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Product-led growth marketing: definition, strategies, and examples
Whether you offer free trials or a freemium version of your product, your work as a product-led team doesn’t end when users sign up.
Product-led growth marketing allows you to use the product itself as a marketing tool for customer acquisition, activation, retention, and advocacy.
In this guide, you’ll learn what product-led growth marketing is, and how to use it to enable your PLG strategy and deliver a product experience that creates customer delight.
What is product-led growth marketing?
Product-led growth (PLG) marketing is a go-to-market strategy that focuses on the product as the primary tool to attract, convert, and retain users, and expand into new markets.
While traditional marketing strategies focus on creating awareness, then collecting and nurturing marketing qualified leads (MQLs) so a salesperson can sell to them, PLG marketing emphasizes the product experience (PX) and how it impacts the product management lifecycle at every stage of the user journey.
PLG marketing effectively removes barriers from the self-serve model of product-led growth. This enables product teams to create customer delight and shorten the sales cycle for product-qualified leads (PQLs). For example:
Creating product-led marketing content that addresses user pain points encourages them to start experiencing the product with a free trial or freemium account.
After signup and while onboarding, users receive in-app or email marketing messages to help them get meaningful value out of the product right away.
After experiencing the product for themselves, users find value in the product, upgrade to a paid plan for more value, and share the product with colleagues.
Note: check out our Hotjar Guides index for some examples of product-led content! 😉
Marketers need to collaborate with product, UX, data, and other teams to deliver the right message, to the right user, at the right time, without negatively impacting the user experience. It’s no longer as simple as hitting 'send' on an email or 'publish' on a blog post.
Sales-led marketing strategies vs product-led growth marketing
A traditional sales-led marketing strategy focuses on collecting leads that a sales team can contact and sell to. End users can only fully experience the product after a sale is successful. Revenue is directly tied to generating more marketing and sales qualified leads (SQLs).
The job of marketing in a product-led growth model extends beyond acquisition: the focus is on guiding people to value faster—and encouraging them to purchase once they’ve experienced that value directly. In product-led growth marketing, revenue is tied to the user and product experience.
So, where traditional marketing strategies
Need marketing channels like ads, social media, content, and email to drive purchase
Can afford to care more about acquisition than retention, because the switching cost is high for the user
Create content around the product's value to add sales
…product-led growth companies
Use in-app communication to aid adoption and prompt upgrades
Can focus efforts on satisfaction and retention as much as acquisition, with lower switching costs for the user
Create content that shows how the product solves user problems—and helps users achieve their jobs-to-be-done—to aid product adoption
Comparison of the stages in the traditional marketing funnel vs a product-led growth marketing one
7 product-led growth marketing strategies to adopt
Get started with PLG marketing by adopting these (simple) strategies to boost sign-ups, delight customers, improve customer retention, and encourage brand advocacy for your product.
1. Make it easy to find and understand pricing information
Hidden pricing information disrupts the self-serve model of product-led growth—if a user has to contact you to learn your prices, that introduces friction and creates an extra touchpoint in their customer journey.
To make it easy for potential customers to find and understand your pricing, create a dedicated pricing page and make it easy to locate from your navigation menu. Slack, Dropbox, and Typeform—three successful SaaS PLG companies—do this (and, ahem, we do too).
On the pricing page itself, use value metrics like users, features, and size to clarify what’s included in each plan. Here’s what that looks like on Hotjar’s pricing page—each column explains the plan size and features for our Observe and Ask packages:
2. Simplify the sign-up process to remove friction
Friction in the sign-up flow—for example, too many form fields or unclear next steps—can prevent people from trying your product.
Here are some ideas to remove friction from your sign-up process:
Limit the number of form fields
More fields means more work for users. Where possible, limit sign-up forms to two fields, like Typeform does for their SaaS product (they just require an email address and password) to make signup less intimidating and time-consuming. If you need more information from users to help with personalization, you can collect that during product onboarding.
Use drop-downs and checkboxes
Elements like drop-downs and checkboxes reduce user effort during the sign-up process. For example, instead of hitting 17 keys to type ‘Marketing Manager’, the user can check a box with one click, or select the appropriate role in two clicks in the case of a drop-down. Here’s an example from InVision:
Offer third-party sign-up and logins
Where possible, allow Google or other third-party profile sign-ups and logins—also known as single sign-on, or SSO. Not only does SSO reduce user effort during sign-up, but fewer people will abandon your product because they forgot their password. (Yeah, we've all done it.)
An added benefit of implementing SSO is fewer fake or faulty email addresses in your leads, because third-party profile signups ensure that people only sign up with valid account details.
Note: supplement SSO with the option to sign up manually—like we’ve done in our Hotjar sign-up process—so skeptical users or those without a third-party account can still enjoy your product.
