One of the biggest myths in business is ‘if you build it they will come’ - as product marketers we know that isn’t true, we have to put the work in to drive product adoption.
In this article, I’m going to talk about different audiences and the different tactics within both earned and paid channels we can use to target those audiences effectively, I’ll cover the pros and cons of each, offer a pro tip, and share my experiences along the way.
I'm Clayton Pritchard. I work at LinkedIn on the consumer side, actually working with small businesses, so a little bit of B2B and B2C. Prior to that, I was at a video conferencing company called High Five, I started there in both marketing and then moved into product marketing.
I'll try to blend the best of both worlds in this article because I know sometimes, we need to do all of it.
If you build it, they will come
I'll start with what I think is maybe one of the biggest myths that we probably hear a lot from our product and engineering people, which is this idea that all we need to do is build it and people are going to start using it, which we know if that was true, none of us would have jobs.
It's the same thing where we can't just position it, we can't just create messaging and suitable pricing, just assume we're going to launch it, and that people are going to start using it, that even our customers are going to start using it even if it's just an addition to the product, we have to go ahead and make sure we're doing things to actually drive that product adoption.
In this article, I'm going to talk about:
- Your audience for new products,
- Some of the channels both on the earned, and
- The paid side as well.
Who will be interested?
A lot of the things we'll be doing will hit a lot of different audiences but some of the ones we want to think about are:
- Is this for active customers?
- Are they going to be the ones that are interested in this?
- Is this really good to bring back dormant or churned customers that we've had?
- Is this for prospective customers?
- Is it a new feature or a reason people haven't bought before they might be coming back for?
Likely, it's a little bit of all. There are the likes of Highfive and video conferencing, there are enterprise companies who want something different from small businesses. There may be a feature that's really just for that enterprise company, that they're kind of across all of these.
I'll talk when I'm going through which audience the channels are best for, and how to target them a little bit differently. Generally, we'll want to segment our message and things with that as well. The first one is earned channels.
This is generally your most effective. Sometimes other teams like to call these 'free' but we know they're not free, in the same way that SEO also isn't free, even though we like to call it that.
I put these in what I think is a priority order, as far as both effectiveness and maybe bang for your time on these.
Best way to reach active customers
The pros of this are that it's a great way to reach your current and active customers. They're already in the product so getting them to do something or to check out something new in their product is going to be a little bit easier than trying to bring somebody over when they aren't already in the product.
Higher conversion rate
It generally has a higher conversion rate because of that, there are fewer clicks they have to do, they're already engaged.
Think about it in terms of if you're hit with an ad or an email when you're in the middle of doing work, you're less likely to stop what you're doing to go and check out this new feature, even if it is something that you're really interested in.
If we're able to get them when they're already engaging with the product, that's going to be the best route there.
Unable to reach non-active customer audience
Basically, anybody who maybe has churned or dormant, anybody who is less active as well. Naturally, prospective customers are not going to be seeing something that's in the product.
Usually requires engineering
Also, it usually requires engineering to get involved, unless you have a promo framework that you can plug into which LinkedIn is trying to get a little bit of that for us. That generally requires engineering to code in this, whether it's a tooltip, an in-product promo, a notification, any of those sort of things will likely require some sort of engineering buy-in.
If you are trying to do that, a lot of times I've found that it can be difficult to get product, engineering, and design people to think about the fact that we need to be cross-promoting these things. Because they're hesitant to 'market' to their customers or annoy the customers a little bit.
That tends to be a little bit of a struggle but you have to do that and kind of strike that balance with them on making sure that people actually know about the feature, while trying to also not annoy or take away from the product experience.
Pro tip here it's actually best if you can get this into the product strategy early. If you are lucky to be involved at the beginning stages of putting together what the product strategy or the feature is going to look like, you can actually bake this into it.
- Are there some natural ways that we can do this?
- Is there some cross-promotion that we can build in and make sure that it's part of the timeline, and that engineering and product are already thinking about it?
There are some features that they're not thinking about, where they're just like, "Oh, we built this thing that the customers are just going to find", but it's hidden, they're never going to find it. You need to be thinking about that for them.
Can reach almost the whole audience
Obviously, this is a really good one for your owned audiences that you already have your email list of people who maybe filled out a form before, if you're B2B, who are customers, churned, all of that.
You definitely want to segment these audiences, the message is going to be a little bit different for everybody and where they are. For example, C-suite versus your IT buyer, the message for them is going to be different.
Depending on how large your list is, you may want to create different emails for different audiences. Obviously, if your total audience is 10,000, and you start getting into it and you're segmenting to hundreds, that may not be the best use of your time.
But if you have an audience list of a million, then you can probably segment those down and get a lot higher open rates and click-through rates.
