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Product Marketing is the New Content Marketing [PODCAST]

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Are you serving up yummy, educational content or are you shoving your product down prospects’ throats? Image source.

Your customers don’t care that you think your product is better than the competition.

But they do care about consuming delightful, in-depth content that will make them better at their jobs… which raises the question: is it possible to educate your audience with highly useful content without tiptoeing around what you actually sell?

Gregory Ciotti, Content Strategist at customer support software Help Scout, thinks so.

In this episode of the Call to Action podcast, our Content Strategist Dan Levy speaks with Gregory about how product marketing is the new content marketing.

You will learn:

  • What the 9x effect is and why it’s stopping your audience from converting.
  • How to integrate your product into content without alienating your audience.
  • How excellent customer success can support your marketing initiatives.

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Read the transcript

Gregory: I’m Gregory Ciotti, the Content Strategist at Help Scout.

Dan: You start your post with a great line: “Marketing is not something that you do to people, it’s something that you do for people.” Can you explain what the difference is?

Gregory: Sure. So the simple truth is that it doesn’t really make sense to attract customers who aren’t a fit for your product. It doesn’t really take a marketing saint to kind of want to do that for your own purposes, to do the right thing. But it also doesn’t make business sense to attract people who are just not a right fit. They’re going to add burn to your support team and then they’re going to churn anyway. So I’m not sure in what universe it really makes sense to trick people. It’s really all about truth telling. So doing marketing for people is providing them with the information that they need to make a decision. A big part of marketing is communication. I often think of communication as a mix of vision and conversation. So seeing things – seeing the truth, rather, or seeing real outcomes they might not understand yet, and then communicating those clearly and coherently.

Dan: Interesting. And I guess communicating it in a way that’s empathetic or takes the person you’re communicating with’s own perspective in mind, right?

Gregory: Absolutely. One of the things I’ll tell you is that the inertia that you have to overcome is – they’re just real situations that people deal with. It’s not even necessarily convincing them; it’s kind of just addressing concerns. Especially in B2B. I’ve had so many support managers message us saying that they’re very interested in Help Scout but they need to make the pitch to the rest of their team. There’s a lot of work involved in switching over the software that they’re using. So the job of marketing there is to just give them – actually help them build their own argument. Give clear, coherent reasons that the switch is worth it, that their current solution isn’t as compelling as they think it is, and that they can get real results by taking the effort to try something else.

Dan: That’s interesting. So you’re not just communicating to your customers but you’re also giving your customers the tools to communicate to whatever stakeholders they need to buy into your product, right?

Gregory: Right. And if they’re the decision maker, they’re making their own presentation to themselves anyway, right? They’ve got to build their own pitch for, hey look, I know this might actually take a little bit of work but here are the reasons why it’s worth it. And on top of that, I would add that sometimes they don’t have an accurate representation of what maybe the workload would be like to switch. Or they just don’t necessarily have a full grip on the truth because maybe they had an experience that kind of tinted the way they see things. A quick example to kind of give a reality to this is we’ve improved our ability to import from other help desks. And every time somebody comments on – let’s say there’s a Zendesk import or something like that. They never really say, “That was easy.” I don’t hear that language.

I actually hear, “That was much easier than I expected.” There was a perception in the beginning that didn’t reflect reality. They kind of assumed up front that it was going to be very difficult and there’s a lot of ways that – especially the copy and really everything else that you do to communicate what this process is gonna be like — it’s just about truth telling and kind of getting people back to reality.

Dan: So people often bring lots of baggage to the table by the time they get to to you.

Gregory: Who isn’t, right?

Dan: True that. One of the things that you say customers need to overcome is what you call the 9x effect. Can you talk about what that is and why it’s something marketers need to be aware of?

Gregory: Sure. So the general concept, it’s originally from Harvard Business Review. Customers kind of perceive their current solution as three times better than it really is. And of course as marketers, we kind of end up perceiving our solution as kind of three times better than it is. This is all about perception, of how people perceive it to be.

Dan: Right.

Gregory: So that creates this gap between us, between the business and the buyer that we kind of don’t really realize. Like we’re not understanding as marketers why people don’t see the value. And it’s because of this push and pull. We’re over valuing what we’re positioning and what we’re putting out to the world. And customers are over valuing their current solution. I can’t really say this for certainty but I believe the old 10x product kind of mindset came from it: there’s a 9x product to overcome — it really takes a 10x product to get people to see the value in switching. The big light bulb moment for me with this 9x gap is that most people do not start in a neutral place. They don’t actually start in a reality.

We’re both actually kind of starting a little bit distance from reality. And a funny way I think – I’ve always seen it this way but I’m not sure everyone agrees, but I actually think marketing brings us back to reality. Marketing actually brings us back to the truth that this is how things are going to go down. And I think great marketers really adhere to that because it doesn’t make sense to do otherwise.

Dan: That’s a hell of a perception to overcome, right? I think a lot of people would say the opposite about marketers that were manufacturing reality rather than speaking truth.

