👋 Hi, I’m Kyle from OpenView and welcome to my newsletter, Growth Unhinged. Every other week I take a closer look at what drives a SaaS company’s growth. Expect deep dive takes on SaaS pricing, product-led growth, public company benchmarks, and much more.
Attention marketers: product-led growth (PLG) isn’t taking your job. Unless you can’t adapt to product-led marketing, that is.
Before you can create a PLG flywheel, you have to get users for the product. Those users act as the foundation for all of your product growth efforts and it’s harder than ever to attract them in a noisy world.
But product-led marketing doesn’t look like traditional B2B marketing. You aren’t doing account-based marketing aimed at a highly curated pool of executive buyers in your ICP.
Product-led marketing is about reaching a broad swath of potential end users who experience a pain that your product helps to solve. Look for low-cost, highly scalable launches that seamlessly connect with your product and create value for the user. This helps you build trust and credibility to nudge users to give your product a try.
Look at HubSpot, the CRM platform with a $22 billion market cap, for inspiration. HubSpot’s top three ways of attracting new users are word of mouth (33%), Google (26%) and HubSpot’s blog (13%), according to the company’s Q3 2021 Investor Presentation.
Word of mouth is fantastic, but it takes both time and traction before it really kicks in. In the early days your best bet is to lean on organic search (SEO) paired with quality content. Easy to say, hard to do.
To help out I’ve compiled my favorite product-led marketing approaches with examples from well-known companies like Hotjar, Zapier, Miro, Ahrefs, SafetyCulture and Grammarly. Repurpose one or more of these approaches to kickstart your PLG flywheel.
Special thanks to Nigel Stevens, CEO & Growth Lead at Organic Growth Marketing, for providing advice and examples.
1 - Template gallery
Many horizonal PLG products can be used in a myriad of ways to accomplish different things depending on the user’s goals.
Zapier, for example, built a software tool that helps users connect apps and automate workflows. But that value proposition doesn’t mean all that much if I’m a marketer who only wants to turn a Typeform contact into a HubSpot record or if I’m a sales rep who only wants to trigger a Slack message if an invitee cancels a meeting via Calendly.
If I’m that marketer or that sales rep, I don’t know I need an app connection or workflow automation tool. I just know that I have a problem that should be solved with technology.
That’s where templates come into play. Templates help you attract a wide variety of potential users by showing how you help them achieve their specific goal in their own language. There are two flavors of templates:
Programmatic templates: For example, “How to do X+Y” pages. Not much content is needed - just enough to convey value and the context of how you help a user achieve their goal.
Bespoke templates: You actually create your own templates along with content around them.
Zapier has mastered the art of the programmatic template play. They’ve built templates for every app they support, every app-to-app integration, and every major workflow for connecting the apps together.
These templates have of course been optimized for easy discovery on Google. They draw in users across thousands of search terms and often out-rank the SaaS vendors themselves. Below is a screenshot of the search results for “calendly cancellation to slack” as an example.
Zapier takes their templates to the next level by making an extremely persuasive case to start using the product from the landing page. Whether it’s the “Try it” button next to each workflow or copy explaining that it will only take 3 minutes to get the apps connected, signing up for the product feels like a no-brainer.
If you test out only one product-led marketing campaign, this would be the one to try. Nearly every major horizontal PLG company has some form of template gallery. Many even put their template gallery inside the product onboarding itself. Other examples I love include:
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2 - Product-related hubs
Instead of static white papers or lengthy guides, SaaS companies are creating curated hubs around key product pillars. These product hubs get infused with product images, broad descriptive content aimed at search intent, and then much more granular and specific content to drive engagement.
Hotjar, the website analytics company, does this to great effect with product hubs around features like heatmaps and session recordings. In fact, the company has the #1 result on organic search for “heatmaps”, “heatmap tool”, and “heatmaps guide”.
Here’s how Hotjar does it:
They start by addressing the high-level intent of the visitor (“what is a heatmap?”)
They challenge the visitor’s question and raise the stakes (“here’s why you’re wrong and need to rethink it”)
They address the broad range of related questions that folks have (examples of heatmaps, how to analyze it, how to create it, who invented it, how to use it on a WordPress site)
They’ve paid close attention to breaking a detailed and complex topic into bite-sized, digestible chunks that users can navigate in their own way. Hotjar regularly updates the guide with more information; it was last updated 5 days ago.
Throughout the process they’re essentially funneling users through their product: what it does, why it’s important, and how to use it. It would be a no-brainer to give it a try.
3 - Benchmark and trend data
What does your product have that nobody else has? Real-time data.
Everyone wants to keep a pulse on what’s happening in their industry including trends and how they stack up to their peers. You might be sitting on a treasure trove of such information without even realizing it.
Another great organic marketing play is to create (then regularly update) a set of dashboards and insights connected to your product data. While this data may not rank highly in SEO at first, it’s a great way to generate backlinks from other websites and it’s something that gets frequently shared. Even better, it provides a well-spring of insights that can be repurposed for PR, blog posts, newsletters, etc.
ShipBob, the tech-enabled eCommerce fulfillment company, makes for a great example with their daily eCommerce trends analysis. The data has been aggregated and anonymized, then cataloged based on industry vertical.
You can test out the appetite for your product data through benchmark or state of the industry reports. Examples worth noting include:
Okta’s Businesses @ Work Report (I love their charts on most popular apps!)
4 - Competitive comparisons
In competitive product categories, users frequently search for terms like “best X platforms” or “best Y tools” or “best free Z products.”
Instead of relying on third parties and affiliates to chime in, why not control the narrative yourself? That way you:
Get the traffic on your website
Define the product category on your own terms
Position yourself as the leader in that category
This strategy works especially well if your product competes in several different established categories, giving you multiple acquisition paths to reach users.
