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My name’s Alex Girard and I'm a product marketing manager at HubSpot. Today I want to talk to you about developing a product marketing strategy for a freemium product. First, let me give you a bit of background.

I own HubSpot’s marketing products from a product marketing perspective, we have marketing sales and service products and I do the product marketing for our marketing products.

To give you a little flavor of what’ll be included in this article:

  • I'll start with a quick history lesson of HubSpot's move towards freemium and how we grew our product line over A time to get to the freemium space.
  • Next, I’ll walk you briefly through how we got to this point, from a positioning standpoint, and how we came to our final positioning and what that looked like.
  • I'll then go through some post-launch plays that we ran, some things that we did after we launched, and are still doing to this day.
  • Finally, I’ll touch on what really worked, some unique tactics that I thought were really useful for freemium specifically.

A quick history lesson to start

Here’s a timeline of HubSpot's product:

We started in 2006 with our Marketing Hub, that's the product that I own at HubSpot, it’s kind of our flagship product and it was our only product for a really long time from 2006 to 2014.

We were only a single app, we had our marketing tools, and then in 2014 we added on the CRM. We realized that we could have both a marketing hub and a CRM and our sales reps could start to take users who are leveraging the CRM and start to upsell them into the marketing tools over time, that was a really great motion.

As we added on more and more products, we started to figure out how we could continue to use this freemium motion, so in 2016, we launched Sales Hub.

In 2018, we launched Service Hub and that completed our product suite.

We represent our product suite through the flywheel…

So what we see here is that marketing feeds into sales, the marketing can generate leads, pass them on to sales, who turn them into customers, pass it on to services, and then your services team turns your customers into promoters of your brand.

Those promoters of your brand really become your best marketing channel at the end of the day and feedback into your marketing - you can take your customer service and turn that into your best marketing channel, and at the center of all this is your customers. Your customers are really at the center of your business.

That's the bare bones of the inbound methodology in our flywheel at HubSpot.

From premium to freemium

If we look at this from a timeline perspective, in 2006, we had one premium offering.

If someone wanted to buy our marketing tools, they had to do some research on HubSpot, get on the phone with a sales rep, purchase through a demo maybe and go through this long drawn out sales process.

In 2014, we finally had this first freemium product.

Someone could go to our website and start using HubSpot right away for free without having to talk to anyone, and kick the tires, see if it worked for them. This was really great for our sales team, so as we layered on more and more service lines over time, we started to lean into this freemium motion.

Every single product launch we had going forward for different hubs, we continued to layer on freemium services with them.

Marketing Hub

With the Marketing Hub, we were always this premium product, but we realized that's not really how people are buying today, people want to try something out, see if it will work for their business before they actually go for it and buy.

We needed to match what we were selling in Marketing Hub to the way that our customers wanted to buy from us. That was a big reason why I wanted to start exploring the freemium strategy.

This is a quote from Nicholas Holland, he's a VP of product at HubSpot and owns the Marketing Hub from a product side.

This is that free users are absolutely brutal, and if your product isn't absolutely delightful, if you don't deliver your customers with an absolutely amazing experience while they're using your product, they'll just move on.

By moving into the freemium space, we were ensuring that we were giving our customers the best experience possible, and that brought itself up not only through our freemium products but also up to our premium products as well, so we were making sure that we had airtight products by going down into freemium.

The journey into freemium

So we started this journey into the freemium space in 2018 and we started to add various marketing tools down into the free CRM.

In 2018, we took Conversations, which is our live chat tool, and we brought that down into free, and then we also took our Forms tool, and we moved that down to free. So now we had a good sense of lead generation within the free tools, but we still were missing that lead nurturing part.

So this last summer in 2019, we added both Ads and Email down into the free CRM as well.

So now you have a full suite of marketing tools that you can leverage to do your marketing all without paying HubSpot a dime. That was our journey to this point in freemium.

Positioning: How we decided to position our free marketing tools in the market

Now, I want to talk about just a brief exercise on how we thought about positioning these products and how we got to our final positioning and what that looked like.

So first, free email is nothing new. There are hundreds, if not thousands of free email service providers out there.

The logos above just scratch the surface, so we realized we weren't launching anything necessarily revolutionary here, there's a bunch of free email service providers. The question that we wanted to answer with our positioning is what truly separated HubSpot from all other email service providers out there and all other free email service providers out there, what made us unique? What's something that we could hang our hat on?

