What's Product Adoption & How Online Education Can Help Boost It

Andrew Brown ·

Dec 13, 2021

What do Apple, Facebook and Amazon all have in common? They know how to get people to use their products. Said another way, they’ve mastered product adoption. This is the challenge facing any company selling a product or offering a service. How can you get customers to keep buying from you, again and again and again? Keep reading.

What’s Product Adoption? 

Product adoption or user adoption is the process of people learning about your product, understanding its value, becoming a customer, starting to use it and realizing its value. Product adoption generally occurs in four stages: awareness, interest, evaluation and conversion.

What’s the Product Adoption Curve? AN IRL Example

The product adoption curve illustrates who buys your product and when they buy it; it represents people’s willingness to use your product over time. The product adoption curve places people into five categories: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. Below is an estimation of what Facebook’s adoption curve looks like. 

  • Innovators: The first group of people to use Facebook. “Innovators” are huge fans of technology and are usually all for giving new technology a shot. In Facebook’s case, Innovators included Mark Zuckerberg and his inner circle at Harvard. 
  • Early Adopters: They tend to wait for a few reviews. “Early Adopters” of Facebook went to Harvard with Zuckerberg and neighboring schools while it was still exclusive to college students.   
  • Early Majority: Facebook’s “Early Majority” logged in for the first time once the platform started getting more widespread fame, which was likely around 2011 when the number of users jumped by 40%. Still, this was before Facebook was truly embedded into society and considered “cool.” (Fun fact: I was in the “Early Majority.” Pretty savvy, amirite?)
  • Late Majority: Facebook’s all the rage, so the “Late Majority” is trying, merely trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and avoid people saying, “wait, you’re not on Facebook!?” This stage came between 2013 and 2017. 
  • Laggards: I’m talking to you, Grandma. 

Why’s the Product Adoption Curve Important? 

The product adoption curve is more than a visual representation of who jumped on the bandwagon and when. The product adoption curve is actually an incredibly reliable way to determine long-term success and sustainability. 

Why? 

Companies that experience relatively smooth sailing through the product adoption curve are usually the most successful over the long haul, especially the ones that gobble up the majority market share the quickest. Look at Facebook. While it wasn’t the first player in the social media space, it was the first one to establish widespread traction. As a result, it’s grown at a staggering rate as it closes in on 3B monthly active users as its predecessors dropped off. 

Charting the iPhone’s adoption curve tells a similar story. Apple’s flagship product was neither the first cell phone nor the smartphone on the market, but it was the first one to grab society’s attention. Today, the iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the US. When someone hears the word “smartphone,” most of them think about the iPhone. 

What company wouldn’t want that? 

But it gets better.

Successfully navigating the product adoption curve can generate more revenue — a lot more of it. Just ask Facebook and Apple. Plus, you don’t have to spend as much on marketing and related expenses you’d otherwise spend “catching up.”

How to Calculate Product Adoption

The what and the why of the product adoption curve are clear. But how do you calculate it? Easy. 

Product Adoption Rate: Number of New Users x 100 / Number of Total Users

Here’s an example:

You have 50 new users this month and 500 overall. To get your product adoption rate, you’d divide 50 by 500 and t1hen multiple by 100. So, in this example, your product adoption rate would be 10%. 

Another way to think of it is the percentage of new users to all users in a specific period (e.g., month, quarter, year, etc.). You can calculate the rate for an entire product (e.g., Facebook) or a specific feature (e.g., Facebook Reels). You can also calculate it over any period. So, instead of calculating it for the month in the example above, you can calculate it for a quarter or year. It’s up to you.  

How to Use an Online Education Program to Increase Product Adoption

Google “how to increase product adoption” and click on a few of the top results. Notice a pattern? Me too. All of the content revolves around online education programs and strategies, even if they don’t directly call it out. 

Whether you’re concerned with getting people to adopt your product right after onboarding or far into the future as you introduce new features, your ability to do this relies on one thing: People knowing how to use your product and getting value out of it. 

The last thing you want to do is assume someone will automatically know how to use what you’ve built for them.

Here’s a recent example. 

The rise of these digital currencies — Bitcoin, for example — has given way to exchanges or websites people can use to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. In 2012, two crypto enthusiasts launched Coinbase, a widely popular exchange used by more than 70MM people. 

