A Lesson on User Engagement From Don Draper

Whether you’re building a consumer app or B2B service, you know how critical user engagement is to your success. Strong user engagement is intertwined with healthy, growing revenue… while lackluster user engagement results in a spiral of churn. That’s a key part of why notifications and other product emails are such a powerful tool in any product team’s toolbox—email’s ability to connect with users and draw them back into apps is unmatched.

Yet, figuring out how to help your users take that plunge and develop an enduring, engaging relationship with your product is more subtle than “build it—or send it—and they will come.” Effective notifications and emails take a mix of technical savvy, great communication skills, and empathy for your users’ needs. If you’re a SaaS product manager or marketer, I’m sure you’ve often felt that it’s sometimes hard to do it all.

But what if we were able to bring in an expert who might have a few good words of advice on the matter…?

Scene 1 Act 1


A SaaS product team is gathered expectantly, murmuring, comparing lattes, when DON DRAPER enters the room. He takes a place at the head of the conference table, sits back, crosses his legs, smooths his tie, and surveys them coolly.

Don Draper:

Ladies and gentlemen. I understand you’ve got a problem. I’m here to solve it for you.

Product Manager:

Frankly, Don…is that okay? Can I call you Don? Thanks. Well, we’re stumped. We can’t ––

Don Draper:

Your app isn’t getting any traction. It’s not that it’s simply not selling. You’re not even getting a decent number of trials. Right? But it’s a good product. In fact, it’s a great product. (SPREADS HANDS) Why on earth isn’t anybody interested?

He leans forward, everyone rapt.

I know you’re all feeling the darkness here today. But there’s no reason to give in. No matter what you’ve heard, this process will not take years. In my heart, I know we cannot be defeated, because there is an answer that will open the door.

Product Manager:

Where…that sounds really familiar, for some reason..?

Don Draper:

Season six, episode eight.

Product Manager:


Don Draper:

The problem isn’t with your product. The problem isn’t with your market, either. You know in your hearts that people are practically dying to adopt a web-based smart document management system that combines standard tracking, check-in/check-out, inventory controls, rapid elasticity, and ubiquitous network access.

Product Manager:

Wow, you’ve got our platform down pat…

Don Draper:

I have no idea what any of that means. I hate computers. (STANDS UP, GOES TO EASEL) So it’s not the product or the prospect’s interest, the problem is that you’re not connecting the two.

A presentation board is on the easel, covered with a cloth. He whips the cloth away, revealing two columns of various words and phrases.

I’ve said it before, I think when we landed the Ford Edsel account: People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone. Your problem is, you’re not telling them what to do. Instead, you’re not doing much of anything.

Points to the first column of words.

These are the calls-to-action you’re using right now, from your emails, buttons on your website, your PPC ads…wherever. This one, for instance: “Please explore more!” What are you suggesting, that they should sign up for the Boy Scouts? There’s no insistence, or confidence, and certainly no urgency. And we don’t want them to “learn” anything, we want them to go hands-on with the product, right this instant.

What’s a call-to-action supposed to be about? (WAITS) Anybody? Well, the textbook definition is, it’s an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response. But what is it really about? It’s really about action, motion, and power. So you use power words that give them a sense they’re doing just that – taking control, taking action, solving a problem, eliminating a pain point.

He points to the second column of words.

“Take your FREE trial now!” Because it’s theirs for the taking, because it’s something valuable we’re letting them have for nothing, and because they should grab it this second. Now! That’s a power word, and so is free, and take.

Or hit their emotions. Are they “worried about locating contracts?” or “sick of losing documents? Get the solution today!”

Give it value. Make the reward they’ll get for taking the action very plain. “Improve your ROI today.” Or if you can attach a real number, do it. “Join 100,000 satisfied users,” or “get 20% off before it’s too late.” If that sounds like retail, get over it. It works with business buyers, too.

Here’s another thing. Keep it short, and unequivocal. This ad banner of yours suggests they should “enjoy our 6-step tutorial series.” Will they be graded on a curve? Your buyer doesn’t have the time to spare to attend what sounds like a deadly dull extension class. Here’s what works: “Watch the video.” With a big “play” arrow graphic. And it takes them to a video that starts playing instantly. Period.

Product Manager:

I’m confused. You’re a guy who comes up with these killer taglines and beautiful slogans…

Don Draper:

No, what I do is convince people to buy your product. Whatever you say has to work in context. A CTA ought to always be short and absolutely clear, and uses power words to tell them exactly what to do next. If it gets any cleverer than that, you’re outsmarting yourself.

Which leads me to my last point. Test your CTAs and see what works, not just in the wording but in the value propositions or offers you put in front of people. I used to hate the account team when they did copy tests, but they had a point. Even the smallest adjustments can deliver a difference.

Product Manager:

Fantastic stuff, Don. Really. You’ve really opened our eyes.

Don Draper:

My pleasure. Mind if I smoke?

Product Manager:

Sure, just not inside the building.

Don Draper:

(SHAKING HEAD) Your century sucks.

What Did Don Teach Us About User Engagement?

So what are the lessons about user engagement our product team should take away from their meeting with our legendary, completely fictional ad man?

1. Never be afraid to bluntly, urgently direct your target into taking the exact action you want – they probably want to be shown the next step.

2. Use “power words” to get your message across.

3. Make sure your calls to action lets the target know there’s a reward for taking that action, whether it’s a clear product benefit or another incentive.

4. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.

5. We all wish we could be Jon Hamm. Seriously.