While a product or feature launch might feel like the end of a long journey for product managers and engineers, for marketers, it’s really just the beginning. With each launch comes the need for education—users need to understand what problem this new product or feature solves, the value it will bring them, and how it works.
At product-led companies, each release requires an appropriately-scaled launch that’s coordinated across all go-to-market teams and targeted to the right audience. This results in a steady cadence of launches that aim to introduce new functionality to the market, get users excited, and set the stage for long-term adoption.
Product-led marketers take a specific approach to product and feature launches. Similar to other initiatives like growth and social proof campaigns, they leverage the product itself to reach users directly in-app and measure success with product usage data. In the end, this helps ensure none of the product team’s work goes to waste, and educates and empowers users so they get the most out of the product.
How launches look different at product-led companies
The rise of Agile methodologies and practices like continuous delivery has caused research and development (R&D) teams to significantly tighten their software delivery cycles. Instead of releasing products every six months, teams release new functionality every few weeks, with small product changes even happening daily. And with software as a service (SaaS) models, you can get these changes in front of users instantly.
As a result, R&D teams no longer go straight from the build phase to the release phase. They drip out new capabilities over various stages and expose them to additional users over time—for example by doing an internal release, limited beta, open beta, and finally general availability. Along the way, they’re tracking product usage and collecting feedback so they can make changes before the new functionality is exposed to all users. There may still be a big public-facing “launch,” but usually not without multiple previous smaller releases to certain subsets of the user base.
What does this mean for marketing teams? At product-led companies, marketing’s work is shaped by what the product team builds and releases. So when new products and features are released (and iterated on) consistently, there needs to be equally consistent launch communications and enablement. Small changes to a certain feature might make a big difference for users—so it’s vital that marketing teams support releases of all sizes in some capacity.
Product-led tactics for launching new products and features
The best product-led companies rally all of their prospect- and customer-facing teams around the product, first and foremost through highly coordinated product and feature launches. Marketing teams in particular have a large role to play here, specifically product marketers, who are responsible for overseeing the go-to-market strategy for specific products. Instead of relying solely on email or social media channels, they leverage the product to communicate with users and customers about new functionality—reaching them while they’re already using the product, and thus more likely to engage with a new feature.
Here are some ways marketing teams can take a product-led approach to launches:
Bring launch announcements in-app
New features (and entire products) will never see significant adoption if users don’t know about them. Product-led marketing teams know that the best way to reach users is while they’re using the product—and launch announcements are no exception. By using in-app guides, marketers can communicate with users about a new feature in the relevant area(s) of the product and target specific users who will benefit from the new functionality.
Above all, marketing teams need to ensure that the scale of their in-app launch campaigns mirror the scale of the product or feature being released. For example, a large-scale release might warrant a pop-up announcement, a full in-app walkthrough, and a drip of additional guides to remind users about the new feature over time. A smaller product update might only require a contextual tooltip that points the new feature out to a subset of users who will find it particularly valuable (based on their role, admin level, or previous product usage). If your company has established levels or tiers for releases, it’s also useful to build out a framework that maps in-app campaigns to each type of release.
Above all, marketing teams need to ensure that the scale of their in-app launch campaigns mirror the scale of the product or feature being released.
When it comes to what to include in your launch announcements, it’s important to clearly explain the value of the new functionality, especially as it pertains to users’ current workflows. Since you don’t want to pack in-app guides with too much text, it’s also helpful to link out to additional resources where users can learn more—for example, a post on your company’s blog, release notes, a help center article, a video tutorial, or even a way to schedule a meeting with their customer success manager (CSM).
Target communications to the right users
Users are much more likely to respond to launch announcements that are relevant to their needs and how they use the product. Since your product likely has a diverse user base with different roles, maturity, and technical proficiency, every new feature won’t necessarily be relevant to every user. In order to avoid spamming users with information they don’t care about (and ensure launch announcements reach the right users), marketers should use segmentation to target these in-app guides to certain subsets of the user base.
Work with your product team (or product operations function) to understand who the target user is for a new product or feature. From there, you’ll be able to identify how to build your segment—whether it’s by a user’s role, subscription type, app version, or page or feature usage. If your product team released an earlier version of a feature via a beta process, you can also use that segment as a starting point.
Indicate the next action users should take
When building in-app guides to announce new functionality, you should always think about what you want users to do after reading the announcement. Should they immediately try out the new feature? Is it a more complex feature that requires users to first read documentation about how to use it? If they do try it out, do you want users to provide feedback? Most of the time, the desired action will be for users to try out the feature. When this is the case, make sure you either place your in-app announcement in the area of the product where the new feature lives, or include an internal link that will take users to the feature directly.
Use product data to measure success
Like any other in-app campaign, marketing teams should track guide metrics to understand how their launch campaigns are performing. If a guide isn’t seeing much traction, you might need to move it to a different location in the product, update your segmentation, or iterate on the guide’s copy and imagery. For guides that are seeing high engagement, what can you learn from them? Over time, you can even use these learnings to create playbooks for in-app launch campaigns for each type of release, helping to streamline and standardize this work in the future.
The other (and most important) indicator of success is adoption: Are users engaging with the new product or feature? Work with the product team to determine the right KPI for adoption, and then use product analytics data to examine activity around the product or feature post-launch.
How to communicate with users about retiring a product or feature
Sometimes, the most strategic move your product team can make is to actually remove a feature from the user interface (UI) or retire a product entirely. Although it’s not as exciting as a launch, it’s equally as impactful to get rid of features that aren’t being used, are no longer adding value to the product, or will no longer be supported.
The main benefit of removing capabilities from your product is retaining a more streamlined experience for your users. Additionally, every feature requires ongoing maintenance and training, which can be especially time consuming if a feature is outdated or prone to bugs. It’s ultimately a win-win: customers get a better product experience, and product managers spend less time supporting rarely-used parts of the product.
When the product team decides to remove a feature or sunset an entire product, it’s important for marketers (in particular, product marketers) to communicate these changes to users appropriately. Here are four best practices to keep in mind:
- Keep communications clear and simple. This might require working with the product team to understand why a product or feature is being removed so you can write about it more clearly.
- Only alert people who will be affected by the change. A user who has never accessed the feature being sunsetted likely doesn’t need to know it’s going away.
- Leverage the opportunity to encourage users to utilize other (higher-value) products and features instead of the one being retired.
- Talk to customers directly to ease any concerns and explain the reasoning behind the decision to remove the feature or product.