To get to that we went through this process here, and asked ourselves the following questions:

  • What's the status quo with email service providers today?
  • Why is there a problem with that status quo?
  • Why is that status quo not necessarily satisfying the needs of people that are using a free email product? And,
  • If there's a problem with the status quo, what's the alternative?
  • What's the alternative that those people can leverage? And finally,
  • What's the unique solution that we offer?

What’s the status quo?

When we thought of the status quo, we thought of the fact that everyone has a system of record, everyone leverages a CRM of some kind at their business. If you're an enterprise, you might use HubSpot or Salesforce, someone like that. If you're just getting started you might be using Excel spreadsheets, but no matter what you have a way of tracking the engagement that your customers have with your business.

You also have a system of engagement of some kind, you are using different marketing tools to reach out to these customers in some way, you have email, ads, chat, there's a bunch of different ways you can do it. But for most companies, these tools are separate. They live in different systems and don't really speak to each other, they might be loosely integrated, but for the most part, they operate in separate worlds.

Why is that a problem?

As we all know, as marketers, personalization always wins. Personalization really always wins when it comes to marketing. But personalization without a CRM, without that system of record backing it is really just smoke and mirrors - it doesn't always work.

This is another Nicholas Holland quote, he has a way with words.

Personalization without a CRM just doesn't work, it doesn't cut it. If you have this system, where your system of record and your CRM aren't speaking with your marketing tools, and aren't working with your marketing tools, you're really not able to achieve that personalized marketing that everyone's looking for at the end of the day.

What’s the alternative?

So, we thought the alternative was to have a system of record that layered on these marketing tools that were fully integrated, that spoke directly to them. So you could use customer data to inform the marketing campaigns you're putting out there. That really allows you to get to the perfect ideal state where you're able to deliver your customers with personalized marketing.

The solution

The solution CRM we offered was the fact we had the HubSpot Marketing Hub layered on top of our free , and that allows you to grow your business, find success and deliver your customers with that amazing experience.

Being free isn’t everything - what sets you apart?

One thing I'd like to just double click on for a second is that I only mentioned the word free once during that positioning statement. If you're launching a freemium product, rarely is the fact that your product's free going to be the big differentiator for you.

With email there are so many different tools whether it's MailChimp or Constant Contact or Active Campaign, if we just went forward and said HubSpot now has free email and it's free, people probably wouldn't have cared all that much.

We had to figure out what was different for us that would get people excited about the fact we had a free product. So what we see here is the physical manifestation of that positioning statement that we went through.

This is our homepage on launch day, we went forward with the tagline, ‘Email loves CRM, and love shouldn't cost a thing’. So email and CRM, they're this perfect pairing for each other. We alluded to the fact that they were free, and then the love was important from a brand perspective and tied into loving your customers > grow better. That was our thought process there.

Post-launch plays

I want to walk through just a couple of post-launch plays that we ran, some things that we're doing still to this day to make sure that we have a successful launch. I think it's important to note at this point that with a freemium product, the real work that you do as a product marketer starts after you launch.

I think we have launch goggles as product marketers, we say, "Okay, the product is launching on this date", and we work super, super hard to get to that date and we charge forward, and then it launches and the next day, we all go on vacation.

For freemium products, you really aren't doing your company any good if you just get a bunch of free users in, and that's it, they just sit there stagnant. With that in mind, we had to consider how can we take those free users, show them the value within our free product, and then upgrade them into our premium tools over time, so they can see even more value out of our product and grow their businesses with us.

When we looked at the groups of users that we had to address from this, we realized that we had three groups:

  1. The heavy users of our free tools - people that were using them a lot and getting a lot of value out of them.
  2. The light users - the people that might have downloaded it, used it once, and then let it sit.
  3. Our current paying customers - this is probably the one that you stress out the most about when you launch a freemium product. You have people that are paying good money to use your software, and you're about to take something that they're paying you for and you're gonna bring it down to Free. So how do you communicate this to those customers to make sure that they still see value in paying you on a monthly basis for the product that you're offering?

Heavy users

For our heavy users, we ran a lot of review campaigns. At HubSpot we see a lot of value in generating reviews of our software from promoters of our brands, it’s a big part of the flywheel methodology.

The email that you see here is one that we send to our customers asking them to write a review of our product saying, "Hey, you are a heavy user of our ads tool. We would love it if you wrote a review on G2 Crowd for us".

Running these review campaigns can be a great way to activate those free users, and we found out that heavy users of the tool like to be acknowledged as heavy users of tools. So acknowledging someone as one of the best and most frequent users of a tool really gets those free users excited and activates them to act on your behalf.

