September 21, 2021

Product-led content: A powerful (and underutilized) approach to content

Product-led content is one of the most under-utilized techniques in B2B content marketing. Learn what it is and how to create it.
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Have you ever sought to solve a problem and found a great article - but it took you 2,000 words to realize that the company authoring it had the perfect solution for you? 

This happens all too often. Companies author incredible content, but don’t explicitly tie in their products or services.

We all know, what the benefits of product-led growth are. But let me show you what the impact of product-led content marketing looks like.

What is product-led content? 

I define product-led content marketing as:

Content where the product is woven into the narrative to illustrate a point, solve a problem, and/or help accomplish a goal.

This approach is one of the most under-utilized techniques in B2B content marketing.

But what type of assets can be considered product-led? 

What it’s not: 

  • Landing pages
  • Product announcements
  • Help documentation

What it is:

  • User guides
  • Blog posts
  • Deep dives
  • Educational how-to’s 

Materials like landing pages and product announcements are already product-led in nature.

The goal is to look at everything else — blogs, user guides, etc. — and devise ways to bring the product into the mix.

Show your product in action 

User guides and deep-dive blog posts traditionally sit in the top or middle of the marketing funnel. They’re typically very comprehensive and informative — but don’t pack a punch.

The people reading those assets are usually already problem-aware, but the content doesn’t actively present product-based solutions. 

Nowhere in the execution of the space do you get to see any product in action.

They don't give you any lasting impression. And in fact, there was no real practical way of linking them back to accompany.

Make the product integral to the narrative

In short, what brands should be doing is giving their product a starring role in content and storytelling, not making it an understudy who never sees the stage.

By using your product to illustrate points, you add visual and mental interest. 

Concrete examples help the reader pull the concept out of the theoretical and into the realm of practical. 

They showed you what it looks like via illustrated screenshots, or annotated screenshots.

They’ve kind of given you a sense of how you can solve your product at your problem by using this particular product or this particular sub-feature at this particular time.

Avoid a hard sell

If you’re nervous about making all of your content too salesy, don’t be.

It is possible to incorporate your product into the conversation organically, without turning the reader off with a hard-sell.

I'm talking about blog posts and guides that do answer the person's initial question, but they also fold in information illustration advice and how-to about the product without breaking the flow.

Why create product-led content?

This type of content marketing can:

  1. Support acquisition
  2. Support retention
  3. Give you a competitive advantage 

1. Product-led content supports acquisition

The goal of PLC marketing is to assist in conversion.

By rethinking the role of top and middle-of-the-funnel content, you have an opportunity to reach your audience earlier in their journey.

It supports acquisition. Your product starts being positioned as the standard solution, starts being perceived as the solution from the very start.

Increasing user awareness early on helps your audience to gain familiarity with your brand, and make the benefits of your product stick. 

2. Product-led content supports retention 

Yes, I mentioned funnel a few times already. But the magic happens when you forget that the funnel exists.

Instead, start thinking instead about the people that you are trying to help, regardless of whether they are customers or not.

Just because somebody is already your customer doesn't mean that they're using your product, your feature, or service at 100% of its capability.

Target existing customers

It may seem counter-intuitive, but many of the people who will benefit from PLC are your existing customers.

True, they might have signed up or used your product, but likely not to its fullest potential. 

Some of this content can actually help your existing customers discover things about your product that they didn't know they could do.

This is kind of going against conventional wisdom, according to which every stage of the funnel has a very specific piece attached to it. I'm telling you - in my experience, this kind of content works.

The best of both worlds 

Educational product-led content implies offering the best of both worlds.

When content can serve multiple audience sets in very valuable ways, it becomes truly multi-purpose.

It allows you to be helpful in a both/and scenario, as opposed to having you choose one specific segment that you're focusing on.

3. Product-led content gives you an advantage

If the customer acquisition and retention didn’t convince you, consider that not many companies are publishing product-led content. 

This seems to be somewhat of a well-kept secret.

If you and your competitors are executing the same kind of content, giving your content a product-led spin can push you to the front of the pack. 

You are starting to showcase yourself as the solution from the very start at all the opportunities, while your competitors are not. This gives you an advantage.

How to create product-led content

Now that I've covered what it is and why you should create it, let's see how you can get started with some best practices.

It starts by shifting your mindset. 

No longer are you just a content marketer. You’re also a sales expert who understands your audience, and a product expert who knows your product inside and out.

You need to become comfortable with inhabiting different disciplines or wearing multiple hats at the same time. It's a complex thing to do, which is why I think not many companies are doing it.

Scoring your content

A 2017 tip published by Ahrefs changed the way I think about content. 

It was a single slide, with four lines of text providing a simple litmus test for content:

The idea is that for every piece of content that you consider creating, you try to score it on a scale from 0-3. 

Zero is content that contains no mention of your product, while a level three content stars your product. 

I credit the slide would give me a major aha content marketing moment, and really changing the way I understood and practiced content at Hotjar.. 

When you start thinking in terms of content like this, you're going to start gravitating towards pieces that are scored towards a two or a three, because these are the ones that are actually propelling the business forward.

Now, I’ll cover three concrete methods for getting started:

  1. Keyword-based content 
  2. Customer-based content 
  3. Optimize existing content 

1. Keyword-based content 

Many content marketers begin their journey with keyword research.

They find keywords that are relevant to your company, product, and customers and select them based on the volume or difficulty score. 

But for product-led content, you want to look instead at the business impact score or durability factor. 

This goes back to the Ahrefs 0-3 score, discussed above. 

For every piece of content that came my way, I would ask back how product-able is this on a scale from zero to three.

Which really meant how much of the narrative can we hinge on the product? How much of the product can we showcase? Do we have any evidence that some customers have done this successfully? 

Finally, you want to add a unique angle. Just because an article has roots in keywords doesn’t mean it should be dry, uninteresting, or devoid of opinions. 

2. Customer-based content 

This is where you start interviewing your customers about how they use your product or service.

First, you’ll want to interview customers, asking questions like:  

  • How did they do [x]?
  • What did they accomplish?
  • What did they learn?
  • What would they do differently? 
  • Do they have any pro tips? 

Because customers are using your product already, the “durability score” for this type of content is automatically a two or a three.

Secondly, you’ll want to find an angle and a keyword to bring the topic of conversation to life. 

If finding a keyword doesn’t make sense, that’s ok too. You’ll just need to be comfortable trading traffic with other metrics of success. 

This again is a trade-off, as I said before, between finding traffic and finding opportunities to showcase your products and bring the business forward.

3. Optimize existing content 

Perhaps your biggest opportunity lies in existing content — assets that are just waiting to be re-optimized with the product in mind.

First, look for pieces that were successful in the past. The concept of success could be based on keyword rankings, or another metric of your choice. 

Next, score the piece from 0-3. Does it provide the potential to weave the product into the narrative in a natural way? Will doing so add value for the reader? 

Finally, edit the piece to feature your product as appropriate. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It doesn't have to be a massive writing job.

Once you’ve mastered the art of product-led content, you will never go back. 

Out now: Watch our free B2B messaging course and learn all the techniques (from basic to advanced) to create messaging that resonates with your target customers.

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