Marketing teams have long relied on email as the channel of choice (or default) to communicate with prospective and current customers. And while there is still a time and place for email, marketers at product-led organizations know that there’s a better way.

Product-led marketing teams have access to their best marketing channel yet: the product they’re selling.

At product-led companies, the marketing team—among other groups across the organization—leverages the product as a communication channel at every stage of the customer journey. They partner with product, customer success, and sales on in-app campaigns to help users get the most out of the product, share updates and announcements, and ultimately, drive their most important business goals. By bringing communications in-app, marketers can more effectively engage the most captive audience possible with the most relevant messaging.

The benefits of bringing marketing campaigns in-app

One of the biggest benefits of communicating with customers in-app is that you can ensure these messages are timely and relevant, since they’re delivered while users are engaging with the product. For marketers, this means being able to reach customers with information in-context. Rather than emailing users about a new feature and hoping they go into the product to check it out, product-led marketing teams deliver messages at moments when (and in areas of the application where) they will be most impactful.

Marketing teams also benefit from the ability to personalize their in-app communications and segment by user metadata and user behavior. For example, if you’re running an upsell campaign, you can target in-app guides to users who you think would find the additional functionality beneficial based on the features they’re currently utilizing.

Here are some ways marketers might segment their in-app guides:

User metadata:

  • Role
  • Industry
  • Subscription type
  • App version

User behavior:

  • Page or feature usage
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) response
  • Poll response

Communicating with users and customers in-app is also more efficient than other types of marketing channels, since teams can easily create, test, measure, and iterate on in-app guides without any reliance on engineering resources. Similar to their peers in product, marketers at product-led organizations leverage Agile practices—and being able to reach customers directly in the product helps them stay more nimble.

Why in-app marketing requires great collaboration

Since collaboration is one of the foundational pillars of being product led, it’s no surprise that in-app marketing campaigns require cross-functional effort, too. This collaboration is especially important when multiple teams within an organization are utilizing in-app guides—the last thing you want is users to feel spammed by numerous or duplicative guides that interrupt their workflows.

Here’s how marketers might partner with teams across the organization for their in-app campaigns:

  • If you have a dedicated product marketing function, this person (or team) will likely partner closely with product managers (PMs) and product operations (product ops) to build in-app guidance around new features and drive adoption of existing ones.
  • Customer marketers will work with customer success managers (CSMs) to understand which accounts are at risk and therefore could benefit from an in-app education campaign. Marketing might also partner with customer success to build an in-app onboarding program that’s personalized by a user’s role or jobs to be done.
  • If your company has a free product or free trial, marketing can partner with sales to create an in-app messaging flow that encourages free users to upgrade, based on signals taken from product usage data.

How product-led marketing teams can leverage in-app guides

Every company’s in-app marketing strategy will look a little different—and will ultimately depend on their product, their target users, and even the makeup of their marketing organization. It’s important to first identify what you’re looking to achieve, then consider how in-app guides and campaigns can help support these goals.

Here’s a breakdown of key ways marketers can use the product to reach users and customers more effectively, fuel their campaigns, and drive positive business outcomes:

Launch and adoption campaigns

Since product-led organizations are constantly releasing new functionality, there needs to be a steady drumbeat of highly coordinated launches to bring new products and features to market. Marketing (specifically product marketing) plays a central role in this work. They partner with PMs and product ops to build in-app guides that announce what’s new, educate users on why it’s valuable, and encourage them to adopt it. 

The makeup of an in-app launch campaign will depend on the scale of the product or feature you’re releasing. If your company has designated levels or tiers for releases, you can build out a framework that maps in-app strategies to each type of release. For example, a large-scale release might include a lightbox announcement, a full in-app walkthrough, and a drip of additional in-app guides to remind users about the new functionality. A smaller release, on the other hand, might only warrant some contextual tooltips to point the new feature out to a subset of users who will find it particularly valuable.

In addition to launch campaigns, marketers also help drive long-term adoption and utilize in-app campaigns to encourage users to continue engaging with certain features long after they go live. You can first use product usage data to identify the features that correlate with retention and expansion, and then create in-app guides that steer users to those features and explain their value.

Cross-sell and upsell

If you have a customer marketing person or team, one of their focus areas will likely be on expansion and getting existing customers to see value in additional features or products. Cross-selling is when companies work to sell customers additional products in their suite. Upselling is when you sell customers more of the same product, either through more usage capacity or additional capabilities. The best product-led companies utilize their product to drive these motions, for example by setting up automatic in-app messages to alert users that they are at the limit of what they’ve purchased and prompt them to purchase more.