Pro tip: watch Hotjar Session Recordings to uncover points of friction in your sign-up flow.
After a sudden drop in conversions, Audiense observed the sign-up process for individual users with Hotjar Recordings. They quickly discovered that the password validator feature was flagging valid passwords.
Audiense fixed the bug with the password validator, and conversions went back up.
3. Add urgency to confirmation requests
Users are most excited about your product at the time of sign-up. If you delay access (even with a confirmation email) you risk losing their attention.
Because PLG relies on users experiencing value from your product right away—and then upgrading to a paid plan—if you lose their interest before they get a chance to try your product, that’s like losing a sale.
If your product requires user verification, perhaps to limit spam sign-ups, add urgency to your confirmation page to encourage users to take immediate action. Slack does this with a note about the code expiring soon, and a link to open Gmail or Outlook directly from the confirmation page:
4. Tailor onboarding to boost retention and advocacy
In PLG marketing, the goal of onboarding isn't to show users every feature of your product. It’s to share marketing materials and in-app messaging to help users achieve at least one of the outcomes they signed up for (also known as their jobs-to-be-done, or JTBD).
Optimizing Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV): by leading to a reduced customer churn rate
Reducing time-to-value (TTV): by speeding up the time taken for users to upgrade and convert into a paying customer
Here are two ways to tailor your product onboarding to deliver quick wins, and boost retention and advocacy:
Lead users to an outcome with in-app walkthroughs, prompts, and checklists
In-app guidance removes confusion and friction around where to start, what’s most important, and the steps users need to take to achieve a specific goal.
For example, at Hotjar, we use an in-app prompt to guide users to their first step: add a tracking code. Once users have taken that step, we guide them through the installation process with customized instructions to match their needs.
The outcome: Hotjar users can quickly and easily begin to observe and understand their own customers' user experience (UX) with every new session their site records.
Pro tip: personalize your onboarding process for unique customer profiles.
For example, a project planning app's onboarding experience for a working exec should differ from that of a college student.
For working people, project planning app Todoist adds onboarding tasks like connecting a work calendar and checking emails to the onboarding process. Students get prompts to review exam dates, and an education template pack.
Identify and remove points of friction
When you’re familiar with your product, it’s easy to forget what it feels like for a new user. Use product testing or session monitoring (with a tool like Hotjar 👋) to learn how users experience your product during onboarding.
For example, Intelliquip, a sales software provider for manufacturers, used session recordings to observe onboarding users. They were "able to make a lot of corrections very quickly just by intensely watching users" to help remove confusion, reduce friction, and improve the onboarding process.
If the overall business value of your product is sufficient, senior decision-makers who won’t use the product day-to-day might gloss over user experience issues. End users are not so forgiving. They will demand both business value and a great user experience.
5. Prioritize a good user experience
How users experience your website or product—also known as the user experience (UX)—is just as important as what your site or product helps them achieve. Slow loading times, broken elements, or confusing navigation can cause users to have a negative experience. Soon, they may start to doubt the value of your product, which can cause a snowball effect where they:
Use the product less and get fewer results from it (if any)
'Confirm' their doubts and abandon your product
Share negative feedback about your product with peers
Prevent other people from signing up
Here are some tips to achieve the best product and user experience:
List the steps users need to take to reach an outcome
Use PLG tools to support users by outlining the steps they need to take to reach specific outcomes. At Hotjar, we use tools like Beamer and Appcues to inform and lead new and existing users to meaningful value from within our products, and Iterable to enable our lifecycle marketing efforts.
It's also good practice to create guides and documentation that are easy to access for all levels of users. For example, at Hotjar we create product-led marketing content and utilize SEO for our Hotjar guides; and our Help Center and Hotjar Learning space are available to anyone who needs step-by-step, tool-specific guidance.
Plot a user journey map that shows touchpoints required for each step
Every interaction a user has with your site and product is considered a touchpoint in their user journey—from the moment they begin to use your product to the moment they exit—and each touchpoint introduces a possible point of friction in their journey.
Use a customer journey mapping tool—like Hotjar Recordings—to help you understand and plot your user journey. Keep an eye out for blockers and pain points like rage clicks and u-turns, which will help you identify areas of friction and improve the customer experience.
Keep in mind: user journey touchpoints will differ for specific steps and outcomes, so it may be helpful to plot user journey maps for different user segments, or based on a specific JTBD.
Use a product analytics tool to identify drop-off points
Drop-off points—where the user exits your product without completing an action—signal a problem area within the customer journey.
Discover these pages using a funnel visualization tool like Google Analytics, which shows the drop-off rate of the main pages in your conversion funnel, helping you understand when and where visitors (and potentially paying customers) are leaving.
