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The Strategies to Grow an Infrequent Product (ICED Theory)

We use some products more than others. Zoom may be part of our daily lives while TurboTax appears once a year. The latter is an example of an infrequent product, which we detailed in this post introducing ICED Theory. If you’re new to ICED, consider reading that first.

As a refresh, there are four dimensions of ICED theory:

  • I = Degree of infrequency
  • C = Degree of control over the user experience
  • E = Degree of engagement before, after, and during the transaction
  • D = Distinctiveness of the product

In this post, we’ll further explore the first “I” dimension of ICED Theory, discuss the strategies for managing the degree of infrequency a user experiences, and provide a tool to map out your strategy for an infrequent product (called the ICED Theory Canvas).

Previously, we posited that for any infrequent product, the aim is to move from the left to the right side of the spectrum (higher frequency, control, engagement, and distinctiveness).

ICED Dimensions to Manage across spectrums

Transitioning toward the right end of the spectrum is not easy. However, moving from left to right on any of the four dimensions offers the following benefits:

Overall it provides greater control over and successful delivery of growth outcomes for the product.

ICED Theory for Growing Infrequent Products, focused on Infrequency

In this post, we will review the strategies of the first dimension, infrequency (I). Specifically, we’ll explore strategies to move from infrequency to frequency.

About the Author

Vivek Kumar

Vivek Kumar

Vivek has spent more than dozen years managing low frequency products such as taxes (Intuit), payments (PayPal), and proptech (PropertyGuru). He was part of the exec leadership team that took PropertyGuru to an IPO while scaling its revenue 7x over a period of five years. He was also part of the founding team of Amazon India.

A special thank you to Ravi Mehta, EIR at Reforge and former product leader at Tinder, Facebook, and Tripadvisor for his support in creating this. Ravi is also the creator of the Reforge Product Leadership program.

Transitioning a product from infrequency to frequency

As mentioned in the previous ICED post, the downside of an infrequent product is that the user experience it offers begins to fade from a customer’s memory when there is a long hiatus between successive use of the product (such as the TurboTax example where customers use it once a year).

When the customer does engage with the product again, their memory is revived and the clock resets. Therefore, it’s critical for customers to transition from high infrequency to low infrequency, or achieve relatively more frequent activity.

Infrequent products, in general, are non-penetrable, which means not everyone in the market will be looking out for the same product. In a similar vein, some high-ticket products such as cars or properties are non-resilient to macro-economic cycles.

The benefit of moving a product from infrequency to frequency makes it penetrable, making it relevant to an expanded audience in the market. There are three core strategies for making this transition:

  1. Move the product toward “timing known + easy to influence”
  2. Add adjacent use case to reduce the gap between interactions
  3. Latch on to habit products or layer a habit product

We’ll explore each in detail shortly, but first here are three questions to keep in mind when assessing the degree of infrequency.

  • How infrequent is the product?
  • How easy is it to transition from infrequency to frequency?
  • What will be the impact of moving toward frequency?

Strategy 1: Move the product toward “timing known + easy to influence.”

Moving a product to a higher frequency from its current state is advisable. But first, we need to understand infrequency by assessing first our ability to know the time of a transaction, and then the ease with which that transaction can be influenced.

For example, predicting when someone will switch their job or buy a property is extremely difficult; people cannot be influenced to look for a job or a property.

If we plot these two dimensions against each other (time and ease of transaction), we obtain what I call the “timing–influence” matrix. Understanding the matrix and where your product is located in it is key for infrequent product management. It also enables us to identify ways to move towards the boxes on the right side (designated as 1 and 2 in the graphic below).

Timing-Influence Matrix 2x2 from known to unknown and hard to easy

Moving to the right side increases the predictability of the time of transaction and/or increases the product’s ability to influence the transaction.

LinkedIn is an example. While LinkedIn is a job aggregator, it evolved from being a job app (Box 4) to a user-generated content (UGC)* platform (Box 1). Establishing itself as the latter increases the frequency with which the users transact within a given timeframe (daily/weekly) by creating their own content. It also enhances the platform’s ability to influence a users’ transaction through reminders to perform the transaction (i.e., consume or create content).

*Reforge digs deeper into UGC content loops in Advanced Growth Strategy, a program that teaches how to create a system of compounding growth loops step-by-step.

LinkedIn 2x2 showing Job to UGC

Some infrequent products are not suited for everyone in the market at the same time. For instance, not everyone will be job hunting at the same time. Therefore, at any point in time, only a certain amount of the market is penetrable. In such cases, expanding the product scope and increasing the product’s frequency improves market penetrability.

The above example of LinkedIn’s movement from a non-penetrable product — namely a job-search platform — to a hub for UGC unlocks its potential to secure a larger market by expanding the product scope.