Here are some examples of how customer marketing teams can use in-app guides to support cross-sell and upsell efforts:

  • Show customers the limitations of their existing subscriptions by creating in-app tooltips that point out the capabilities of more advanced features—bonus points if you’re able to allow users to upgrade and unlock those features right then and there.
  • Use product analytics and NPS data to identify engaged and happy users, then target them with in-app guides that highlight advanced capabilities that could deliver increased value.
  • If you have two complementary product offerings, use in-app guides to educate users about the product they aren’t currently using and how it can improve their current workflows.
  • Build in-app upgrade options into your freemium product, so if free users try to access functionality they need to pay for, they can easily upgrade in-app and start deriving value immediately.

Event promotion

Since you can reach users and customers while they’re already engaging with your brand, your product is a great place to promote any upcoming events. Marketing teams also benefit from the ability to target these promotions to the exact audience who would find the event particularly valuable. If you have user groups or community meetups in certain cities, you can identify and target in-app guides to users in those geographic areas using data from product analytics. Similarly, if you’re hosting an industry event that will offer thought leadership that’s relevant to certain personas in your user base, you can ensure any in-app promotions are only shown to those specific cohorts. 

It’s also important to place in-app guides in the right areas of the product. For example, if you’re hosting a webinar about a certain feature, set up guides to only trigger once users engage with that feature. The type of in-app guide you choose will depend on the event itself, too. Large-scale events that are relevant to the majority of your user base might call for an attention-grabbing lightbox, whereas educational webinars might be better promoted via a banner that doesn’t interfere with users’ workflows.


Onboarding could be owned by a variety of teams at your organization (e.g. customer success, product, or marketing), but your marketing team will likely be involved in some capacity.

Rather than delivering onboarding through a series of emails or resource-intensive live sessions, product-led companies leverage the product to deliver this key first experience for users. To take it a step further, the best companies personalize onboarding for users’ specific needs, for example by creating separate flows for different roles or admin levels. As you work to build onboarding that helps users see value in your product as quickly as possible, there are few types of in-app onboarding experiences to choose form:

  • Single-page: Sometimes products (particularly mobile apps) are intuitive enough where all new users need is a single-page introduction and welcome message. It’s also useful to start onboarding with a full-screen guide that explains the app’s main benefits, and let users choose how to experience the rest of their onboarding (e.g. through user-initiated onboarding).
  • Interactive walkthrough: This method allows you to guide new users through key workflows using a combination of popups and interactive tooltips. You can also use lightboxes to expose users to the most important areas and actions in the product by darkening the rest of the user interface (UI) to highlight individual features.
  • User-initiated: This lets users control when they get help during onboarding. It’s best to create an in-app resource center that houses all of your onboarding guides, so users can access this on-demand library whenever they need assistance. You can also add “Help” buttons that when clicked, launch a guide with a tutorial about a particular feature.

Social proof

Product-led marketing teams solicit customer feedback and testimonials within the product, which offers two main benefits. First, these requests are contextual, so the customer’s current experience with the product is likely to influence what they say about it and thus elicit a more honest response. Second, marketers can be more targeted with in-app outreach and pick and choose who they request public reviews or testimonials from (aka their happiest and most successful customers).

Here are some examples of what this looks like in practice:

  • Use product analytics to identify highly-engaged users, and then target them with an in-app guide asking for a quick testimonial.
  • If you’re running NPS surveys in-app, create an additional prompt for users who respond with a high NPS that asks them to leave a review and automatically links them to a third-party site.
  • For mobile apps, use an in-app guide to solicit app store ratings via a simple prompt that asks the user for a one- to five-star rating, and also include additional fields for comments or feedback.

Just like other in-app campaigns, it’s important for marketing teams to monitor and measure how review campaigns are performing. How many reviews are you getting? Are there opportunities to tweak or optimize the target audience? Can you test different copy? Should you offer an incentive, if you’re not already? This will help ensure you’re reaching the right users at the right moments and continually building a robust library of positive reviews and strong success stories.

User research

Marketing teams often partner with product and research teams to gather input from users on initiatives that are still in progress—for example, renaming an existing product area or understanding the target audience for a new feature. This type of outreach is well-suited for in-app collection, since you can reach users when their experience with (and opinions of) your product is top of mind.

Leveraging in-app campaigns for user research helps marketers take a more data-driven approach, since they can test and validate ideas before anything goes to market. With in-app guides, they can get feedback quickly and pass any relevant information over to the product team on a consistent basis. This data also informs marketing strategies once new products and features are released, allowing teams to better connect new offerings to what users really value.