In Google Analytics, go to the Behavior tab on the left navigation pane, and click on ‘Behavior Flow’ to reveal high-exit pages. Knowing where users drop off in the journey will help you focus your optimization efforts on the biggest opportunities.
Use a product experience insights tool to observe those pages
Product analytics may tell you where things go wrong, but PX insights show you why it happens.
After you’ve identified problematic high-exit pages and roadblocks in your conversion funnel, use a PX insights tool like Hotjar to dig deeper into what’s happening before they leave the page.
You can take a more in-depth look at what users interact with right before they drop off by using heatmaps and session recordings:
Heatmaps record and aggregate user clicks, mouse movement, and scrolls. Placing a heatmap on your high-exit pages helps you spot problematic elements, like broken links and unseen CTAs, and shows you which elements were clicked (or ignored) and how far down the page users scrolled.
Session recordings give more detail to the insights you get from heatmaps. Watch how people navigate from page to page, scroll through content, and interact with buttons before they leave. Spotting issues users encounter on your high-exit pages helps you empathize with their journey, and get some of the visual data needed to design for better UX.
Use surveys and feedback forms to enhance your observations
At this stage, you can begin experimenting with design changes through A/B testing, but there’s one key insight that’s still missing: feedback from your users.
When you give your visitors the power to tell you about their experience, they’ll show you exactly what is and isn’t working, right as they experience it. That's why tools like surveys and feedback widgets should be part of your product experience optimization stack.
As customers choose their preferences or use their own words to share expectations and frustrations, you’ll find hints for what changes to prioritize for a better customer experience.
6. Focus your content marketing around your product
In product-led growth marketing, the goal is to build your user base with as low a Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) as possible. Content marketing is a great way to do that.
HubSpot and Buffer are great examples of software companies with a freemium model that have built a huge user base through content that educates readers about the product while providing real value to them—even if they aren’t qualified leads yet.
Mike Cullen, Staff Product Marketer at Hotjar, believes that content marketing is part of a viable strategy for product-led growth:
“First, you need to decide who your content intends to help based on their stage of awareness. Then you can make sure that your content is as relevant as possible for your target audience.”
The goal is to turn every reader into a lead, so you need to serve them with impactful, actionable content that’s relevant for the stage of awareness they’re currently at.
Once you’ve clearly defined the stage of awareness of your users, you can weave the product into the narrative of your content, making it more valuable for your intended audience—rather than coming across as a shameless, out-of-context plug for your product.
Set up and highlight product template galleries that solve a pain point
Zapier, an app integration and automation platform that lets users set up triggered actions and workflows between different applications, creates and uses programmatic templates to promote their product.Then, they create optimized blog posts and landing pages to promote those templates. This tactic is part of Zapier’s SEO strategy of using content marketing to increase search traffic and generate demand early in the customer journey.
The goal is to connect with people searching for more general app categories and use cases that Zapier’s own landing pages don’t rank as well for.
Their blog and content marketing strategy focuses on exploring different app use cases and reviewing apps in different categories—content relevant for the type of top-of-the-funnel research this audience is doing.
Create content hubs that address customer issues using your product
Product-led hub content helps you answer user questions and address pain points, while showcasing your product naturally.
At Hotjar, we create guides that take users through our product, highlight our product's value, and show you how it can help you achieve goals and solve pressing issues.
Along with our Help Center and Hotjar Learning space, these resources help educate customers on topics like why they should use the Workspaces feature or how they can find the best insights in their Recordings.
This is one of the main benefits of product-led growth marketing—the educational content is public and documented, so customers can access it themselves. They don’t have to reach out, file a support ticket, or wait on someone else’s assistance.
7. Embrace cross-functional collaboration
A great experience is crucial to building customer-centric products that keep users engaged and prevent churn. By creating a cross-functional collaboration culture, you can build products that put your users first, and bring diverse inputs and data into the product build.
For example, your support or marketing team may have valuable website data that can provide the product team with useful insights for optimizing your product and the user experience. This is essential to the bottom-up buying experience that comes with a PLG strategy.
Marketers can play a role in cross-functional alignment across teams to understand how users interact with the product. They'll learn the signs that suggest engagement or disengagement. With that information, they'll be ready to upsell to engaged users, or re-engage churned users at the right time.
Successful product-led growth marketing revolves around your customers
Product-led growth marketing puts the product at the center to provide existing and new customers with a less-invasive experience that drives acquisition, activation, retention, and advocacy. Powered by collaboration and user behavior data, it can be unstoppable.
Your objectives with PLG marketing should be to put the customer first, build an intuitive product, and create synergy between teams. They're certainly ours, here at Hotjar. Everything we do has one goal: to drive customer success. If our customers are successful, then so are we.