Relatively fast to set up
The other pro is that it's relatively fast even for a large organisation like LinkedIn, it can be up in two weeks for us. I know at my last company, Highfive, it could have been two days maybe. Definitely faster than a lot of other things.
Even if you can ‘reach’ the whole audience they won’t all open
In a perfect world, you can reach the whole audience, on the cons you can see that you don't actually reach the whole audience, generally, because of open rates and click rates. But in theory, you can at least get into their inbox and have the likelihood of that.
The pro tip here, like I said, segmenting your audiences increases your performance of the email so do that as much as you can.
You can reach audiences that you don't have and you could get relatively large if you're getting, say, a TechCrunch article or something like that. It also can get you more niche audiences too.
I think generally, I like to do a balance of both - try to get the TechCrunch article for that big press hit and then also the industry-specific what the buyer is reading, especially if you're in IT or something like that.
Legitimizes what you’re doing & drives excitement
It legitimizes what you're doing, it gives you something to put in your emails, it gives something for your sales team to be talking about. It gives you hopefully some cool quotes to add to the site, all of that good stuff.
The other thing it does is it drives excitement, actually, for the team. We recently had this at LinkedIn where we had some things that we were launching, and it gets the engineering team really excited that people/ the press are talking about something that they built. It definitely drives excitement internally and externally.
It's something that you have to think about ahead of time, although it depends on the size of the company. At LinkedIn, we don't need to give the press as much of a heads up because they have a person dedicated to writing about LinkedIn.
At Highfive, we had to give two weeks so that we could try to get that time built-in and get on their roadmap a little bit more.
It can be not as targeted as well because you're not reaching people who obviously have already expressed interest, like all these other ones.
The pro tip here is that PR is about building relationships. Before you're ready to go out and do that you should be already trying to engage them, following them on Twitter, connecting with them maybe on LinkedIn, going to events where they're speaking, and just getting that face time.
They're humans on the other side, and they get sold to and pitched to all day long. Why do they want to work with you? Because either you have a really great story, you have a great brand, or you've built that relationship.
If you can do all three, obviously that increases your likelihood.
Easy & fast
This one is easy, fast to get up and running generally, can obviously be slower in bigger organizations if you can't just go talk to the social person, there's a process, there are lots of things going up.
But generally, it's easier and faster to get up and running.
Can be very visual
It can be very visual to help tell the story and explain the feature a little bit more.
Lowest overall reach
It's generally also the lowest overall reach even for LinkedIn, we have a LinkedIn for small business page that has 250,000 followers, but still a smaller reach than all of these other ones for us, as well.
A pro tip here - use video, it's really helpful to tell your story and definitely for 'how-to' videos so that people can see how to use the feature and hopefully be more successful with it.
The one bonus that isn't on the image is that front lines piece. The sales team, customer success, and even for B2C maybe it's support teams, making sure that they have all the talking points, and that they can go and share this as well.
Making sure that you tell them why it's important for them, for instance, maybe the new feature, or the feature that you're wanting to push a little bit more, you're able to say:
"Hey, people who have our Slack integration are more likely to stick around and so you're going to get that renewal next year so if you promote the slack integration, then you end up making more money in the long run".
Something along those lines is obviously helpful. One of the things that we are actually doing at LinkedIn is we had a feature that we launched to only premium members a few months ago, and there was a lot of excitement because that's when we had the big press hit.
But it wasn't available to everybody. We had all these comments and posts from people asking for it, saying that they're excited about it. So we're having our support team go back and actually reply as LinkedIn to those comments and telling them, "Hey, this is available now for you to go and sign up for it".
You can do that, you can also go back based on your win-loss analysis from Salesforce. For example, you can say:
"Oh, we lost this because of this feature. We've now built this feature. Let's go reach out to those people and tell them we have this now - would you like to come and see a demo, check it out and maybe think about working with us again?"
Making sure that you're using those frontlines to get out and talk as well. The reach is obviously less, but it's more targeted, it's a better sale because of that one to one there.
On the paid channel side, generally, these require budget outside of headcount but they do give you a larger reach. These again, are also in what I would call priority order.
Display & social ads
Targeted and useful for awareness & direct response campains
They can be very targeted and they are useful for both awareness and direct response campaigns.
Optimizing can be time-intensive
The cons here are it can be time-consuming to optimize these campaigns. One point there is if you have already created them and you've already optimized them, then being able to just build off that for the next run is good.
Requires an ad budget
They do require, of course, an ad budget - that's a con across all of these, that they require money.
