Don't sweat details in product announcements

Many teams focus too much on precision when talking about their product updates. And the fact is, the facts don’t matter as much as you think. Here's where you should spend your time instead.

Jun 12, 2024

Jun 12, 2024

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0 min read

A good product announcement is understood. It doesn’t need to be comprehensive, precise, or detailed. Here’s why.

Takeaways

  1. A good update is understood. Clarity prevents most problems.

  2. Avoid details that will change quickly. Your product will continue changing, so start with high level descriptions instead of precision and details. Most details are a better fit for evergreen material like support documentation, not launch communications.

    1. Design descriptions for a 4-6 week shelf life to start. Assume most people will learn about the update weeks after you go live. Preview follow up improvements if it makes the story more complete.

  3. When in doubt, share context not details. Get people invested in the goal, and the high level explanation. Then redirect them to documentation for setup or “how to use” details.

What do we mean by product updates? These are the communications that happen around a feature launch. For example, press releases, product announcements, launch videos, or other feature demos. The audience is a combination of existing and potential customers. The goal is to let folks know something changed in the product, and what it means for them – new features, improvements, etc.

How customers (actually) see product updates

When writing release notes and supporting materials for a launch, most will focus on the audience using the product today. But even this is a little deceptive. The majority of your audience will have a wider perspective than you do at the time of publishing the release notes or recording a webinar. Why? They read it in the future, when your product is further along. Your audience has a better version of the product than you do.

If we visualize this on a timeline, it would look like something like this:

Customer perspective on product announcements

Feature descriptions are a moving target

Unlike other products, software can change at any moment. If you bought a red car, you wouldn’t expect to wake up and find it is now bright blue and (for some reason) also a minivan. A product like a car is stable, so you don’t have to worry about falling behind.

In B2B SaaS, things change weekly. This means each update is a snapshot describing the product at a specific point in time, not an evergreen description. And it will continue to evolve more every month. Constant improvement is a strength of SaaS, but also why so many customers have outdated views of your product’s capabilities.

Write for the product you’re building, not just the product you have

As product marketers, it’s easy to share updates as though customers will read it within a week or two of the content launch. What would you do differently if you knew 80% of the audience would see it more than 30 days from now? Three months?

In the future, the product may have changed since sharing the original update. People inside your company have the curse of knowledge. To a customer starting after a launch, it doesn’t matter what came before. Your version 4.0 feels like their version 1.0 – it is their first impression. This is also true for existing customers who adopt features post-launch.

From this view, it’s not important that your feature description from two months ago was 100% accurate for a brief time. It’s more important to anchor with context and goals. Avoid fragile details, and stay at a high level to increase the shelf life of your story.

Customers form first impressions later than launchd day

Wider product perspective keeps updates relevant longer

One way to handle this is to design messaging with a timeframe in mind. For example, what is likely to change over the next three months? For example, if you launch a reporting tool with a max 30 day window, but know you will eventually expand it to 90 days. Framing like “Over the coming months, we expect to offer longer timeframes for premium tiers…” gives customers context, while keeping flexibility for delivery by your team.

Product updates act like long tail content – the best results play out over a long period of time instead of all at once, up front. Because of this, folks may not discover them in the exact order you want them to. Your most loyal and active customers may see an update within 24 hours, but what about those that discover it weeks or months later? The rolling timeframe for updates rewards people who can stay at the right altitude for details, and not get caught up chasing a “completely accurate picture of the world right now, on launch day.”

Context is better than details

Share context for the update, including goals and a sense of product direction (think overall vision, not detailed roadmap). This last one is important for helping customers see how a continued relationship with your product might evolve.

Positioning a product update within a larger narrative is another way to make messaging more flexible.

Set healthy expectations

Stripping out details makes the core message easier to find. There is a difference between painting a clear picture that’s a little incomplete, and misleading with the wrong information. For example, is it really important to clarify nuanced filtering constraints in your latest analytics feature announcement? You can always link to documentation or other evergreen content designed to stay relevant.

Precise descriptions of features have shorter lifespans. Each detail added is another way for your audience to notice changes, which can lead to confusion and extra work for your team to manage.

Further Reading

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