Gregory: Right. And then, you know, it’s particularly true for SaaS but really true for all businesses. It doesn’t make sense to burden yourself with customers who aren’t a fit. Especially in SaaS, though, which is where most of my experience lies. All we’re really adding is burden to the entire team, burden to the customer and they’re going to churn anyway. So we’re not helping either ourselves or the customer there… so who are we really helping? Why would we bother to do something like that?

Dan: Okay, so the 9x effect tells us that customers are more likely to want to stick with the status quo and be suspicious of any new product, whereas companies tend to overestimate the value of their own product. As a marketer, how can you bring yourself back down to earth and put yourself into that customer mindset?

Gregory: Sure. I mean I think that comes down to just understanding the objections all along the way. And like I said, the objections aren’t always obvious; hence the over valuing our own product.

Dan: Right.

Gregory: I would like to think that it’s obvious why you should switch to Help Scout from something else but I’m not dealing with a support team of 50 people who have a workflow embedded in something else. So I can’t get to reality either, as a marketer, unless I truly understand the objections that you would have and really give value to those objections, not kind of brush them away, like “That shouldn’t be a problem.” Like, of course it’s a problem! If you perceive it to be a problem, then it is a problem. Perception is reality, right?

So I think it starts on our end really to – the only way we can get back to a neutral place is to just understand objections and give credence to every objection a customer might have, and to structure our language around that. I often think of copywriting as a game of word search where the answer key is what the customer needs to hear. You can’t pick the wrong word ever because if it’s a wrong word, it’s not going to speak to them and in doing so, you’re not really projecting reality.

Dan: I feel like a lot of marketers see those objections as something to overcome, rather than — what you’re saying — as an opportunity to use their words and to craft your copy and your marketing in a way that speaks directly to those objections and those concerns.

Gregory: We work with really everyone on the team — growth is everyone’s job. Words alone won’t always fix the problem. If people feel that the import process is too difficult, then you make it easier. So marketers are not alone in their ability to reduce friction, but we are responsible for communicating things accurately. You should be able to – I keep coming back to the same example but hopefully it makes for a better case. That if you’re going to import something, it needs to be crystal clear on how much effort is expended. And people should have their previous concerns kind of alleviated. If they think it’s going to take a really long time or they think it’s gonna be complex, get them to reality. Tell them how it really is gonna be.

Dan: One thing you suggest for demonstrating the value of your offer is to contrast what people’s life might look like before and then after adopting your product. Can you give an example of what that might look like?

Gregory: Sure. So we have a lot of customers come from Gmail. And it’s no exaggeration to say that your world and support is entirely different when you first use a product like Help Scout or a help desk, right? It’s you’re in a whole new ballpark. I often think of going to a product as switching, no matter what you’re coming from. I kind of say that I switched to a tool like Evernote from a “genius scattered notebooks system.” It wasn’t really switching from an Evernote competitor, per se, but I had something I was using to get the job done, right? So you kind of have to get a sense of what their world is like at the moment and then contrast that with what their world looks like after they make the jump.

And I’ve always kind of believed that contrast gives the best context because it just creates a clear division between two things. It can be awfully muddy when you’re trying to envision what your workflow looks like by adding this thing, this widget, this tool. But when you create this clear contrast, it’s crystal clear. There was a then, there’s a now; I think it’s much easier for people to relate and to kind of understand what their world looks like when they make the jump.

Dan: I wonder if Evernote sees their competitor as like Moleskine notebook?

Gregory: Exactly. I’ve heard a lot of great examples in that space. I can’t remember who said this but one person was saying that newspapers ended up kind of looking at each other as like, “Who’s stealing my readers?” And they didn’t really realize that it ended up being sites like social media – developments, rather, like social media — and everything else that was really the challenger that came in that they didn’t see. They kind of thought it just has to be another newspaper that’s taking these people away.

Dan: True.

Gregory: So for us, we can’t necessarily think that the before and after for people is always another help desk. Sometimes people are coming from this very complex system and outlook and we need to understand what their journey looks like, too.

Dan: All right, well I think a lot of what we’re talking about here can be summed up as really good product marketing. It seems like we’re hearing companies talk about product marketing these days the way they used to talk about content marketing just a few years ago. Why do you think that’s happening?

Gregory: Sure. So the team at Drift released a great SlideShare a few weeks back with the simple title of “What is Product Marketing?” And I think the 40,000 views they later got kind of speaks to this increased interest of people who want to understand the field. I see product marketing as the go-to market strategy, owning the positioning, messaging and it’s really marketing to current customers and creating demand by making sure the word gets out, essentially, to current customers. I think the reason that I would say the popularity, so to speak, has increased is a lot of businesses – and especially online businesses – are moving to a subscription model.

