Editor's note: This article was originally published in February 2016. It has been updated in November 2019 with new examples and insights.
Product release posts can be snooze-worthy. Even to your most engaged customers, they can often feel like reading a press release or an instruction manual, rather than a source of inspiration.
Effectively communicating product updates and new features is an essential part of growing your software business. When your customers adopt new features, they become better at their jobs, your product gets stickier, and everything from acquisition to retention rates to MRR can get a boost.
Blog posts should be an important part of your product release campaign. They should work in conjunction with email and in-product announcements to make existing customers aware of the update, while also keeping prospective customers informed about your product’s evolution.
Broadly speaking, there are 3 types of new feature blog posts. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and which one is best depends on the feature, release cadence, and target customer.
1. The standalone new feature announcement blog post
This is one of the most popular types of feature release posts, and is best suited for big releases (versus product updates) and when you have a story to tell. These blog posts are published on an irregular, ad hoc basis to announce and introduce features to customers and prospects as they go live.
A great example of a standalone new feature blog post comes from the folks at Asana. Take a look at how they announced and educated users about their Automation feature:
As demonstrated by the Asana post above, new feature announcements often include the following elements in (roughly) this order:
The dilemma that the team sought to solve for its prospects or customers
The announcement of the new feature
What the feature looks like and what it does
How customers can use it in their workflows
A strong call-to-action
Again, this style of blog post is useful when you have a story to tell. The longer format and focus on a single feature lets you lay out the problem and how the new feature provides a solution to a particular problem.
In the example above, Asana has also included testimonials from (what we presume are) beta customers, which is a nice touch. Never underestimate the power of social proof—third-party testimonials are one of the most succinct and effective means of conveying the real-world value of your product. If you have a group of beta users who can provide testimonials, use them!
2. Product release notes
Release notes (also called “feature rollups” or “feature roundups”) are used by many mature SaaS businesses as a way to deliver detailed information about product updates to customers. These posts are typically in list format and are focused on the features themselves, rather than the problem they solve.
The advantage of posting release notes is that it allows you to communicate a vast amount of updates in a succinct manner. Your customers can digest the updates and chat with your customer success team or click through to further documentation as necessary. Feature rollups make the most sense for companies who are on a regular product release schedule.
Companies that are not on a regular release cadence but on a monthly rollup schedule, can run into snags around the timing of these communications. It can be awkward to tell customers about a new feature weeks after it has been released. One way around this dilemma is to double down on in-app messaging to communicate new features as they go live.
Another drawback to feature roundups is that they can sometimes read like raw release notes from your product team. Although this may be useful to your more technical customers, it can alienate prospects when published on the company blog. Most customers and prospects don’t care that your “API now exposes 3X the amount of data,” for example. But they do care that they can “save time and make more money with improved data analysis.” Engineering speak needs to be translated before it goes on your blog.
One company that does monthly release notes well is Help Scout. Here’s a recent example from their blog (they also send out monthly emails):
Help Scout’s roundups are written in accessible language without too much jargon, and these notes do a good job of explaining the value that each update provides. Part of what makes Help Scout’s feature roundups so effective is that the company treats their monthly posts like first-tier content—the well-formatted, on-brand release notes are bursting with energy and excitement about the updates.
If you can get your customers as excited about reading your release notes as your product team is about writing them, you’ll be doing a great job.
3. The deep dive
Sometimes, a story is less about the major plot points (the what) than it is about the journey from A to Z (the how and why).
There is a story behind every product launch, new feature release, and bug fix. While customers don’t need full background knowledge of each and every decision, sometimes it’s worth giving people insight into the process.
Why certain product choices were made, how the design team arrived at their decisions, all the iterations between version 1 and version 100—sometimes the story behind an update is more interesting than the “what” alone.
Take this article from Dropbox, in which their design team shares the work they put into redesigning the file viewer, as an example:
This blog article does a great job at making the “invisible” work that goes into planning, designing, and iterating on product features. Knowing how much thought and time went into the file viewer redesign helps Dropbox customers better appreciate a feature update that, truth be told, they probably wouldn’t pay much attention to otherwise.
Of course, every product release is ultimately a celebration of your team’s hard work. But sometimes, that hard work deserves to stand in the spotlight.
And highlighting the process isn’t just a great way to pay homage to your product team—the ability to peer behind the curtain now and then helps your customers understand how your company is using the feedback they give to improve their user experience in the long-term.
Feature adoption is a must-have ingredient for strong retention. Users only stick around if your product delivers value. A product that isn’t being used, is only being used once in a while, or is only being used to half its potential can’t deliver the kind of meaningful value that earns customer loyalty.
New feature releases are an essential part of getting customers to try, adopt, and rely on the things you ship. How you market a new feature depends heavily on your customers and on the feature itself.
Be honest about which new feature blog post format and cadence is right for each release—and then use whichever format you choose to strike the right balance between telling a compelling story, clarifying the problem you’ve solved, and showcasing the value that customers will receive from each new release.