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What is feature adoption?

Last updated

29 February 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Phillips

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Feature adoption is the process through which users start to use a new or existing feature in a software product. It begins with the user becoming aware of the feature and ends when that feature is actively integrated into their regular use of the software.

Measuring the rate of adoption of new features is critical for product teams. It tells them how much people like the feature, how successfully they have raised awareness of it, and what features their users most appreciate.

On releasing a beneficial new feature, you’ll want to ensure that as many users adopt it as possible. This can increase key metrics like customer satisfaction and retention rate.

The feature can also be a significant driver of product growth if it’s useful enough to become a selling point or unique enough to set the product apart from competitors.

Examples of feature adoption

Here’s a quick look at how some of the world’s largest brands have introduced new features that have made them more competitive. You can also see their approach to promoting those features to increase adoption.

Slack’s shared channels feature

Slack introduced the shared channels feature to allow different organizations to work together in a shared space. They used in-app messages and targeted emails to let users know about the feature and its benefits. To drive the point home, they featured success stories from early adopters that highlighted the feature’s value.

Zoom’s virtual background feature

As the rise of remote work made Zoom the powerhouse that it has become, the company introduced a virtual background feature for improved privacy and more engaging video calls. They shared creative use cases on their social media pages and their blog to promote it. By encouraging users to share their own backgrounds, they made engagement a part of their strategy.

Instagram Stories

When Instagram wanted to optimize how they were competing with Snapchat, they launched their own time-limited posting feature called Instagram Stories. These stories appear directly at the top of a user’s Instagram feed, making them impossible to miss.

They also worked with influencers and other content creators to help spread the word through engaging content.

Google Maps Live View

Google’s Live View is a feature of their Maps product. It uses augmented reality to display directions in real time overlaid on the real world using the user’s smartphone camera.

Google promoted this feature heavily through in-app notifications and tutorials to get people up to speed. They also highlighted the feature in blog posts and other media to let users know how it can simplify navigation.

Feature adoption vs. product adoption

Some concepts are different but related to feature adoption. It’s helpful to be aware of them.

Product adoption refers to the adoption of a product as a whole. Similar to feature adoption, it starts when the user first becomes aware of the product and continues until they make it a regular part of their routine.

Product adoption is measured using metrics such as sign-up rates, activation rates, and overall growth in the user base.

To improve product adoption, companies use marketing to increase awareness, improve the onboarding process, and make it simple for people to purchase the product or sign up for the service.

In contrast, feature adoption is a more specific concept. Users have already made the product a regular part of the routine, and the focus is now on getting them to use a particular feature more frequently. This can be a new feature or an existing feature that isn’t seeing optimal adoption rates.

Companies measure this through the feature’s usage rate, how frequently it’s used, and how long people use the feature before abandoning it.

To improve feature adoption, companies must figure out why more users aren’t aware of it and produce content that reverses that problem. The content must highlight the benefits of the feature and thoroughly explain how users can take advantage of it.

Key differences

Here’s a summary of some of the key differences between feature adoption and product adoption:

  • Focus: product adoption focuses on the product as a whole, while feature adoption focuses on a specific feature within a product.

  • Measurement: product adoption can be measured through simple metrics like user acquisition and overall growth, while feature adoption requires metrics specifically designed to track the use of the feature.

  • Strategies: product adoption relies exclusively on external forms of marketing, while feature adoption benefits from the fact that users already have the product and can be marketed to easily from within it.

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Feature adoption vs. feature discovery

Understanding the difference between feature adoption and feature discovery is also important. These are two different phases in the lifecycle of a new feature.

Feature discovery refers to the moment when users first become aware of a new feature and how they become aware of it. This is the first step of the adoption process, as a user must know about a feature before they can make it a part of their regular use of the product.

The focus on feature discovery is simply to let people know the feature exists and encourage them to learn more about it. A company would typically accomplish this through in-app notifications, guided tours, and promotional materials such as emails, social media, or blog posts.

The focus of feature adoption, on the other hand, is getting the user to engage with the feature and driving home the benefits of its use. Detailed use cases, in-depth tutorials, and integrating customer feedback are all ways to boost feature adoption.