On top of that, we also do a lot to generate case studies. We had a long beta of these tools going forward - tools are beta for quite some time and while the tools are in beta we do a lot to figure out who are these heavy users and how can we start to work with them so we can maybe launch with them?

By the time we launched, we had roughly two or three customer case studies and some of them had started with the free tools in our beta and had upgraded to paid tiers over time before the product launched. So we were able to tell that growth story of how someone started on our free product, was able to see the value and grow their business, and then eventually start paying for our products because they had grown their business so much, which is a really great, compelling story that we want to tell.

Another thing we did is we showed the value of upgrading to our paid tiers for these heavy users, so these heavy users are seeing a lot of value out of our free product. We made sure that within products we were surfacing different premium features that they could use so they could get even more value if they did decide to upgrade.

We started to bring locks within the system so they can see, "Oh if I upgrade I can get access to their landing pages tool or their social tool", we made sure the limits that were in free were very apparent so they could know when they were approaching the limit and see the value they would get if they did decide to upgrade over time.

A lot of things we did to make sure within products that they would see the value in upgrading. But we also did run campaigns to say, "Hey, you're getting a lot of value out of this, if you upgrade, you could get these additional features", so making sure that they were just always aware of the additional value that was within our paid tiers.

Light users

For light users, the idea here is to get them activated. So turn them from a light user into a heavy user so then you can then run those same plays that we just talked about.

But the real first thing we did is show the value of other free tools that they may not have signed up for initially. We have a wide variety of free tools within HubSpot’s free product and so someone might have signed up for our free email tool, tried it once and stop using it, but maybe they weren't aware that we had free sales tools or a free ads tool, and so making sure that they can know that through an email campaign, or educational materials is really important and got us the ability to activate a lot of these customers over time.

The next step is leveraging the community, letting people know they're supported within these free tools, and they have a support system backing them. We're very fortunate at HubSpot to have a super active community on of users that are trading tips and secrets and showing how they use the tool or how they want the tool to work. That's a natural feedback channel for our product team which is really great.

We also have HubSpot Academy, which is an open-source education platform where people can get educational resources not only on our product but on marketing in general. What you can see on the slide above is a free tools course that we launched alongside the launch, where we said, "Hey, you just downloaded our free marketing tools, if you want to learn everything there is to know about these free marketing tools, feel free to go check out this course".

So, someone who might have downloaded it and felt lost, we hit them with an email campaign a week after they downloaded with this course, so they could dive in, see what they're missing, how to use the tools, and start to get value out of it.

Current customers

The final group is our current customers. They're paying for our product, we just brought it down to free, how do we communicate with these people to make sure that they don't downgrade to our free product?

One thing we did is we went through the process of adjusting our positioning for our paid product. We wanted to make sure things we were leaning on heavily with those paid tiers, when we brought those same tools down into free, that our positioning in our paid tiers was updated to reflect that.

We weren't leaning so heavily on email in our Starter product when it was now available for free. We started talking about how Marketing Hub Starter was really for companies that were starting to scale and starting to grow their business, and it wasn't just a tool that had email and ads because that was now in free.

We also made sure that we showed the value of their current tier versus the free product and made that very apparent to our customers. Whenever we were in the products, we would surface different things that they only had in Marketing Hub Starter versus our free marketing tools.

And if someone wanted to downgrade? We showed them the pop-up you can see in the above slide, where it says, "Hey, are you sure you want to downgrade? You'll lose all this if you do. If you do, by all means, click that button, you can, but we just want to make sure it's apparent that if you do downgrade, you'll lose these specific features".

That did a lot to make sure we were retaining these people that are currently paying for our product.

I've talked about our history of the products, talked about the positioning, talked about some post-launch plays that we're running currently to this day. Now I want to talk about launch week and a couple of different tactics that we ran that really worked for us.

What really worked: A few launch tactics that took us over the edge

One thing I want to stress is that this was a company-wide effort. In 2019, perhaps while it was kind of an S-year, we really focused on the usability of our product. We didn't have many product launches, but we did have this one and so I was able to rally the troops at HubSpot and make sure that everyone was activated for this, it was really a company-wide effort where we had the social team, the paid team, our co-marketing team, everyone was activated in support of this launch.

With that in mind, I want to talk about just some unique tactics and some things that particularly worked well when launching a freemium product.

PR & communications

I know this is not unique to a freemium product, but it worked really, really well. We did a lot with executive thought leadership content, and exclusive media launches, to really make this launch sing.

