verb scoring for product strategy

9 Use Cases For Verb Scoring To Support A Successful Product Strategy

With endless factors to keep in mind, verb scoring can help turn a company’s priorities into a product strategy.

Note: This is part two in a two-part series on verb scoring. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read the first installment, An Introduction to Verb Scoring, before reading this one.

Standing up a product with a proper mix of free and paid features is no small feat.

Free features are great for acquisition, but give away too much free value and you risk carrying a bunch of free users who never convert to paid.

Paid features are an important part of monetization, but some products have value that’s hard to realize without users at least trying the full feature suite.

I’ve often felt that there’s a lot of nuance to feature-gating that goes unspoken. This is in part because we don’t have a great taxonomy to discuss it.

That’s where verb scoring comes in.

Verb scoring is the first step

If you read last week’s article, you’re already familiar with verb scoring, a method we developed to evaluate actions that users can take in your product and then score them based on the limitations and entitlements required to perform the action.

Here’s a refresher on the six verb scores.

levels of verb scoring for product strategy

Before undertaking a verb-scoring exercise, you’ll have to build your verb-scoring vocabulary. Then, you can move on to scoring your and your competitors’ verbs. Once you have a verb scoring matrix, the artifact that comes from your exercise, you can use it to address your product strategy.

Considerations for feature-gating as a product strategy

But, with a verb scoring matrix in hand, there is still an important unanswered question on how to use feature-gating as a way to encourage user conversions.

How to gate features has never been a simple equation, and there are several factors to consider when deciding what to offer users.

  • Feature Complexity: While some features will only matter to users with a niche use case, others are built to acquire novices. As such, product people can use information like a feature’s target audience to make thoughtful choices about what verbs to give away for “free” and which to guard more tightly.
  • Maturity: The maturity of your product and your brand’s reputation plays a role as well. Newcomers in an established product space might be looking to increase brand awareness, while a legacy brand with near-market saturation might care more about improving retention and reducing churn. It’s easy to imagine how a company’s status as either a newcomer or a market leader might impact their feature-gating strategy.
  • Up-time and integration complexity: The complexity of your product’s setup can also impact your strategy. Significant up-time or complicated technical integrations might factor into whether you give away any or all of your product’s features in a grace period during the setup window.
  • Novel technology: Many industries are shy of truly differentiated competitors. But for companies that have truly novel tech, restricting access to paying customers is a much easier decision than for companies with clearer competition.

Feature complexity, maturity, up-time, and novelty are just a few examples of what we might consider when standing up a paywall strategy. The list goes on.

It can be overwhelming to consider the seemingly endless number of factors that may contribute to a strategy. While it is crucial to keep these considerations in mind, it can also help to review specific scenarios of how verb scoring turns a company’s priorities into a product strategy.

How can I use verb scoring to craft a meaningful product strategy? It starts by understanding your goals.

Let’s take a look at nine use cases for verb scoring guided by common digital team goals.

1. If you’re looking to increase your share of voice

If you’re struggling to get in front of relevant audiences, you might want to consider if there are Anonymous verbs you can offer.

Especially for web-based products, search engine results pages (SERPs) are a frequent gateway for those looking for a feature.

Take, for example, online PDF conversion. One Google search yields big players like Adobe Acrobat, but it also shows leaner companies like SmallPDF and e-signature tools like PandaDoc.

online pdf conversion options
compressing pdf file online

Example: PandaDoc uses an anonymous conversion tool to get their document signature products in front of those with PDF use cases.

  • From a Google search, PDFConvert promises Free Online PDF Conversion.
  • On the website, users can take the action for free as many times as they like.
  • Each time they complete the action, they see an offer to try PandaDoc for free.

By giving away a bit of value to users in their target audience (PDF users), PandaDoc is able to compete with big players in the PDF space and increase its visibility among people who have demonstrated a need for PDFs.