Key differences

Feature discovery is more similar to feature adoption than product adoption, but here’s what sets them apart:

  • Stage in the user journey: feature discovery is the preliminary stage of a feature’s lifecycle. It’s when people first learn about it. Meanwhile, feature adoption is the stage when the user learns about it and starts using it regularly.

  • Focus: the focus of feature discovery is simply to make people aware of the feature so they can adopt it. Feature adoption is all about getting users to use the feature regularly.

  • Measurement: feature discovery success is measured by the percentage of users who are aware of the feature. This is often measured through impressions on promotional material, user surveys, or app analytics tools. On the other hand, feature adoption is measured by specific metrics that count how many people use the feature and how often.

  • Strategies: for initial discovery, companies can raise awareness through marketing and communication. To drive adoption, the focus shifts to explaining how to use the feature and explaining its benefits in more detail.

Why does feature adoption matter?

So why is it so important for product teams to focus on getting users to adopt their products’ most powerful features?

Maximizing product value

Feature adoption maximizes product value for both the users and its developers. For users, the feature allows them to use the product more effectively, better solving the problems that led them to adopt the software in the first place.

For companies, high feature adoption rates indicate that the product meets users’ needs and that development efforts align with those needs. This leads to increased customer satisfaction and more long-term growth for the product.

Driving user engagement and retention

When an effective feature enhances productivity in a software product, users are more likely to return to it. This increase in engagement allows them to discover new features and become even more invested in the product and its ecosystem.

As this happens, the user will begin to depend on the feature to accomplish the goals they set out to achieve. A user who depends on the product is much less likely to stop using it, resulting in higher retention rates.

Facilitating product growth and innovation

Users who use a feature can provide feedback on that feature and on the product as a whole. You’ll get more feedback when more users use a feature.

The feedback loop is a critical step in aligning the development of a product with what users want, allowing the product to continue growing.

When an innovative new feature is released, its adoption validates the product team’s efforts in releasing it. This can build confidence in further innovations that will help create even more distance between a product and its competitors.

Competitive advantage

In crowded marketplaces, it can be hard to set yourself apart from the competition. Features that are widely adopted and well-received by customers can become unique selling points for a product and help it stand out in the market.

When a company is effective at feature adoption and takes advantage of the feedback loop it creates, they find it easier to create more and more features that align with users’ needs. The company can then position itself as a market leader, becoming the standard that others are compared to.

Efficient use of resources

Spending time on features that customers won’t use is a waste of resources. By better understanding the factors that drive users to adopt a new feature, companies can prevent themselves from wasting those resources and receive a better return on investment (ROI) on their development efforts.

Similarly, features that are rarely used still have maintenance costs associated with them. Companies can sunset (discontinue) those features to free up resources for use in higher-impact areas.

The feature adoption funnel

Stages of the feature adoption funnel

1. Awareness

This is when users first learn about the feature. Users won’t adopt something they are unaware of.

Companies can spread awareness through in-app notifications, email marketing, blog or social media posts, or whichever channels customers are most likely to engage with.

2. Interest

Once you have made a user aware of the feature, you need to pique their interest in using it. During this phase, users begin to understand how the feature might help with their needs.

Generate interest by highlighting the feature’s benefits and potential value.

3. Evaluation

A user who is interested in a feature will begin the evaluation phase. During this time, they will decide whether learning about the feature and how to use it is worthwhile.

Offering detailed information on the feature’s functionality and use will encourage them to try it out.

4. Trial

When a user decides that a feature might fulfill their needs, they will start testing it to see if it’s easy to use and lives up to what it promises.

During this phase, it’s important to make sure the feature is well-documented and easily accessible.

5. Adoption

This is technically the final stage of the adoption process. It’s when the feature has demonstrated its value to the user and they have decided to make it a part of their workflow.

Now, the goal is to continue supporting the user with advanced tips and ongoing support.

6. Loyalty

Users who fully embrace a feature can go on to become the biggest advocates for it and the software itself. Engaging with these users, gathering testimonials, and encouraging them to share their experiences can aid product growth.

Optimizing the feature adoption funnel

To guide users through the feature adoption funnel, collect data for each stage of the process. Identify where people are dropping off and try to understand why.