What you can see here is the Fast Company media piece that we did, we gave them exclusive rights to break the story, and that did a lot to expand our reach with this launch.

How did we approach our PR and communications play?

First, we took a global approach. PR was important in North America. It was really, really, really important in Japan. The Japanese market really cared that we had kind of high profile pieces, so we made sure we were aware of that and we activated our PR team at our Japanese office to make sure they knew that they had to prioritize PR and communications.

So, based on the region that we're in, PR and communications might be more important for that region and we wanted to make sure that we took that into account. Another thing we did was leverage exclusive releases, that Fast Company article is something that we've been trying to do for many, many years at HubSpot, we've been trying to work with Fast Company and media outlets like them for a while.

The way we were able to do it with this launch was to offer them exclusive rights to break the story. If you have a big product launch coming up, take into account how you might be able to leverage exclusives to get a media outlet that you might otherwise not be able to leverage.

Another thing we did was create a lot of thought leadership content for this launch and leveraged our execs to share this out. We are super fortunate at HubSpot to have an exec board that has a really big following on social and they're really active on social, and they're very outspoken on social.

Thanks to that, I was able to go to our exec team, share with them the positioning, share with them how I wanted them to talk about these tools, and they were able to go to their social networks on Twitter and LinkedIn and their own communities and share out the message for me. That expanded the reach of this campaign 10 times over, by leveraging their own communities.

We're also super fortunate at HubSpot to have an active partner community of marketing agencies that resell our software for us, and we made sure that we were co-launching this with them. We gave them:

  • Early access to these tools,
  • An early heads up,
  • The same enablement materials that we gave to our service and sales team so that they felt supported in this launch and they knew exactly how we were approaching it from a launch standpoint, which gave them
  • The confidence to also promote this launch on our behalf so that they felt included in the launch.

That did a lot to expand our results.

What did we gain?

We activated 14 HubSpot executives to support the launch on social through thought leadership content, we tracked during the week or two of launch 33 unique articles that were launched across various media outlets. And this spanned 10 different countries. So we had a broad net that we cast with this launch.

Product Hunt

Another thing we did is we launched on Product Hunt. For anyone reading who isn't familiar with it, Product Hunt is a community of builders, of product people essentially. And what you do on Product Hunt is you have someone to 'hunt' your product essentially, post your product on Product Hunt and say, "Hey, my product team has been working on this thing. I would love it if you all checked it out and let me know what you think of it". And then people on Product Hunt will then go and they will leave comments. They'll leave reviews, they'll upvote the product if they like.

So we did a Product Hunt launch on the same day as our product launch and we had Dharmesh Shah, our co-founder and CTO, hunt the product and he has a really big following on Product Hunt so we were able to leverage his following on that platform.

Tips on having a successful Product Hunt launch

So first and foremost, make sure your product is a good fit for Product Hunt. If you are asking the Product Hunt community to give your $400 a month product a try, you're probably not gonna get a lot of traction, no one's going to just go on there and kick the tires on a $400 product.

Product Hunt is really specific for the freemium space, which is why we considered it as essential for this launch. The Product Hunt community also tends to lean a little bit more B2C, so if you have a B2B product you might want to just be a little bit more careful about what you're launching on there. We thought that free email was enough that people could grok that concept and be able to understand what we were offering. But if you have something that's really in the weeds, from a B2B standpoint, you may want to be a little careful before you consider Product Hunt.

Another thing is post early, the game of Product Hunt is to get the most upvotes that you can on the day that you launch so if you are posting at noon on launch day, you've wasted six hours that you could have already been getting those upvotes during the day of launch.

Make sure that when you wake up on launch day the first thing you do is post on Product Hunt.

Another thing you want to make sure you're doing is, if you can, try to get a hunter or a person to post the product that has some kind of clout on the platform. We're very lucky that we had Dharmesh at our disposal who was able to hunt our product for us. But if you don't have someone at your own company, who has that audience on Product Hunt, don't be afraid to reach out to someone within your network or someone who might be able to advocate for your brand on your behalf to post the product for you. That's totally okay to do.

The great thing about posting with someone that has an audience on that platform is every single person that follows Dharmesh on Product Hunt got pinged the day of launch that Dharmesh is hunting a new product, so we were able to leverage that audience Dharmesh had.

One other important thing is to stay active in the comments. If people are responding to you make sure you're engaging with them. Make sure you're responding and addressing any concerns or answering any questions they might have. That's going to help you keep traction on your post on Product Hunt.