BigCommerce, the eCommerce platform and Shopify competitor, has nailed this campaign approach.
The company lists out 15 eCommerce platform options, including their own platform as well as those of competitors, and walks through the benefits of each from a neutral perspective. Not surprisingly, BigCommerce puts themselves first on the list. The 800 pound gorilla in the eCommerce space, Shopify, is sandwiched in the middle between Shift4Shop and Kibo.
When a visitor gets to the Shopify description, they’re nudged to “Learn more” where they land on a page comparing BigCommerce vs. Shopify Plus. This page includes key reasons to choose BigCommerce and examples of BigCommerce customers who successfully migrated off Shopify. This makes for a strong conversion opportunity with a visitor who’s actively comparing products.
5 - Product education
Your prospective users come to your website looking to learn how to solve a problem. Why not teach them how to solve that problem all while teaching them how to use your product?
Product education campaigns convert extremely well because they attract a high-intent audience and make a persuasive case for using your product.
Ahrefs, the all-in-one SEO toolset, naturally makes for a perfect example.
Ahrefs recognizes that many folks are new to keyword research and want to learn how to leverage it to grow their online presence. The guide walks them through how to do it step-by-step in the context of how Ahrefs does keyword research using the Ahrefs product.
The guide includes screenshots of the Ahrefs product that are eye-candy to the uninitiated including top pages reports, competing domain reports, the content gap tool, and the keyword explorer tool. By the time I finished reading, I not only knew exactly how to do quick keyword research, but was eager to try Ahrefs myself.
For technical PLG products you might be sitting on a goldmine of product education material without even realizing it: your docs.
Docs are the ultimate way of helping users become successful with your product. The best ones - like Twilio’s - are written in a neutral way (read: not sales-y), are easy to navigate, and reinforce the value proposition of your product.
Too often these are treated as the exclusive purview of the Engineering org. Put these rich docs to work to help prospective users discover your product.
6 - Free ungated tools
In PLG, we’re always trying to remove friction from getting users to sign up for our product. The ability to enter an email to get started may be plastered all over your homepage and every subsequent page on your website.
Here’s a counter-trend you might consider: let people start using your product without creating an account, then ask them to create an account in order to save their progress.
Carrd, the one-page website builder, is a fascinating case study.
When you land on Carrd’s website, they nudge you to “Choose a Starting Point” (i.e. a website template). You start exploring from a library of options and then select “Use” in order to start customizing the template for your own use case.
It’s so easy to do, that you can finish building your own site before you’ve ever actually signed up for a Carrd account. At that point you’ve already invested your sweat equity into Carrd; why not just go live?
SafetyCulture, the easy inspection software, takes a similar approach with their library of safety inspection checklists.
Users discover SafetyCulture in the context of one of their 90,000+ checklists and forms (example: Light Vehicle Safety Inspection). Then they can simply fill out that form to complete the inspection checklist without needing to add an email address.
Naturally a user won’t want to stop once they’ve filled out the checklist. They’ll want to save that checklist, perhaps customize a few questions, share it with colleagues, and so on. That’s what nudges them to sign up for SafetyCulture.
A few other examples for inspiration include:
Developersforhire.com’s hiring needs assessment
Veed.io’s easy video editing tool (“Upload Your Video”)
Bonus - Product-led SEM
Let’s end on a bonus example that isn’t strictly organic search: product-led SEM. This approach helps you amplify your organic reach by bidding on product-related terms that have a large audience, but aren’t traditional keyword battlegrounds.
Grammarly, the online writing assistant, has an extremely clever strategy as pointed out by Dan Wall on LinkedIn.
The company writes tutorials around common grammar questions that folks run into during their writing. For example:
No-one, noone, or no one?
Who or whom?
Grammarly already ranks highly in organic search for these terms. But since there’s virtually no competition, Grammarly amplifies their organic reach through paid search as well.
Users can easily get their specific questions answered via Grammarly’s landing pages. Then they’re welcome to try Grammarly’s free grammar check tool for their own writing (no sign-up required). As users get hooked, they’re nudged to download Grammarly to bring the product into their personal workspace including email, messaging, documents, and social media.
What to do next
Hopefully one or more of these product-led marketing approaches inspired you. I recommend brainstorming a list of several potential ideas and then running some quick diligence to vet which one(s) has the most promise. Ask yourself:
Will this campaign reach users of my product and not just executive buyers?
How common are the user pain point(s) that we would solve? What’s the search volume around related terms?
If you don’t see much search volume data, do you have a good reason to believe that there are people looking for this - or that the demand will come with time?
Where is there white space that my competition hasn’t addressed? How can we stand out from the crowd?
How strong is the connection between the campaign idea and what our product does so that users will naturally want to sign up for the product?
From there, try spinning up a proof-of-concept. Monitor the response then keep expanding on what works. Don’t be discouraged if results take some time; you’re developing an audience that will grow over time and each incremental sign up won’t cost anything. That’s the magic of product-led marketing.
BigCommerce also played it neutral in that list by listing the competitors in alphabetical order. So, Shopify was way down and BigCommerce was anyway the first... Unless, they chose to not list any competitors starting with A.
Very interesting. I was surprised by the HubSpot 'word of mouth' number. I wonder how much of this is nurtured through interactions on social media, especially on LinkedIn, Reddit and depending on the offer even things like TikTok. I wonder if we need a new concept to support content marketing, conversation marketing. I manage the 188,000 member design thinking group on LinkedIn. We get a lot of link spam and I reject about 95% of posts. But I do allow in posts that are meant to trigger conversations and I am more lenient with people who engage in conversations.