Does your product pass the toothbrush test?


Photo credit: Wade Brooks

Repeat usage is one of the most important success factors for building a large, stand-alone company. It’s hard to grab people’s mindshare and create a loyal user base when people only need to use your product or service occasionally.

One of the best metaphors I’ve come across to describe this reality is Google’stoothbrush test” – where Larry Page insists that new products must be important enough that people will use them at least twice a day.

The toothbrush test is definitely a great benchmark for any social networking site. It’s why Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have done so well. And it’s also why social networks for travellers or events have struggled to really scale. For the majority of users, there’s just too much time in between trips or events when the app is completely unnecessary (except those lucky few who spend a year traveling around the world).

The toothbrush test is valid for SaaS products as well. Products that are critical to the daily workflow, like business management software and collaboration tools, tend to have the lowest churn rates. Yet, both marketing automation and HR tools often struggle (unless they are addressing core functions).

Commerce is certainly a different beast when it comes to this benchmark. My own rule of thumb is that customers should have a reason to visit a commerce site at least once per month. Monthly subscription services like Julep have a natural touch point every time they send out their new products. Frank & Oak has created monthly-curated product releases that create an important monthly rhythm.

High repeat usage = large potential business

Repeat usage is the basis to build a large business and is generally driven by two things:

  • How often people need to use the services/products your site offers
  • If people remember your site in the moment they need the service/product

So think deeply about what kind of feature set and/or product depth and breadth you are offering in order to maximize the reasons why people visit your site (of course, you want to do this without completely diluting your brand in the process). In addition, find smart and scalable ways to remind people of your site’s offering…without crossing the line into becoming spam.

If you fail to give people a reason to visit your site and remember you, users will turn to Google to find the best products and services for their current need. And this is exactly why Google’s search passes the toothbrush test so easily…

P.S.: Which products you are using pass the toothbrush test?

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  • Boris Wertz

    Here are the products that pass the toothbrush test for me: Google Search, Gmail, Google Drive, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Skype, Evernote, New York Times, Commerce: Amazon, Frank & Oak.

  • Christoph Janz

    Great points, fully agree.

    Some additional products that pass the toothbrush test for me: Zendesk,, Wunderlist, Westwing, Spotify, LinkedIn.

  • Gary Zhang

    When a SaaS product is not part of the core workflow of a business, it is not very
    “mandatory” to many people in the organization. Most people
    can’t see the value of this kind of “remote-from-core” SaaS product at the beginning
    and will refuse to use it. In this case, education and patience is needed. One
    of my clients built a SaaS product to help their core business. It took time to
    have everybody involved, feel excited and use it frequently.

    Don’t feel frustrated by a high churn rates, sometimes one good new “working” feature
    will improve churn rate quickly. It always need patience to test and see which
    feature can stand and help improve the whole product.

  • Boris Wertz

    Good list – definitely forgot LinkedIn on mine

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  • David Albert

    Good post. Products that pass for me: Google search, google calendar, google finance, gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google chrome, iOS, Bloomberg app, Dropbox, google handouts + g chat, PGA tour app, YouTube, the weather network

    Simply amazing how many google products make my list!

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  • Nikunj Verma

    This should be one of the primary focus areas for startups. But all is not lost if you don’t pass this test right now, since improvements can be made to bring you closer to this goal. A great example is LinkedIn. About 5 years ago, it was a site one visited every month or so to check up on their colleagues activities. But over time, with a big push on email notifications (for e.g. every time someone visited your profile or ), job activity and content distribution (e.g. acquisition of Pulse), LinkedIn made itself much more engaging for users. Result:

  • prady00

    Nice article!
    May I add one thing –
    If your product or service doesn’t confirms to toothbrush test, confirm this- lower the frequency, higher the transaction. Eg: for Uber, you won’t use daily. But when u use, the transaction amount us large enough.

  • bwertz

    Yes, that’s a good way to look at it