What’s the goal?

Your goal with Product Hunt is to get your product within the top 10 products launched that day by the number of upvotes. If you do that, you'll get into Product Hunt's weekly digest email, which goes out to all their users globally. This makes it a great way to get your product in front of hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to try something out and maybe pitch it to their marketing team over time, which is what we were hoping for, and what we saw by doing this launch strategy.

Our results

On launch day we got 814 upvotes on our product. We were the number four that day, on launch day, which was absolutely amazing. We were included in that weekly digest, which was our goal, and we got 30 unique reviews of the product and had an overall rating of 4.8 out of five which we were really, really pleased with.

Internal enablement

The final launch tactic that I want to share with all of you, probably the most important one, probably the one that moved the needle the most for us at HubSpot for this launch is making sure that you have a strong internal enablement campaign.

Something I realized as I did this is I have an active audience of 3000 Hub Spotters globally, who are primed and ready to help me support this launch. If I was a marketer, and I knew that I had 3000 people out there who were actively waiting to help me with my product launch, I'd be a fool not to activate them.

So, make sure you don't ignore the employees that are at your company who can help you really take your product launch to the next level.

Tips for a successful internal enablement campaign

You want to incentivize your colleagues in some way. This could be a leaderboard showing who did the most, you could offer gift cards, you can go as extreme as we did at HubSpot and offer one of your employees an all-expenses-paid trip anywhere in the world.

You want to make sure you're incentivizing your colleagues in some way to participate.

The next thing is you want to make sure you're finding a way to track engagement on your internal enablement campaign. If everyone's taking all these actions, and you're incentivizing them in some way, and then you don't know who's taking the most actions or who's really participating, it all goes for not.

At HubSpot, we use a software called, it's a great way to track engagement on an internal enablement campaign, there's a lot of different software options out there but just making sure that you have a way to track engagement will ensure the success of your campaign.

You want to also remove as much friction as possible from participation. Not everyone is going to be willing to create awesome, unique content for your launch. We had one HubSpotter who sat his five-year-old son down and recorded him creating an email within our free marketing email tool and posted on LinkedIn and it went semi-viral, it got a couple of thousand views. And that was incredible. But I can't expect every single person at HubSpot to create content like that.

Making sure that you create lazy tweets or you offer them the opportunity to simply re-share something that is going out from the company's Twitter page is a great option. Having simple ways for everyone at the company to participate will make sure that you are broadening your reach with an internal enablement campaign.

Finally, explain the importance of the campaign to the business overall. It would have been one thing if I went up to everyone and said, "Hey, my name is Alex. I've been busting my butt on this product launch for the past couple of months. I would love it if you all share this tweet". It's another thing if I go and say, "Hey, we've been working on launching free email marketing into our free CRM. And that is super important for us as a business because it's going to help us ignite the growth of our marketing hub over time, it's going to help us grow as a business. Please help us support".

When we take option B we get people invested in the success of the campaign themselves because they're invested in the success of the company and they see it as their duty to help share the campaign.

So, making sure that you're explaining the importance of the launch to the business, will go a long way in helping you launch a successful internal movement campaign, as well as incentivizing them in some way.

Our results

We were able to activate 900 Hub Spotters in support of this launch, so roughly a third of our employee base, and they took 3.5 thousand individual actions in support. An action could have been a tweet or a LinkedIn post or creating a blog of some kind, which was really awesome. We did have one lucky winner of an all-expenses-paid vacation to wherever they want in the world. We partnered with one of our customers to help present that to our lucky winner.

The main takeaways

  1. First and foremost when you're launching a freemium product, rarely is the fact that your product's free going to be the big differentiator, you don't want to lean into that too much in your positioning. Instead, you want to figure out what's unique to your business versus any other freemium product out there, that you can hang your hat on as a company.
  2. You want to keep in mind not only your new users but your current users and how you're solving for them through this launch as well. Make sure you have talking points ready to go so that when your current customers come asking why you're doing this and what value they get from paying for your product, you have a good answer for that.
  3. With a freemium product, there might be different channels, like Product Hunt, like an internal enablement campaign, that you hadn't previously considered but you're definitely going to want to consider. Think of these new unique channels you might want to explore based on the fact you’re launching a freemium product.
  4. Last, and certainly not least, don't ignore your employees as a way to apply a megaphone to your campaign and expand your reach to leverage all of their audiences as well.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article today, and good luck!

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