- Ashley McClelland
Announcing a new feature can be just as important to your company as a full-blown product launch. In this article, we’ll cover three of the top considerations for product teams at devtool companies before they make the big announcement, along with a pre-announcement checklist and tips for a distribution plan.
The Benefits of Successful Feature Announcements
Feature discovery is the process of making your customers aware of your product’s features, with initial announcements being that crucial first step. Successfully launching your next feature can mean many important wins for your product and your team, including:
- Increased Engagement: Your next feature could be the key to making customers fall in love all over again with your product, and in some cases, help position them to move up to your next pricing tier.
- Preventing Churn: Your next feature may also make your product stickier and encourage low-usage customers to log back in, instead of churning.
- Improved Competitive Positioning: In some cases, your next product feature may put you on better footing against, or significantly ahead of, your competitors. A steady cadence of launches is also a subtle but powerful proof point to your customers and sales prospects that you have a vibrant product worth investing in, one that won’t stagnate, but rather, will continue to grow and evolve.
- Opening Doors to New Business: New features, when you announce them correctly, may catch the attention of non-customers who are searching for the functionality you’re rolling out.
- Reopening Missed Opportunities: Your new feature might be what brings back lapsed customers, or previous sales prospects who didn’t have the right budget, need, or timing the last time around.
A feature launch is a point-in-time project that can be hugely valuable for your devtool company...if you make sure you nail your announcement plan first.
Three Questions to Answer Before You Announce Your Next Feature
To make sure all your feature announcements do as much for you as they possibly can, make sure you can answer these three key questions and weave them into your announcement plan.
1. Who Is the Target Audience? New Users, Existing Users, or Both?
Start with getting clear on your target audience by setting clear launch goals. Stack ranking your launch goals will help you clarify exactly which people you’ll want to reach.
Are you looking to increase usage at the feature level for existing users? Your announcement should target users through owned channels like in-app notifications and product newsletters, as well as social channels where you have an established following. Is your launch an opportunity to acquire a new customer segment you didn’t have before? Go broader with your reach, explore new channels, and keep in mind that the messaging for your announcement is an opportunity to educate potential users for the first time about your product.
2. What Is the Main Thing People Need to Know? Why Should They Care?
Whether you target existing customers or new users, you’re targeting busy developers who don’t have time to dig for the information they need. Make sure you have clear answers to at least the following three questions:
- What new capability are you introducing for new and/or existing users?
- What can they do with the new capability?
- How is it different/better than what they had before?
3. How Can People Try the New Feature?
Ending with a clear call to action is important for any launch, but essential for a developer-focused offering. Consider the following steps:
- Make Your Feature’s Status Clear: To properly temper expectations for an effective launch, ensure you know the future state of your feature at announcement time (beta, early access, or general availability) and how you plan to communicate it. For instance, users will [hopefully] have lower expectations of a beta launch than a GA launch, but may also benefit from clear documentation of current limitations or future plans.
- Make the Process Easy With a Full Breakdown: To remove as much friction as possible from the adoption process, plan a full breakdown of the exact steps developers will need to take to try out your new feature.
- Link to Documentation as Needed: If you have documentation planned for your feature (which you should), plan to link back to it for users that want more in-depth information. For features that tie back to other, in-depth functionality in your product, don’t hesitate to link back to those other features in your documentation as well.
- Rescope the Process if Needed: As you write out the process to try out the new feature and find it even slightly complicated or difficult to follow, it’s a good idea to make it easier to try before launch.
Checklist: Quick Go/No-Go Questions
1. Do You Have at Least One Launch Goal?
It’s a good idea to pick at least one goal for launch.
Sample Goals for a Customer-Focused Launch:
- X number of user accounts utilize the new feature within Y time period
- X% of new tasks run include the new feature
- New feature pushes X amount of data within Y time period
Sample Goals for a Customer-and-New-User-Focused Launch:
- X number of new freemium/trial signups within Y time period
- X% website traffic increase for new feature landing page
- X% open and/or clickthrough rates in an announcement email
2. Is the Process Too Difficult?
Yes, it’s worth repeating. If the process to try out the new feature is too complicated or hard to follow, simplify it before launch. As we mentioned, your feature announcement can bring your team tremendous value. But if it’s too hard for developers to figure out how to try it, no one will use it, you don’t realize the benefits, and all your announcement planning will have been in vain.
3. Is the Feature Ready for Your Target Audience?
Is your primary play to get new users from a new segment...but the experience isn’t quite ready for new users yet? Make sure your feature is available in a beta form, at minimum, for the target audience, and provide appropriate documentation to manage expectations.
Launch Example: Shipyard Launches GitHub Actions Integration
Let’s look over an example feature announcement from Shipyard, covering its integration for GitHub Actions. Shipyard is a platform that gives developers and product teams the power to create on-demand environments on every pull request, in part by providing direct integrations to important workflow tools such as Docker, Kubernetes, AWS, Slack, and CircleCI, among others.
As we read Shipyard’s feature announcement, we can see that it tells a before-and-after story about how, before offering the GitHub Actions integration, users had to write their own script to connect to the Shipyard API.
What’s the Target Audience?
Shipyard’s team has created a clean, easy-to-read article for both existing customers and future sales prospects alike. The article not only clearly explains the use cases and value for the new announcement - letting users run continuous integration jobs (such as integration and end-to-end) from ephemeral environments.
To enable existing users, the announcement has clear examples of how to use the new feature, with helpful links to Shipyard’s documentation pages. To attract the attention of people who aren’t using Shipyard yet, the announcement also happens to mention that the feature’s functionality is comparable to CircleCI orb, another high-value feature that Shipyard users utilize with other important tools.
What’s the Main Thing to Know About the Launch?
Clearly, the announcement is about GA for Shipyard’s GitHub Actions functionality, including the fact that it’s available, how it works, and where users can go for more details (Shipyard’s documentation page, in this case).
How to Try the New Feature?
The announcement helpfully provides a clear, brief, two-step walk-through, complete with screen captures of what the implementation should look like. It also links to documentation for configurations and outputs for those who need more information.
Once you get audience targeting, messaging, and user instructions to a good place, your main focus should be distribution. Consider the following questions to guide your distribution plan:
Where Does Your Target Audience Live?
You should [hopefully] already have a clear understanding of where your target audience congregates, such as on social media or in specific online communities.
Who Can Help You Spread the Word (And Is Easy to Reach)?
Beyond your team members, do you have highly engaged customer champions, friendly partner companies, friendly investors, and even an influencer or two in your network to help you amplify the story?