The New Chasm – Flawed First User Experience

The first chasm most startup marketers face is not the well-known chasm originally described way back in 1991 (jumping from early adopter to mainstream users).  Instead, it’s the chasm from “click” to “gratification” experienced by website visitors.  In my direct experience with six startups and indirect experience with several others, it has become clear that the majority of new people that visit a website receive zero gratification.  In other words, they do not experience any benefit from the product or service being offered.  Without gratification, it is very unlikely they will generate transactions or positive word of mouth/virality. In fact, I generally assign a negative value to these people because any brand awareness created is saddled by the memory of wasted time and effort.

Most companies concentrate resources on the two sides of this chasm.  The product team focuses on creating a fantastic product experience for those who make it to the other side of the chasm, while the marketers are busy trying to stuff as many people into the top of the acquisition funnel as possible – often at a large expense.  The negative experience and wasted money happen in this no-man’s-land between the click and a gratifying experience with the product. It is into this chasm that the majority of online marketing dollars are lost.

My first startup marketing experience in online games at was helpful for developing skills in all three of these areas.  Games are all about engagement and we were able to surface this engagement early in the user acquisition flow.  In 1997 we introduced a syndicated widget/app that is generally considered to be the first of its kind.  This app appeared on tens of thousands of websites and “extended” our game play experience to these sites.  Users would visit a web page on the affiliate’s site which would automatically start an embedded animated trivia game.  Players with a qualifying score were given an opportunity to enter a weekly cash prize drawing.  If they didn’t qualify, they were asked to try again.  Only after they completed this gratifying experience did we ask them to fill out a registration form.  Upon completion of the form, they were told that they were now eligible to win cash prizes in other games on the Uproar site.  They would then see a list of games and the next prize in each game.  Once they entered the game and began chatting with other users, we had them.  They became part of the community and one of the “stickiest” sites on the web.  This approach was the key to becoming the biggest game site in the world prior to Uproar’s acquisition by Vivendi Universal in 2001.

Of course not all products/services can engage users like a game site does.  Still, there are important lessons that can be applied about surfacing your primary benefit early in the acquisition process and drawing users into the core experience.  LinkedIn and other websites have done a fantastic job with the “% completed” box that appears next to your profile.  Rather than having the barrier of asking for all the information up front, they ask for it gradually.

Free trials are another way companies have offered a gratifying experience before asking users to commit.  But with a software product, there are still several costly steps required before the trial begins.  These include the challenge/risk of downloading software and the time it takes to learn how to use the product.  If a company can sprinkle in a gratifying experience through this process, people will remain engaged. 

At LogMeIn we took it a step further and rewarded prospects for their effort with a completely free version of the software.  Prospective customers knew they would be rewarded for their effort downloading/learning the software even if they didn’t upgrade to the premium version.  This helped get LogMeIn eventually installed on over 50 million devices.

Another example is Tripit, whose process I described here

Can you think of examples of how companies have bridged the chasm between click and gratification?  If you’ve benefitted from this post, I’d appreciate it if you could give back to me and other readers by posting suggestions (in comments) of other sites that have effectively bridged this chasm.

3 thoughts on “The New Chasm – Flawed First User Experience

  1. Good article, agree with UX focus from beginning to end and providing valuable engagement. Time is money with users!

  2. Agreed. As for examples, I find does an o.k. (albeit annoying) job of letting me listen to songs, then prompt me to register. does a better job at this.Personally, I love sites that allow me to use them fully and suggest that I register to remember my settings.Video is also a great way to “persuade” users down the funnel (gratification).Thanks for the post.

  3. I agree Pandora is one of the best flows I’ve seen. I was gratified before I even figured out what was going on… Then I had a clear benefit for registering.