In its early days, much of Coinbase’s success rested on its ability to teach people about the cryptocurrency world, its value, and most importantly, how to use its platform to realize this value. If people didn’t know about cryptocurrency, they wouldn’t learn about Coinbase. If they didn’t understand how to use Coinbase, they’d look for a more intuitive alternative. 

Today, Coinbase still relies on education to grow its business. Below is a screenshot of Coinbase’s homepage showing its website’s “Learn” section. If you dive in, you’ll find a ton of content and resources that both current users and prospects can use to succeed with Coinbase and in the greater cryptocurrency space.   

Clearly, providing educational content to people — whether they’re currently using your product or not — is essential. But how, exactly, can an online education program propel product adoption from good to great and boost retention?  

Decreased Time-to-Value

When someone buys something, they expect immediate value. Someone signing up for Facebook did so to connect with their friends and family. Someone bought an iPhone to communicate and manage their lives on the go. Someone downloaded DoorDash because they wanted to have food delivered or earn extra money. People want to see these results NOW. No one buys an iPhone and says, “great, I’ll use this in a few years.” They want to use it now. 

So they do what anyone else would do. Boot it up. An onboarding process shows them how to do that and achieve their intended goal. If they can’t or you make it too complicated (i.e., they can’t figure out how to use the iPhone), you’re giving them the chance to walk out the door and consider alternatives. Don’t let this happen. Provide them with what they need as soon as they need it. This is called time-to-value and you want it to be as short as possible.


Pro Tip: Power your onboarding process with a learning management system to automatically deliver relevant content exactly when your customers need it — for example, a video showing a new customer how to create their account and log in for the first time and one about an advanced feature for a current customer. 


Fewer Support Tickets, But More Strategic Conversations

It’s human nature to ask someone about something you don’t understand. It always has been and always will be. This is why Customer Success and Customer Support teams play such a big role in the success of any product company. 

But for scaling companies, this is a slippery slope. Imagine Facebook rolling out a new feature for its advertisers but providing absolutely no documentation explaining what it is, how to use it or why it’s even worth using.

Without this information, what will an advertiser do? They’ll most likely raise their hands and ask Facebook’s internal teams for help. If this happened, Facebook’s teams would be swamped with tens of millions of people asking for help. 

They’d be completely underwater. 

Customer Success Managers would spend all of their time covering the basics rather than having more strategic conversations about how they can actually use the feature to boost their ad performance. And this doesn’t even consider the sheer number of people Facebook would need to hire to keep up with the demand. That’s a lot of moolah it could otherwise spend on more valuable initiatives such as growing the product team to continue advancing its ad products.

An online education program navigates all of these challenges by providing your customers with the necessary tools and resources they need to be successful without a ton of hand-holding from your teams, freeing them up to have more strategic and high-growth conversations.


Pro Tip: Build your online education program on the back of a learning management system to give your Customer Success and Support teams insight into how your customers are progressing through the content, where they may be stuck and where you could initiate strategic conversation. For example, if your Customer Success Manager sees someone getting stuck on a course about a specific feature, they could reach out and start a conversation to navigate through the challenge. 


Ongoing (and Always-on) Support

Getting customers up and running and minimizing time-to-value is mission-critical; it’s why onboarding is arguably the most important part of a customer acquisition strategy. But long-term success relies just as much on you getting them to stick around and using your product as it evolves. I mean, who’s more valuable to Apple: Someone who buys every new iPhone or one who gets so frustrated that they switch to Android? What about DoorDash? What good is a driver if they don’t continually use the app to serve DoorDash users? Not very good.  

This is why extending an online education program beyond the onboarding stage is critical. Any product-first company needs to ensure that the people using its product can keep up with change and continuously benefit from updates. This could mean providing them with a webinar explaining how to use a new feature or a guide to get a new administrator up and running after the initial point of contact leaves. 


Pro Tip: Launch an always-on learning academy to ensure your customers always have access to the resources they need to be successful. This is critical to meet the learning needs and preferences of on-the-go customers.  


Online Education Programs: The Key to Business Success

Success in today’s business climate isn’t about having the best product or lowest price. The true competitive advantage rests with your ability to continuously provide value and give the people using your product the resources they need to be successful. Everything else is secondary. Online education makes sure you’re doing this. 

If you want to see how Northpass can help, reach out today to request a demo.

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About the Author

Andrew Brown

Andrew is a Content Marketing Manager. When he's not creating, you can find him watching the Buffalo Sabres, obsessing about Scandinavia or exploring NYC.

Read more from Andrew Brown

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