We overlooked one thing when attempting to build retentive products

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@xiaoyinquXiaoyin Qu

The most ceremonial moment in my life was my college commencement. My parents flew for 14 hours from China. I got my cap & gown the day before, bought a new dress for graduation, fixed my tassel, put on the bachelor hood representing our school, and walked the lawn together with my class one last time. That repeated the same walk we did the day we started school. My favorite professor hugged me as I waited to get my diploma. My name was called as I walked towards the president. I shook his hand, got my diploma, and smiled facing the camera. Tears. Hugs. Pride. Goodbyes. This is the milestone I envisioned since kindergarten.

I wondered what that moment would be like if there weren’t all those things. No gown. No walk. No handshake. No bachelor hood. No granite specialty paper for diploma. No graduation rings. If I could just click a button that says “print my diploma”, and boom, done within a couple of seconds. After all, I just need a document that shows I graduated from college, so I can get an office job and make my parents smile, right? There would be no tears of joy; I wouldn’t even remember it.

Ceremonial moments matter. These moments excite, inspire, and motivate us. They are highly impactful points in time that we simply can’t forget. However, we rarely talk about creating “ceremonial moments” when it comes to building tech products. Instead, we try to cut one more step of the onboarding flow to optimize user experience or build the best algorithm to improve time spent.

But we haven’t talked enough about how we can make part of our product experience a ceremonial one. It drives user loyalty. It retains users. It makes users want to devote more time and energy into your product, because they really want to get to that milestone, or repeat that moment again and again. Most importantly, it differentiates your product from the rest. Others solve problems. Yours, in addition to solving problems, creates emotional connections and memorable moments. I firmly believe creating ceremonial moments should be treated as an equally critical product feature. It deserves the same attention as our log-in flow, onboarding NUX, and content feed etc.

OK. You are convinced that ceremonial moments matter, but can tech products even be ceremonial?


Facebook Friendversary is a great example. I can’t remember how many times I would watch those videos over and over, recollect memories, and message my friend asking him/her how’s their weekend. It actually helps me build better friendship with friends and of course draws me more to Facebook.

Hatching eggs in Pokemon Go is another one. After spending 3 days and walking 15 miles, finally my egg is hatched. I remembered the excitement, anxiety, curiosity when I tapped that big egg, saw the egg breaking down little by little, watched that ray of light coming out of the broken egg, and held my breath to see if I got a rare pokemon. Instead of immediately showing me “You got a pikachu”, Pokemon Go made that process extremely slow. That was a nerve racking 30-second experience that kept draw me back to Pokemon Go, pushed me to walk more and play more, so I can repeat that exciting moment again and again.

Oh how can I forget SoulCycle. The entire thing kept building up. I got to have a favorite instructor, memorize his/her hours, reserve ASAP, ask what the playlist is, reserve that bike of my lucky number, and show up 15 min early wearing my SoulCycle tee and hang out. All of the above need to be done for that moment, when my favorite instructor shows up, smiles, gives me a high five and starts that playlist. People often have trouble showing up in gym on time and starting workout, but SoulCycle made it as cool as getting a VIP pass for T Swift’s concert. #winning.

In all of the above examples, by creating ceremonial moments and embedding them into the product experiences, those products drive better user retention and help achieve their product goals, whether it’s time spent or $ purchased. They also turn their users into advocates and influencers that get more people to join the squad.

How can you design ceremonial moments for your products?

I want to share some starter ideas, but definitely comment below if you have more ideas.

Always start with your goal, and identify what moment in the process of achieving your product goal can be memorial.

For SoulCycle, it’s all about getting customers to retain, so it’s important for users to get excited when they purchase another class. SoulCycle has turned the purchasing experience into an entire ritual that incrementally builds up the excitement. You need to book your own bike, you are encouraged to have a favorite instructor, you should ask about the playlist.

For Pokemon Go, the goal is for users to continue using it and spending time. That’s why after users spend hours walking and finally hatching their egg, Pokemon Go uses dramatic animation to make that moment nerve racking.

For a messaging app, the goal is perhaps to motivate people to send more messages. Therefore when you and your best friend have shared each other 100 GIFs, that can be a good moment to tackle. For TurboTax, the goal is for users to finish filing tax returns and pay them. Therefore, the ceremonial moment can happen when you are only one step away from finishing the tax return process.

Focus on details. Think of yourself as a Hollywood director and brainstorm how you can dramatize that moment.

Can you think of some creative techniques that you can apply to the product experience? Make it fun. Make it emotional.

  • Animations? Again, that egg hatching animation is pretty darn good.
  • Certain music? Super Zoom for Instagram has terrific music.
  • Certain UX design pattern? HQ Trivia’s countdown screen makes me anxious with anticipation.

Can you try identifying certain symbols or names to represent this moment? When we think about commencement, we think about Cap & Gown. When we think about “Moment X” in your product, we think about ____?

  • When me and my best friend have shared each other 100 GIFs, we unlock a badge that shows our “Good Insane Friendship”?
  • When I am one step away from finishing the tax return, I can punch a bag that says “IRS” as hard as I want because I am finally “almost done”.
  • When I go to my Barre class for 50 times this year, how can I make that 50th class as if I am receiving a Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award for my dedication to Barre?

Can you make this ceremonial moment well known by your users so they talk about it among themselves? That will reinforce the intensity of that moment even more.

I am inspired by the two moments listed below.

  • That moment when I share my rare pokemon hatched from my 10-mile walk. Two friends were jealous. That more jealousy they showed, the happier I am.
  • That moment when your friend shared “14th time in a row with Chris”, tagging SoulCycle (she also posted about this 14 times) and you still like it every single time.

Share your thoughts

Share below examples that you have come across that make the products you are using ceremonial and talk about how this helps with your user experience!



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