Analytics will measure engagement, feature usage, and customer feedback to help you form a complete picture of why users aren’t connecting with the feature.

Take the insights you learn from this data—particularly from user feedback—to iterate on the feature and your approach to promoting it. You may need to focus on communications, making the feature easier to use, or adding additional support resources to help users learn how to take advantage of it.

Feature adoption metrics to track

To track the success of your feature adoption strategy throughout its various stages, you need to understand the metrics that measure adoption and what you can learn from them.

As you begin your feature rollout, keep the following metrics in mind:

  • Feature adoption rate—the number of users who have used a feature at least once divided by the total number of users during a given period. This metric provides a high-level overview of how many users are trying the feature.

  • Breadth of adoption—the range of users who adopt a feature across the entire user base, focusing on user diversity and distribution. This metric shows whether the feature is popular with all your users or just a smaller segment.

  • Depth of adoption—measures how deeply users engage with a feature by measuring the frequency of use along with the complexity of their use cases and the integration of the feature into their workflow. It reveals which features are integral to the product.

  • Time to adopt—how long it takes for users to start using the feature after its release. This metric can provide insights into the effectiveness of your communication and onboarding strategies. If users take a long time to adopt a feature, you might need to improve your promotion strategy.

  • Duration of adoption—measures any decline in a feature’s frequency of use over time. Feature adoption might not last as long as the user is using the product. If users stop using a feature quickly, its usability or relevance could need refining.

What is a good feature adoption rate?

This can be a difficult question to answer because it depends very heavily on the purpose of the feature, the product itself, and the industry.

For example, a core feature will be adopted more than a secondary feature, regardless of product or industry. Additionally, a niche feature might have a low adoption rate but still be highly valued by users in an important market segment.

In general, an adoption rate of 20–30% might be considered healthy. The percentage would be higher if the feature is key to how the software operates and lower if it’s part of a sub-process away from the product’s core functionality.

How to increase feature adoption

Maximizing the number of users who adopt a feature requires a focused approach concentrated on awareness, engagement, and satisfaction. With those elements in place, any good feature will find its way into a user base’s library of commonly used tools.

Here are some approaches to increasing feature adoption:

User education and onboarding

Start with a strong onboarding experience that highlights new features and their benefits.

Through interactive tutorials, demo videos, and step-by-step guides, give users the information they need to make the most of the feature. This initial education helps demystify complex features, making them more approachable and easier to adopt.

Personalization and user feedback

Tailor the user experience by offering personalized feature recommendations based on user behavior and preferences. Actively gather user feedback and incorporate common suggestions to refine features. This demonstrates responsiveness to user needs and fosters a sense of community and investment in the product’s evolution.

Incentives and gamification

Motivate users to try new features by introducing elements of gamification, such as badges, points, or levels, that reward the user for exploring and mastering the feature.

Offer rewards or unlock premium content as users reach certain milestones, making the discovery and adoption process more engaging and rewarding.

Best tools to drive feature adoption and increase usage

You can use tools to help you achieve the objectives of a successful feature adoption strategy. Below are some of the most common categories.

Analytics and user tracking tools

These provide insights into how users engage with your product, identifying popular features and areas with slow adoption.

Use data gathered here to develop targeted strategies for promoting underused features.

In-app messaging and onboarding tools

Develop in-app guides, pop-ups, and walkthroughs to introduce users to new features at the right moment. These tools can segment messages based on user behavior, ensuring that prompts promoting a given feature are timely and relevant.

Email marketing platforms

Use email campaigns to inform users about new features and provide usage tips. Segment your email lists to personalize messages, making them more effective in driving feature adoption.

Feedback and survey tools

Use these to collect user feedback on features to understand users’ needs and barriers to adoption.

The input gathered with these tools can guide improvements and make users feel valued, which makes them more likely to try new features.

Gamification and reward platforms

These tools help you incorporate game mechanics to incentivize users to try a feature. They enhance engagement and make the adoption process fun by offering badges, points, or rewards for using features.

Personalization and recommendation engines

Personalize the user experience by recommending features that users are likely to find valuable based on their past behavior. This approach can make new features seem significantly more relevant and appealing.

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