Understanding The Adjacent User and Redefining Our Approach to Marketing

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David walks into a shoe store to find new work boots; he knows he wears a size 10. He tries gon several pairs of shoes from the same company, but something doesn’t feel right. He moves up a size to try a different set of shoes, but something is still off about the shoes’ feel and grip. Finally, David becomes frustrated and leaves without buying anything.

 Now replace David with a user and his need for new work boots with a product. David is an Adjacent User, and it is now part of your research to connect him with the product he needs.

Your marketing team will tell you that your users are waiting patiently, maybe even desperately, for your product. But that’s a far cry from the truth; your users may be waiting patiently, but only for the next product that engages their interest and appeals to their well-being. Each user represents a different set of beliefs and life experiences uniquely arranged, and we have to know when to draw on those life experiences. 

Whether we decide to tell new stories or lean into old ones, the first step is understanding The Adjacent User Theory, coined by Bangaly Kaba, former Head of Growth and VP of Product at Instacart, Instagram, and Facebook.

What are Adjacent Users?

Kaba coined the theory when he worked for Instagram and transformed their approach to India and France, surpassing their 400-million users. Bangaly’s unique approach helped the users in India and France and Instagram’s current users as well. He took a basic idea and dove into expanding its application worldwide. 

Market Analysts will say that The Adjacent User is a much more lucrative business than anyone had previously thought. The Adjacent User is on the outside of your sales funnel looking in; they are curious but have yet to take the leap of faith to become a member of your community.

Picture your sales channel as a circle, the core users and supporters are in the middle, and potential users are outside of your process. If you can accurately create a model or test to understand why those users have yet to sign up, you will expand your reach. But not every user wants to sign up for your product/service. You must create an environment where those users can understand your vision and marketing direction.

How to Create An Environment of Product/Market Fit?

Every company has a vision they hope to embody with their approach to the market. Maybe it’s a significant impact on corporate business culture or setting the standard for AI development, or broadening your approach to small business thought leadership. Regardless of their vision, the user, each company, methods have to reflect their core vision. Far too many companies try to appeal to too many users at once, leading their marketing campaigns to fall flat.

If you swing too wide too often, you will surely miss the target in the long run. Think of it as building layers to make your product an impenetrable fortress rather than a skyscraper without a proper foundation. The key to creating a criteria for your users is adding value to the platform and update your product persona every 3-6 months. Your users are constantly evolving; your approach must do the same unless you want to fade into the background of innovation.

Remember that your user is human, filled with expectations and hope for the future; it is your objective to capitalize on their emotional and logical appeals—i.e., marketing. What are their values, needs, and how can your product allow them to shine in the absence of another? You need to think ahead about who your next user will be and how your product will evolve to meet them. 

Best Tool for Understanding Your User

The Adjacent User isn’t patiently waiting for you to make an appeal to them with your product. They live their lives with their ideals, and your product is at the back of their minds. They may have downloaded it but haven’t logged in in a few months. 

The Adjacent user knows of your product, heck, they may even like your product, but the obstacles are too many for them to engage with your product actively.

Fear not; your product doesn’t have to die on their phones or computer; it can become an intricate part of their lives. Your first step is to understand what separates your user from activating and signing up for the long run, rather than letting your product become an afterthought.

Ask yourself three questions:

If this user was to activate tomorrow, what else would they need to stay?

What part of your service/product are users celebrating, and what do they hate?

How do I create an environment that allows users to evolve with our product?

Heap.io is an analytics platform that automatically sends you data on your user. It allows you to grasp what areas your product users find difficult, how they create solutions, and where they give up. Heap will enable you to measure any feature or product’s experience, allowing you to understand where cohort decay happens and how to reduce retention. Your product’s life isn’t one iteration of innovation; it is multiple layers of insight and development towards an ideal.

Userpilot provides a one-stop shop for onboarding analytics. It allows you to move users from the “aha moment” to “advocate.” Userpilot offers analysis on what tasks your adjacent users are abandoning, how they compare to successful users, and what features would make their experience better if they knew about them. Your successful users are more likely to promote and engage with your product, but what if you never took the time to change them from adjacent users to engaged users.

