Identifying Adjacent Users in Preparation for Scaling User Acquisition

Mary Knight
7 min readJul 19, 2021


November 2020 — January 2021


When our growth pod was created, we had one purpose — to increase retention. After one year, the first-month retention was raised from 27% to 47%, nearing our goal of 50%. We knew we would want to start scaling acquisition when we hit our retention goal. One place we could start was the other 50% of users that were not retaining — What did they need? What could we do for them? This was when we started talking about Adjacent Users and started working towards identifying adjacent users to go after. Bangaly Kaba describes Adjacent Users this way:

The Adjacent Users are aware of a product and possibly tried using it, but are not able to successfully become an engaged user. This is typically because the current product positioning or experience has too many barriers to adoption for them.

My Role

Design Lead, Facilitator, Project Lead

Project Team

Product Designers: Steph Liang, Julie Wang
Product Managers: Chris Boorman, Tam Su, David Ip
Growth Marketing: Arti Mansbach


To identify Adjacent Users for Meal Hero the app, and validate that they exist


I started this work by gathering our product and design teams together. We began by identifying our goal (above) and milestones (below).


  • Identify Core Users
  • Hypothesize about Adjacent Users
  • Choose an Adjacent User to focus on strategically
  • Validate and learn about the chosen Adjacent Users
  • Update strategy based on new Adjacent User groups

Next, we were ready to talk about Adjacent Users. However, we quickly hit a wall. We couldn’t agree on who our core users were. As it turned out, it had been a while since we’d taken a look at the data and everyone had a different take.

Identifying Core Users

I paused all talk of Adjacent Users and instructed the project team to gather data and insights about our current users. After we’d gathered data we came back together to talk about what we’d found.

Some of the data I pulled from Google Analytics to establish who our Core Users were

This was no walk in the park. Some attributes of our core users were really straightforward like age and gender. I pulled those straight from Google Analytics, no problem. Other attributes like how many meals did they cook in a week, and did they plan in advance were not readily available. We were at an impasse. We had ideas about these attributes from the qualitative research we’d done but we couldn’t be sure they were universal across our core users.

In order to move forward, we had to go back. We needed more quantitative data from our core users. One designer suggested a survey; so she created a survey with questions that aimed to identify attributes about our core users. Our growth marketer identified a segment of users that had joined within the last 2 months and were continually coming back to use the app. We created an email and sent this segment of users the survey.

The responses helped confirm our insights from our qualitative research and enabled us to finalize our core user attributes.

Core User Attributes

One attribute we were interested in understanding was price sensitivity, but we did not have enough data to support a conclusion at that time. We decided that if we wanted to explore an adjacent user with that attribute we would need to do more research on our core users first to understand their price sensitivity.

Hypothesize about Adjacent Users

For this activity, I brought the design and product teams back together. We started by brainstorming all possible Adjacent Users keeping the following in mind:

  • Adjacent Users are different by 1 or more attributes from your Core Users
  • Adjacent Users are aware and have possibly tried your product
  • The current product most likely has too many barriers for Adjacent Users
Adjacent User Brainstorm

Choose an Adjacent User to focus on strategically

After the brainstorming session, I met with the Product Managers to discuss which Adjacent user(s) to focus on. We had a great debate, discussing the following:

  • What functionality already exists in the app that is of interest to these adjacent users?
  • What functionality would we hypothetically have to build for certain adjacent users?
  • Does this hypothetical new functionality align with our product and business strategy?

We chose to focus on Adjacent Users #2 and #9 for the following reasons:

  1. They are both very similar to core users except they both order groceries online
  2. Our business model depends on online grocery shopping
We chose to focus on the highlighted Adjacent User groups

Validate and learn about the chosen Adjacent Users

Next up — validation! We asked ourselves the following questions:

  • Do these Adjacent Users have a big enough target market size to make them worth going after?
  • Do these Adjacent Users exist?
  • How are they different from our core users?

The Product Managers set out to answer the first question. They worked with our Growth Marketer to establish the total size of the addressable market and the size of the Adjacent User groups we identified. The short answer is yes, these Adjacent User groups are large enough to make them worth going after. So on to research!

First, I created a research plan. This allowed me to have a discussion with our Product Managers about how I would conduct the research and the major objectives. Below is an abbreviated version of the research plan I created. To view the full document, click here.

The shortened version of the research plan

Once we agreed on the research plan, I created the test in, launched the test to participants, listened to the videos, took notes, and completed synthesis.

Research synthesis and notes in Miro

This work had the potential to mark a shift in our product strategy so the synthesis of the research needed to be exceptionally clear not just to the project team but to anyone in the company.

I started by answering the questions we set out to answer in research:

Answers to research objectives

Next, I wanted to show how the research either confirmed or disapproved our hypotheses about these Adjacent Users attributes compared to our core users.

Core User vs. Adjacent User attributes

Finally, I wanted to share the detailed insights I’d gathered from research. Here I thought it was important to show the insights side by side because while these two Adjacent User groups are similar in many ways they do have clear differences. I thought it would be easier to compare and digest the differences if they were shown side by side

Adjacent user research insights side by side

After the synthesis was completed, I brought together our product and design teams to share the insights from the research. It was well received and our shopping pod was particularly interested in the results.

Update strategy based on new Adjacent User groups

While our business model revolving around online grocery shopping had not changed we hadn’t previously been very focused on it. Instead, we had been spending a lot of time and resources on retention. However, since we were nearing our retention goals, it was time to look towards what was next.

This work helped clarify a shift in priority was necessary from a product and business strategy perspective. I’m happy to report that in the next quarter, all four of our consumer-facing pods had an OKR that involved shopping — either getting more users to shop in the user journey or improving the online shopping experience. This work also influenced our Marketing team. They worked to update our ads and app store copy to be more shopping-focused.

Key Learnings

  1. The Adjacent User Theory. This theory was completely new to me. In order to facilitate and lead our product and design teams through this project, I had to completely immerse myself in it.
  2. Personas are in the past. While many people are familiar with personas, that practice was created to typically serve marketing teams. For product teams, I believe that the Adjacent User framework helps distinguish what could look like very similar users, into smaller groups. This is particularly helpful in order to understand their needs, behaviors, and motivations. Once you can name a need, you can start building towards a solution.



Mary Knight

I’m a Product Design Leader and Researcher working at the intersection of social impact and technology.