It really makes sense to market to your current customers and to get more customers to use the features you already have, or to use the features they’re already using more frequently. That’s a big part of product development but just because you launch a feature doesn’t mean people will use it. And product marketing ensures that they understand the value, they understand what they would get not only by using the feature for the first time or potentially using it more often, but through that they kind of create demand. By then they’re of course going to tell others, like, “I got this great result with this new Help Scout feature, this new Unbounce feature. You should check it out.” So I do believe that at its core, it’s marketing to current customers but it creates demand by how it echoes out.

Gregory: Right, and then you could leverage that content and those customers who, in a sense, have become evangelists for your product, fire up in the funnel to create awareness and interest in your product.

Dan: Absolutely. And product marketing is really key to enable many parts of the business so I would say product marketers work closely with sales so there’s sales enablement. Product marketers probably understand objections best, which really trickle down to all marketing activities. So they’re a really key component in kind of getting the entire marketing team onboard with how customers see the product and how we could position and package the product better in everything we do when talking to customers.

Dan: It seems like a lot of the most successful companies — online companies — in the last five years have built their reputations and their audiences by creating really successful content marketing. And I’m wondering how you could transition into product marketing without alienating that audience.

Gregory: Sure. So one of the really exciting challenges I think content marketers can contribute to is pulling out the story of a new feature or a new workflow in the product. Some really handsome guy once said that content marketers can learn a lot from journalists. I’m not sure who that was.

Dan: I don’t know about the handsome part.

Gregory: But you know, there is a lot of truth to that. And to give you an example, when we released a feature in Help Scout called satisfaction ratings, which is a quick way to get a kind of happiness report, we brought on Dave Cole from Wistia to talk about the possible downside of using happiness ratings as a way to judge your support team unfairly. Now, it seems kind of strange to launch a feature with a blog post that says basically that there’s danger in looking at happiness ratings the wrong way. But that was the most interesting story to pull and the most honest story to pull from that whole space. This space of happiness ratings and evaluating happiness feedback from every support manager I talked to said that they’re absolutely a good way to get an overall grip on customer satisfaction.

But where I see them being used wrong is teams are essentially graded on their happiness rating. And that causes people to pursue the T-ball ticket questions; you know, they’re going after the easy ones. They’re avoiding anything that’s difficult. And Dave shared some really great experience with that. And that was a super successful post for that feature launch. And it was essentially storytelling and product marketing and content marketing all wrapped up into one. And certainly a much better approach than, “We have this new thing — check it out.” So I think what I see a lot of content marketers doing really well recently is that approach.

They find the story within the product, they tell it really well. They tell it in a use case sort of way so that even if you’re not currently using feature X, if you’re not currently using happiness ratings, you walk away with a much better understanding of how they could be used. So I’m really excited to kind of see that space open up. I don’t think it eliminates the charm of content marketing because again, it was all about advice; it’s all about kind of how people get benefits and it’s all about ideas and instruction. But it also includes the product.

Dan: For sure. We make these distinctions internally between content marketing and product marketing but I think from the customer perspective or from the audience perspective, all they are seeing is good or bad stories that do or don’t resonate and seem relevant to them. And if you could create stories that are speaking to their pain points and find a way to make your product and your customers part of that story, then it really doesn’t matter what you call it.

Gregory: Absolutely. Their distinction is far less severe, maybe, then the ones we create for ourselves. If it’s entertaining and useful, then it hits all the check marks, right? And that’s challenging enough.

Dan: Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about the role that customer success plays in all of this? We often think of marketing and CS as different departments or different disciplines. But you suggest that they could actually fit into one another.

Gregory: Sure. So I think this really crystallized for me when I was looking at a customer’s site. Docs is our knowledge base product. And they had just read an article I had written on writing great knowledge base articles. And they had a follow up question about organizing your knowledge base. And as I was sitting there in the middle of the workday and looking at someone else’s knowledge base, taking notes to send him this advice-filled email, I was like, “Wait a minute. I do work in the marketing department, right?” And it kind of dawned on me that he had been using – he had been following the article I had written step-by-step. He had been using it for every knowledge base article that he had written so far. And there I was kind of following up with him with further advice over email.

And my point with all that is just that content doesn’t – it’s not necessarily limited to attracting people. It can keep people around. It helps them get more value out of the product when you’re doing it well. It helps them understand the proximity, the kind of like action points of the product. We have knowledge base software but writing a knowledge base article is an entirely different beast. It actually requires writing advice; just having the software is not enough. So I do feel that content is customer success and that a big part of content is planning what topics you can address that will help people after they’re already signed up and happy and have been using your product; how can you kind of take them to the next level.

Dan: Totally agree. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk shop, Greg. Always a pleasure.

Gregory: Yeah, it was great.

Transcript by GMR Transcription.

About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is the Multimedia Producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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  1. Purodrops

    This article is very engaging and informative, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s good to see that there are some people who love to write such nice content.

  2. Utah Sites

    It’s good to hear useful information from podcast like this. Since it talks about marketing which I’m very interested with, I got to discover new ideas and tips on how to become successful at it. Now I know better about product marketing and how it becomes the trend today in the marketing world. It’s really good to learn something new like this. Thanks for sharing the podcast.