of the traditional marketing mix concept (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), in that the single website (or mobile app) can be all 4 things at once. The problem is, of course, that having a single item perform multiple roles simultaneously can be tricky to handle.

For instance, a Web application’s product offering is often itself the service (or the set of services) which a particular website is offering, and hence has to be fully functional. However, newcomers to the site may not necessarily understand all the dimensions of that service, and will need to be taught how to navigate the application’s features. At the same time, the website also has to attract its target market by showcasing all the benefits of the service(s) as compared to its competitors. And above all, users have to be encouraged to sign up for the service.

So how should this juggling act be resolved? One of the more common user design (UX) patterns in use out there is called gradual engagement. In essence, gradual engagement is designed to slowly (but immediately) immerse a prospective user into interacting with the web application, by guiding the user through using the application with plenty of tooltips and helpful hints, while delaying the sign-up until towards the end. The idea is, as the name suggests, to gradually engage the user with your product or service in such a way that when the sign-up page is reached, it is seen as an almost organic and natural part of using the service – and by doing so, lowering the prospective user’s barriers towards the process.

Gradual engagement as a UX pattern has been around since the mid-to-late 2000s, and has seen a great deal of success in many scenarios. It has also been viewed with concern, because it could be seen as a form of bait-and-switch tactic if implemented incorrectly. Here are some factors to consider whether or not your website can deploy a form of gradual engagement:

Main Focus

Your web or mobile application is far more likely to benefit from using gradual engagement if it focuses on delivering a single service (e.g. Twitter), or a small set of closely-related services (e.g. Windows Central), instead of being a portal to an umbrella of not-necessarily-similar features (e.g. Microsoft Live).

Instant Gratification

Gradual engagement works well when your prospective users can see immediate results from using your web application. This allows you to build rapport quickly with them and increases their engagement with the application. It does not matter whether the ultimate fulfilment of the application comes later (e.g. online shopping), as long as the process is seen to have immediate effects (e.g. items are added to a shopping cart, which can be edited without navigating away from the main shopping page).

Low-friction Process

The easier you make it for your prospective users to get started doing what they came to you to do, the easier it will be for them to continue onwards and stay engaged with your service. Providing helpful hints and tips on the salient features of your application as they progress through will help, as will an analysis on the application’s design itself.

Many mobile games that are free-to-play (especially endless runners) use the process of gradual engagement to encourage players to keep playing and bring them on board the gaming experience. Only later, once they’ve started to enjoy the game, are they introduced to the in-app purchases or sign-in features. Which other Web or mobile applications have you seen use gradual engagement?

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