Using cookies and email targeting is really helpful to reach your owned audiences and then to build look-alikes as well. So if you have a really good set of people who have already bought from you, you can:
1) Target them through these ads and make sure that they know about it even if they aren't necessarily a daily or weekly user.
2) Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, all have look-alike abilities that you can actually not target that audience but target people who look just like them to tell them about your features as well.
Reach your audience when they’re actively searching
Obviously, the big reason why we use SEM is getting people right when they are looking for your service, they have a need right then and you can reach them right then.
Not useful for new product categories
If nobody knows that a thing like you exists, they're not going to be looking for it and so you're not going to have really any traffic there.
On that point, the cost isn't going to be very high either, because nobody else is likely bidding on those keywords. You just won't get the volume but it probably still makes sense for you to try it out if you do have a small budget.
Expensive for competitive industries
The other piece is it can be expensive for competitive industries, even video conferencing actually can be pretty expensive, like 20 plus dollars per click. But generally expensive industries are expensive because of the value you get, if you land a customer you get a lot of revenue from that.
It kind of goes hand in hand but if you don't have a large ad budget to test things out that's just something to know - depending on your industry, you may need a larger test budget.
One of the things here that I think is specific for product marketing is if you're doing a new launch, you likely have new support pages, new product pages that don't rank well yet. So using SEM to help get that information up to the top could be helpful.
For instance, at LinkedIn, we just launched LinkedIn open for business, if you search that, you might find some press articles about it, you won't find our support pages or blog posts, and stuff from us. That's something that we haven't done but I've thought about doing that to help make sure that people are finding the right information.
That's something that you can do especially if you are a company where you don't have the great SEO, it's likely not going to be something that shows up very quickly for you.
Targeted & captive audience
Industry events can be really helpful, they give you generally a targeted audience, and a captive audience.
Time & money intensive
They can generally be time and money intensive, especially if you're going for a more traditional conference where you've got to buy the big booth and everything. That was my job on top of product marketing at Highfive and it was like 'don't talk to me for the month beforehand and we're going to spend a lot of money on this but hopefully we'll get the return on the other side'.
Can’t control location or date
Obviously. That goes into the pro tip…
Don't schedule product launches around events if you can help it. Everybody wants to do that but we know that engineering is going to miss the deadline and so that's going to be really difficult - it just makes your life harder. Try not to do it as much as you can.
The other thing is, everybody else is also doing the same thing, I don't really know why we all do it. Because especially if you're not the big name, you're going to get lost in the press. If you can do it say a month to two weeks beforehand, that's probably actually the best time to do it.
Or if it's going to come after that's fine, schedule your meetings with press and the analysts, talk to them, show them mocks, but maybe just give them a sneak peek. That way if it doesn't work, right, or they're only seeing pictures and not the actual thing it's okay and then you can give them a real demo later or what have you when it's actually working.
I definitely had times where we had new things that we wanted to show that we were working but we had an engineer basically running the demo because it wasn't actually working and they had to kind of pull strings in the back end.
Luckily, it looked fine, but it wasn't really there yet and I actually hate when in marketing we are deciding the product and engineering timelines instead of reacting to that.
One thing that worked really well for us on one of our launches, after we got burned choosing timelines, we said:
“We're just going to wait until the product's ready and then that's when we'll go out to press, we'll give ourselves two weeks, and then we'll launch it when we know everything is right and we don't have to worry about backtracking on press or our customers or anything and getting burned”.
If you can do that, definitely do that, instead of having it be the other way around.
The last one is out of home, obviously, it has the widest possible reach here, it can generate an addition to the impressions that you're going to get just from the advertising.
It can generate additional buzz & excitement
It can generate additional buzz, especially if you do go large enough and you've got an interesting creative and everything, it can end up being on social and that sort of thing too.
Then it increases excitement for your customers and also for your own employees. That's one reason to do it - it can be helpful for recruiting and team morale and all that sort of stuff.
Generally, if that's why you're doing it, you should be getting HR and other people excited and maybe bought in and giving some of their budgets to it. But that's just an additional piece there.
Long lead times for large campaigns
Cons is that it can have long lead times, especially for larger campaigns. There are actually some companies that are allowing you to buy sort of last-minute remnant inventory, no more than a month or two weeks ahead of time.
Those can be a little bit cheaper, and they do move faster because they're used to that.
The other thing is that it can be high cost, for example, SaaS ones in the San Francisco area are generally a minimum of 15 grand a month for one Billboard. That's a pretty high budget, especially if you have a small niche audience and you're trying to reach a broad audience it's probably not the best use of your 15 grand.
To see actual impact you need to run multiple campaigns for multiple months. We did one at Highfive, two billboards for a month, we didn't see really anything there. I definitely would not suggest it unless you have the ability to really invest in something like that.