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2. If you want to acquire new free users

While Anonymous verbs are good at building share-of-voice and awareness, limited Limited Anonymous Use (LAU) verbs can also transition top-of-funnel website visitors into registered users.

duolingo profile creation

Example: Language learning app Duolingo allows users to complete their first few lessons without creating an account. Once users have completed one or two lessons, the app then asks them to create a profile to save their progress. These pages, which they refer to as “soft walls,” prompt users to sign up but still allow them to hit “Later.”

While the ask may start out soft, the requirement to Create a Profile eventually firms up. Users eventually hit a “hard wall” that requires sign-up to continue, which is why the approach is called “delayed signup.”

This delayed signup approach worked for Duolingo. The team found that soft paywalls not only increased DAU (daily average use) by 20% but also improved the performance of the hard paywall.

By offering lessons to anonymous users, they reduced the friction early on. But by limiting anonymous use to only a few lessons, Duolingo carves a path to growing its free user base. It’s a great example of how delaying friction and allowing some Limited Anonymous Use use can be an avenue to acquiring new free users.

3. If you’re hoping to increase monthly or daily average use (MAU, DAU)

It’s one thing to acquire a free user. It’s another thing to keep them engaged with your product on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis.

One strategy for increasing monthly active use (MAU) or daily active use (DAU) is to give away free features to registered users via Free with Registration verbs.

Companies often choose a select few core features to give away for free. In Adobe Acrobat’s case, users can read a PDF, highlight, markup, and share with others for comments without any restriction on the number of PDFs or the amount of highlighting.

These Free with Registration features are a great way to provide dependable, friction-free value to registered users with limited needs.

free tools available for registered acrobat users in their product strategy

4. If you just need to turn free users into paying customers

If you already have a stable of free engaged users, you’re likely looking for ways to turn them into paying customers.

Limited Registered Use features are a great way to do this. While users generally need some free value to build a habit of using a product, most “free” products have features available to free users, but only in a limited capacity.

Spotify, for instance, allows free users to listen to entire records, but only on shuffle. Paying customers can hear the album in the order intended by the artist. Try to deselect the shuffle icon, and you’ll see a paywall asking you to upgrade to premium.

Spotify ad to explore premium as part of product strategy

Productivity tools often do this with storage, reserving a certain number of videos, documents, or files for paying customers.

Example: See this example from Loom. Once a user has created 25 videos, they either need to delete or upgrade to record more.

loom limit reached notification

We also see this with export functionality.

Example: Canva allows users to export designs in PNG, JPG, or PDF. However, Canva reserves the use of SVG, which has more professional use cases, for paying customers.

available options for canva users product strategy

These Limited Registered Use features are a way to put paywalls in front of engaged users, while still offering a baseline of value. They keep free users happy with some functionality while using strategically placed friction to encourage engaged users to buy up.

5. If you want to introduce prospects to novel features that really “sell”

When you have a complex product with a novel feature set, it may not make the most sense to follow a typical “freemium” model. If the limitations of “free” are not enough to sell the paid product, you may want to consider using a Limited Registered Use approach to most, if not all, features–for a limited time. This time-based approach is what Elena Verna, Head of Growth at Dropbox, calls a Reverse Trial.

The Reverse Trial […] starts every new signup on a trial—usually without needing an opt-in or a credit card—and gives customers access to all or a select set of paid features.

– Elena Verna, Head of Growth at Dropbox

Reverse Trials give the users the full or near-full feature suite simply by registering. Often there’s no upsell pitched, and no credit card required to get started. Users can experience the free trial immediately upon registration.

Example: Airtable does this with their project management tool. Users who register are given a team account where they can play with advanced features like automation and advanced account management for a 14-day trial. Once the trial period is over, the user is downgraded to a Free plan and they lose access to advanced features.

Airtable free trial offer

6. If you’re hoping to acquire customers despite significant perceived “investment cost”

A key aspect of the Reverse Trial is that it’s time-based. Offering users the ability to try out the full feature suite gives them the ability to have that “aha” moment, while the ticking clock (often displayed prominently in the product’s navigation) imparts urgency on the user to make a buy/no-buy decision before the trial period ends.

But that time-based approach may not work for products where up-time is considerably long.