Further, integrating UGC builds resilience against economic factors. People will still visit LinkedIn to consume professional content irrespective of the ongoing economic cycles. Making a product more frequent awards more predictability to the business.

While companies should ideally move their products to Box 1, this is not always achievable in reality. A dating app, for example, may be unable to move to Box 1, where frequency is both easy to influence and timing is known. In such cases, adding adjacent use cases to reduce the gap between interactions may be a wise move. This brings us to our second strategy of moving a product to the right end of the spectrum.

To sum up strategy one, keep these questions in mind.

  • Can we predict the timing of our product’s next transaction for a given user?
  • Can we influence the next transaction with ease?
  • Which box in the Timing-Influence Matrix is the product currently located in?
  • Which box can we move to?

Strategy 2: Add adjacent use cases to reduce the gap between interactions.

Adjacent use cases are products that:

  • Are related to the core product
  • Can increase the interaction frequency
  • And can increase the recall of the core product

So what does an adjacent product look like in action? Let’s look at this through the domain of property. Most customers purchase a property once, twice, or thrice in their lifetime. Therefore, their interaction frequency with property aggregators such as Zillow could potentially be very low.

Zillow’s Zestimate is a smart move in the direction of increasing frequency and recall; it’sa tool that outputs an automated valuation model that estimates the value of a property and notifies property-owning users of their property’s value on a regular basis. Through Zestimate, customers can determine their property value and are reminded of the Zillow brand at least once every quarter.

Add Adjacent Use Cases for Zillow, increasing frequency

While adjacent use cases increase frequency, they may not necessarily drive high impact. To drive high impact, it's good to latch on to an already existing habit product or layer a habit product to the current infrequent product. This brings us to the final strategy of moving a product to the right end of the spectrum.

In summary, these questions can help think through adding adjacent use cases to reduce the gap between interactions:

  • Is there a wide hiatus between two transactions?
  • What value can we add to reduce the gap between transactions?

Strategy 3: Latch on to habit products or layer a habit product.

If the current product is infrequent and an adjacent product isn’t possible, search for frequent products to latch on to or layer on. While the latter (layering a habit product) can be dug into further in the Reforge course, we’ll preview the latching option here.

Consider airlines' marriage with credit card companies. Airline travel may be infrequent, but air miles are not. Meanwhile, credit cards are products used with high frequency.

Latching, comparing airline travel and credit card frequency

In effect, the airline — which is an infrequent product latching on to a frequent product such as the credit card — earns the following benefits:

  • Increased brand recall for the airline
  • Increased switching cost — since earning miles through a credit card makes a customer increasingly loyal to an airline when traveling
Latching with airline latched to credit card

When considering product latching for yourself, here are the final set of questions for today:

  • Is there a habit and/or a habit product that our product can latch on to?
  • What increased benefits accrue from latching on to a habit product?

The WIDER check for infrequency strategies

Of course, simply learning the strategies is not enough. One also needs to understand how to apply them, which is where the WIDER check comes in. WIDER check signifies the following:

  • When: the timing of the strategy’s implementation
  • Impact: the degree of the strategy’s impact, measured as high/med/low
  • Duration of making the shift: the amount of time it will take to affect change
  • Effort: the amount of effort needed to activate the strategy (high/med/low)
  • Risk: the risk involved in executing the strategy

Here’s a helpful layout for assessing this:

WIDER Application Worksheet displayed in a table

That concludes our deeper dive into managing a product’s degree of infrequency (I).

Now, we can begin gathering what we’ve learned on a single canvas.

The ICED Theory Canvas

With the aforementioned strategies in mind, our next step is to plot our own product against the ICED theory. In the Retention and Engagement program, we provide a step-by-step approach for creating the ICED Theory Canvas, a tool for visualizing your product’s journey from its current state to desired state.

We’ll also explore different strategies for creating the canvas to suit your specific infrequent consumer product, but if you want to get started on your own: The ICED theory canvas represents the various dimensions of an infrequent product. Any product manager can plot the canvas with ease, as it’s a tool for devising strategies on the basis of the evaluation of a product’s strengths.

The visual below gives a sneak peak at what this could look like for the proptech company Zillow.

The ICED Theory Canvas for Zillow

In full honesty, infrequent products are taxing to manage. The challenges posed by them are unique, ranging from lack of control over experience to retention of customers and commoditized offerings. Managing the dimensions of I, C, E, and D is crucial to facilitate the growth of infrequent products. Subscribe with your email and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we release the next pieces to manage and grow an infrequent product

Disclaimer: I’m a PropertyGuru employee, but I am not posting on behalf of PropertyGuru or in an official capacity as a PropertyGuru employee.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Vivek Kumar