Rethinking Product Launches at Buffer
Alfred Lua / Written on 19 August 2020
Since my last note, I have been mostly working on a new onboarding email campaign. I'm updating the content to include new features, rewriting subject lines to (hopefully) increase open rates, and adding a few set of emails for inactive users to (again hopefully) re-engage them. When I'm done with that, I'll share how I plan new onboarding email campaigns and set them up in Customer.io. In the meantime, if you are curious about how I think about email onboarding, I recently shared my thoughts in a Weekly Note.
Today, I want to share something that has been on my mind for a while.
Systematic product launches
After doing numerous product launches in the past few years, we have gradually developed a system for launching new products and features. We have a template for our product launches, which includes how to plan product launches, what channels to use, and so on. This is good because it makes us efficient. We don't have to rethink everything for each product launch and avoid missing something crucial. This also makes product launches more consistent, especially since we now have two product marketers organizing product launches.
One of my favorite product launch templates is Intercom's by Jasmine Jaume. It is very detailed and is suitable for big product marketing teams.
But I'm thinking having such a system has its downsides, too. It is easy to simply follow the template instead of coming up with new ideas or questioning the way things are done. It sometimes feels like that at Buffer. A new feature is developed, I grab the product launch template and launch the new feature, repeat. (To be clear, this doesn't mean having a product launch template is bad or useless. But we need to keep improving the template.)
After executing several product launches, from tiny improvements to an entire product, I'm at the stage of questioning our product launch system and wanting to try new ideas. Our product launches have always focused on promoting the feature. "We have a new feature! Come check it out." "Here's how to do X (with this new feature)." We would pick a few relevant marketing channels, usually social media, email, and blog, to promote this message in various ways, depending on the audience. But what if we try something else?
Nike's You Can't Stop Us campaign
I like to look outside my industry (tech) for inspiration. Companies in other industries tend to do things differently from those in mine, which can help us stand out if we execute it successfully.
The first thing that inspired me to think differently is Nike's recent campaign, You Can't Stop Us. You might have seen the commercial, which I also shared in Developing Marketing Acumen. I think it's worth another watch. This Nike campaign is a three-part video series: Play for the World, Never Too Far Down, and You Can't Stop Us. It isn't a product launch; it's a branding campaign. But it taught me how brands think about their branding and marketing campaigns. While Nike's core slogan is Just Do It, it doesn't reuse the exact same words in every campaign. What it reuses is the idea behind Just Do It—to inspire every human through sports. Every new campaign reinforces this idea.
This made me wonder if I can do something similar at Buffer. Our product launches don't feel as closely aligned with our brand story (maybe also because we don't have a strong, consistent brand story). Can I position my product launch to be not just about the new feature but also about the Buffer brand? The feature could be a part of that brand story or the thing we use to back our brand story. For example, people have been viewing Buffer as only a scheduling tool, even though we have built robust analytics and reporting features. Instead of launching and promoting yet another analytics feature, maybe I should promote Buffer as a complete social media management tool for small businesses and the new analytics feature is just a part of the story.
Drift's new category campaign
Another marketing campaign that nudged me to think differently is Drift's recent new category campaign. They did a massive campaign to reposition Drift from being a conversational marketing tool to being a revenue acceleration platform.
As part of the campaign, the Drift team launched a new product, Drift Prospector. I personally think it's a great move because they aren't saying empty marketing words to get attention. They actually have a new product that allows customers to do more than just conversational marketing. Tricia Gellman, CMO of Drift, explained this strategy:
Drift has multiple tier-one (major) product launches throughout the year. Our tier-one product launch for August 2020 was Drift Prospector. Because Drift Prospector opens up more opportunities for sales, it was a compelling event to introduce Revenue Acceleration as a way to unify marketing and sales’ GTM strategy
As I mentioned in Drift and Creating New Categories:
New products would always get more attention, so it's smart to leverage that as a part of the campaign.
The Drift team introduced a new company strategy and a relevant new product within the same campaign. Instead of making it confusing, I think the two reinforced each other and made the campaign better.
One fewer thing
I have a few product launches planned for September and November. The preparation for the September campaign is almost done, and I don't want to make drastic changes now. But for the November campaign, I have sufficient time to plan something different. To let the cat out of the bag, we'll be introducing LinkedIn analytics in November. But I don't want to just launch the LinkedIn analytics feature. I want to build a bigger campaign around the Buffer brand and use the new feature to get more attention and back the brand story.
A campaign idea I have been thinking about is "One Fewer Thing". Small businesses always have too many things to do. The marketer also helps with customer support and packing products. And Buffer is about simplifying social media workflows. Instead of jumping from social network to social network, you can do your social media management in a single tool. So with the campaign, I want to promote the idea of having one fewer thing to do. As a part of the campaign, we will launch the new LinkedIn analytics in Buffer, which will save them from going to LinkedIn to check their stats. They can check the stats for all their social media channels in one place.
One fewer thing to do.
This not only introduces the new feature but also reinforces the core Buffer story—we are a complete social media management tool that helps small businesses streamline their marketing.
Tactic-wise, it wouldn't be too different from our usual product launches. I'll still use the same channels, such as social media, email, and blog, to promote but I'll be promoting a bigger message than "here's a new feature!" I'm also thinking about partnering with others to spread the message beyond our usual audience. An obvious partner is LinkedIn, and it'll be amazing to tap into their reach! There are also a few social media managers Facebook Groups that I'm thinking of partnering or sponsoring.
This campaign is scheduled for sometime in November, so keep an eye out for it!
What are some of the best marketing campaigns you have seen? I'd love to chat with you about them. :)