If you have an extremely complex product, one that many stakeholders will use, or that requires significant integrations and up-time in order for users to take full advantage of. In that case, it may make more sense to lean on an Open Trial strategy.

Open Trials are when products offer just about everything for free to registered users but gate the most important features with a hard paywall.

Example: Take for example Stripe. Simply by giving their name and a few details, Stripe users have access to nearly unlimited features. Users can set up integrations, add branding to invoices, and even create product inventory to streamline the invoicing process. However, a hard paywall blocks the user when it comes time to actually send an invoice or accept payment.

Stripe notification to activate account

7. If you want to mitigate “trial abuse”

Open Trials and Reverse Trials are useful when we want to shorten the time-to-value by removing barriers like credit card signups. But for some products, the up-time isn’t a concern and time-to-value is relatively quick.

For products with a quick time-to-value, it might not make sense to offer a low-barrier Reverse Trial or Open Trial. If there’s no need for users to go through a lengthy discovery period, and they can understand the value through engaging for days or even minutes, it might make sense to leverage Trial with Payment (TwP) verbs.

TwP verbs are reserved for users who have provided payment information. Users must provide some form of payment (collected at a later date) to access the feature.

This gives the user an opportunity to use the feature, but by adding a credit card step, we create slightly more friction than in Free w/ Registration verbs mentioned earlier.

This has the added benefit of all but ensuring that users don’t engage in “Trial Abuse” – creating multiple accounts to access unlimited features.

8. If your tech keeps evolving

While some products have a highly complex feature matrix that can justify a complicated tier system, others might be more suited to a simple line in the sand for truly gated features.

Gated features are especially useful for truly differentiated technology.

Example: Take for example ChatGPT. While they built an audience with their free version (currently 3.5), OpenAI continues to advance their Language Learning Model and reserves the latest releases for paying customers.

ChatGPT option to upgrade to Plus plan for product strategy

Because each new version of the LLM is purported to be miles ahead of the last, gating the latest release is a great way to monetize an already popular product that’s getting significant publicity, word of mouth, or buzz.

9. If your product is best sold by a sales representative

Gating entire products (or releases of a product) is also an established way to generate leads for sales-led companies.

While some products simply explain themselves, complicated software vetting processes are still common at large enterprises with complex needs.

If your product needs excessive buy-in and compliance before you land the deal, your product might benefit from gating all features. Use calls to action like “Talk to Sales” or “Get a Demo” in this prouct strategy.

Sometimes a sales conversation is the only way to ascertain and assuage the prospective customer’s needs, so feature-gating across the board is an appropriate solution in some instances.

Align on verb scores and your goals to formulate a meaningful product strategy

Hopefully, by now, you can see why verb scoring can help you build a meaningful and effective product strategy.

Let’s review what we’ve learned so far:

  • Giving prospective customers some features they can use while remaining anonymous (Anonymous) is a great way to build share of voice and gain visibility in the marketplace
  • Offering limited utility to anonymous users (Limited Anonymous Use) is a great way to speed up time-to-value while working to acquire a free registered user
  • Giving away features for free to registered users (Free with Registration) is a powerful way to build a stable of potential paying customers
  • Giving users limited access to deeper functionality (Limited Registered Use) is a good way to showcase your product’s capabilities but create a sense of urgency to purchase
  • Reserving some features for users who have shared payment information (Trial with Payment) is a great way to filter unserious lookie-loos and prevent trial abuse
  • Keeping your most coveted features behind a hard paywall (Gated) is appropriate in B2B enterprise sales or for technologies that are complex or innovative

Whether your goal is to gain share of voice, build a stable of free users, monetize existing ones, or connect with leads, defining your goals is the first step to formulating a meaningful product strategy.

Verb scoring can then help you see where your tactics fall short and provide a foundation from which to build an intentional acquisition and monetization strategy.

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Natalie Thomas

About the Author

Natalie Thomas

Natalie Thomas is the Director of Digital Experience & UX Strategy at The Good. She works alongside ecommerce and product marketing leaders every day to produce sustainable, long term growth strategies.