Pendo allows companies to analyze customers’ behavior, collect feedback, and communicate with users. Like Heap, it provides a “one-stop-shop” for in-app analysis of user needs and struggles to overcome. Pendo gives you direction on what to work on next with sentiment analysis and customer feedback. You can create a roadmap of what customers desire and differentiate quality prospective users from those who will never activate and stick around.

Many Saas software provides in-app analysis on engagement while giving feedback on how your users activate, what features they want, and why your churn rate increases despite new users starting. The key to finding the right tool for your company understand what information you want from your adjacent users.

When to Implement User Research

Product development, management, and implementation is a rocky journey, but creating a concrete roadmap can help smooth the process. Before we start to pump out a product, we need to understand where the user’s interest lies.

Bangaly suggests using four different approaches:

  • Be the user.
  • Talk to the user.
  • Visit the user in their environment.
  • Observe the user in their natural habitat.

Unless you understand that your app is used from the same phone by multiple users, you won’t push for a more painless sign-in process. Unless you struggle to use a new feature, you won’t comprehend why users get frustrated with it and give up.

There are three instances where your data on adjacent users will come in handy.

  1. You have noticed that your company no longer experiences exponential growth.
  2. Your churn rate is high, with little indication of going down.
  3. Your product has lost its product/market fit.

Companies do not operate within a vacuum. They survive with each iteration of their product and user feedback. If you aren’t focusing on expanding your approach to users, you are simply falling behind your competitors. In any instance, your adjacent users could be the biggest market you have engaged in a conversation with, but if you fail to approach them with caution and a game plan, then you are simply throwing money into a black hole.

Keep Your Core Users As An Innovative Template

Core Users or Power Users have very few characteristics in common. Fortunately for you, those characteristics are the same ones that allow them to use and love your product.

Your core users already love your product and have been there through multiple iterations. They are your supporters and advocates that refer your product to new users and leave powerful reviews that can make or break a sale. When approaching these users, you should provide them with the latest models and latest features. They are your product’s enthusiasts; thus, consider their overall experience when making changes. 

Core users provide valuable insight and feedback on how to innovate from a user’s perspective. If you carefully listen to your core users and incorporate their ideas, you will gain a far better insight into which features cause your users to stumble and how they work around them. 

Remember that your core users are advocates and willing to take the extra step to understand and use your product. 

There is an old saying that goes, “Define who you are, and you will define those who surround you.” Your core users are templates for future users, but remember that templates change and adapt over time. No two core users are the same. Taking the time to research and adjust your product to strengthen your core users will fine-tune your process.

Remember that a happy customer is more willing to buy from you again than a new customer who has yet to understand your true value. Revisit your approach to user modeling every 3-6 months with your new data, and take the time to understand key problems through UX research and testing.

Designing A New User Experience

The Adjacent User isn’t just stuck on a problem that you need to solve; they also evaluate the value you can add to their lives. To guide them to becoming a core user, you need to be intentional about your approach and direct your wording. Give them a model that they can relate to, a story that is like their own, and allow them to identify with your product.

Fundamentally, new users are a great source of new ideas for product innovation, but it is essential never to swing too wide. Remember to build an impenetrable fortress is better than a village without walls.

To design a new user experience, you need to research and develop a targeted campaign for adjacent users that align with your core values. You may want to create a more generic plan that allows you to gain a bigger audience–don’t. It would be wasteful for your campaign to get many initial users, only to lose them after the trial period. Remember Quibi, use their failure of capturing and sustaining an audience as an example for ill-timed product features and development. 

A crucial element to creating a new user experience lies in understanding what works best for your core users and how they communicate their wants and needs. What worked for them may not work for your new users, but they provide insights into developing and implementing forward-facing solutions. 

Your Adjacent User is just outside your current circle, at the edge of becoming a part of your growing community of users. It’s time to start thinking about building a better onboarding process and research mechanics to connect their goals to yours.