The following is adapted from the best-selling book, ‘Marketing for Product-Led Growth’ by Steve LaChance
Think about your last visit to any big-box grocery store. How does a new brand of mozzarella sticks get you to break out of your routine to try something new? The perfect logo, perfect box size, color scheme, or on-box messaging doesn’t work nearly as well as just letting you try one.
Hey, look! There’s somebody at the end of the aisle with free samples. That experience is 95 percent fantastic. They’ve taken all the friction out of the experience by preparing it for you and offering it for free. You walk into the store, smell the food from a distance, see the product to get a sense of its value and use this information to determine if it can solve your hunger pain point.
Nobody trusts sales. Few trust marketing. Everyone trusts their own experience with a product.
But free isn’t free, even in this instance. You have to interact with the person giving away the free sample. Maybe it’s a head nod, a thank-you, or ignoring them completely. Maybe you have to wait in a line. Or wait for the next batch to be done. This part creates social pressure on you to hear the pitch before you take a bite.
The illusion of the user operating on their own is broken. Nothing is free, even when it’s free. And folks tacitly know that. There’s an exchange and an opportunity cost.
Therefore, a PLG marketer in the know must strive to reduce even the slightest friction as much as possible while amplifying value.
Deliver marketing value
Value means utility. And utility means providing the user with something measurable that actually solves their problem and improves their life. Although value itself is not a feeling for the user, the marketer needs to know what hurdle—emotional or professional—the user is trying to overcome. Helping the user do that means wrapping the product’s value in empathetic messaging.
The major change you’ll be advocating for is to ungate content. Ungate introductory solutions in order to give your product a chance to demonstrate value at a higher level later on. It doesn’t cost you much either. Instead of collecting burner emails, give away the value to create credibility for your product.
Software users are already comfortable with finding, downloading, installing, setting up, and using software products. Thanks to the App Store, it’s as seamless to them as it is for us to make decisions based on the smell and sight of free samples of food.
Respect that they’re problem-aware and can articulate their needs. They merely need to use the tool—the tool you have—to solve the problem. That means the marketing content needs to provide clarity that their use of the product will only solve their pain point and will do so with no strings attached.
There are several strategies on how to go about creating successful before-you-try content, and you’re well equipped to do it using the following mechanisms.
Create a knowledge base
Creating content for knowledge-base libraries is something you’re familiar with. These might be videos or articles that are self-service, encouraging the user to continue learning about the product in a way that fosters choice. And what channel this knowledge base appears on will depend on your product and which channels your users frequent—information you should have or will soon get.
With PLG, your goal will be to create content closely related to the many roles and jobs of the various users that your product serves.
Start with keyphrases and search traffic analysis. Meet with internal subject matter experts. Then talk to customer success about what problems the users have at different stages of their life cycle and address those items head-on in your knowledge-base content. Talk about how the user experiences specific problems with competitors’ solutions and explain how your product offers a solution.
Whereas a knowledge base might house a collection of how-tos, an individual piece of how-to content will tackle discrete tasks that each specific user for your product is trying to get done. The writing or design of the how-to not only needs to serve a specific and repeated discrete task that a user persona might encounter, but it also needs to show up on the first page of results in a Google search.
When the user Googles their question, your writing team has designed the content to hit keywords and questions that the user will input into their search query. Then, when they click on your how-to, make sure your messaging indicates that your product is the already-built tool that can solve their problem for them.
It’s also possible to shortcut the months-long process to rank in organic searches with an ad purchase. If the information on the other side of the ad solves a problem for them, users don’t care if the link they click on paid for its position.
Providing free resources
Crucial to the success of any PLG product and company is building credibility through empathy. When the user begins researching, they’re in a stage of the PLG process where they haven’t even heard of or used your product yet. Because it’s so early, you have no credibility at this point.
Therefore, when the user finds you, providing the user with free resources is an important way to build credibility. If you don’t address the fact that other solutions exist for the problem your product solves, you’ll cease to be authentic about the user’s need to solve their problem.
Even if your product’s competitive advantage is cost or experience-based (as opposed to performance-based), listing free resources allows you the opportunity to frame the conversation around or collect data about which outcomes and value metrics are most important to your users. That information will help you and your company address where your product falls short.
If your product cannot speak to the entire solution-scape that users need, your marketing and product won’t demonstrate empathy or cultivate credibility.
There are free peer communities that your company can join right now—Slack channels, subreddits, LinkedIn groups, industry advisory boards, hashtags on TikTok, and so on. Depending on your product, your users will actively participate in one of these channels and rely on it for relevant information about how to solve their problems.
When you establish a presence within one of these peer communities, it gives you a place to answer questions from users in real-time. Having active channels of dialogue for your various user personas helps you build credibility, presence, and empathy for users who can see on these channels that you’re offering information related to their pain points.
The operative concept here is interaction. What you don’t want to do is post podcasts or videos or some type of asynchronous recording without an attached community to host related discussions. You want to interact with the actual members of the community.
What to avoid
Why choose the content examples listed above? It touches on two important words: empathy and credibility.
From the user’s perspective, when you have solutions ready to go for problems they just started researching, it feels like you’ve read their mind. And by way of empathy, you have. And after you’ve delivered value, credibility is confirmed.
Each of the aforementioned useful marketing techniques orients around understanding the user on their terms, letting them explore their own education, implementing their findings, and demonstrating to them that the product they chose was the right one.
The strategies you should implement are not obtrusive or obvious. The user seeks them out on their own and, in that process, discovers that there’s a product and company out there already built for them and ready to alleviate their pain points. They also help you frame and direct the user’s opinion of you and your product.