Crafting feature announcements that spur action

Main illustration: Frederique Matti

The value of a feature isn’t a product of the time or resources you put into building it. It’s about whether or not it solves a customer’s problem, and it’s up to you to show them how.

The first step is building awareness of your feature among those who will benefit most. At Intercom we build our feature announcements around three key questions:

  1. Who are we announcing to?
  2. Where and when should we reach them?
  3. What do they need to know?

Answering these questions comes down to targeting the right people, showcasing your feature’s possibilities, prioritizing the information that matters, and tracking how your announcement performs. Here’s our simple guide to optimizing your next feature announcement.

The right customers

As we’ve said before, a message written for everyone resonates with no one. So make sure you only contact the folks who matter. You can easily do this in Intercom using message filters. Here are some useful groups to target:

  • Customers who have access to the feature. These people should definitely hear about it. For example, if your new feature is available with your Pro plan, make sure to include the filter ‘Has Pro plan is true.’
  • Customers who don’t have access to a feature. This group represents a great upsell opportunity. If your new feature is only available on your Pro plan, you could use it as encouragement to upgrade. Your filter here might be something like ‘Has Pro plan is false’. It’s important to create a unique message for these customers. They’ll want to know why they need your feature, and not just the specific details about how to use it.
  • Customers who have requested the feature. These are the perfect group to send a beta feature announcement to. For example, if you have tagged these customers in Intercom, you can filter for ‘Tag is Calendar Feature Request’.
  • Customers who take a specific action that’s related to your new feature will want to know about it. For example, if your new feature is an annotation tool, it makes sense to announce it in context, right after your customer takes a screenshot. You could create an event called ‘Screenshot taken’, and trigger your message using that event.

There are also customers who it won’t make sense to message for a feature announcement, those who you don’t want to risk annoying with a badly timed and/or irrelevant message. We recommend excluding:

  • Recently contacted users. They are more likely to ignore, or be annoyed by, your new message. To combat this, make sure you include a ‘Last contacted more than x days ago’ filter. We use a minimum of three days here at Intercom. This will leave ample breathing room between your messages.
  • New users. Anyone who’s just signed up might not care too much about your new feature; everything is new to them. They are also far more important things to talk to your users about in the first few days than pushing a new feature. Your filter here would be something like ‘Signed up more than 30 days ago’.

Getting a handle on where to announce

Before making your announcement, you’ll need to choose a messaging medium. Do you announce contextually in-app, or use email to rope back in those who’ve been slipping away?

In our experience, the best time to promote a new feature is when someone is inside your product and in a position to use it. For example, if you’ve just released a new sync reports feature, a good place to tell your customers about it would be on your reports page. If you’re using Intercom, you can target a specific page URL.

Remember, a new feature is only new once, and promoting one to inactive users is a great way to re-engage them and drive them back into your product. That’s where email comes in. Email is also a tool for contacting active and inactive users with time-sensitive announcements.

Take the timing of your announcement seriously

The last thing you want to do is drive loyal users away by spamming them about a stale feature. If you’re an Intercom user, be sure to set a stop date for your announcement in your ‘Goal, Display and Expiry’ settings.

To increase the chance of your message getting opened, set your delivery window to send during the days and times that get the best customer engagement. Our team at Intercom recently analyzed millions of messages sent through our platform and found emails and in-app messages sent between 10-2pm on weekdays hold the best odds of being opened.

Crafting the right message

There’s a science to announcing a feature in the right place and time, but stitching together the right message is a tricky art. It needs to intrigue people enough to take action, while also educating users so they understand the exact job your new feature solves. Here are four tactics we use when announcing our own features at Intercom:

  1. Show customers what they can do
    No one cares about how much hard work you did or how long it took to build your new feature. They care about how it will enable them to do their job better. Avoid saying things like, “We’ve spent the last month restructuring how our export functionality works”. Instead, focus your message on what your users can now achieve. If you say something like, “Exporting reports is now automated which will save you heaps of time. Here’s how…” you’ll really grab your customers’ attention.
  2. Keep your messaging tight
    Your customers have short attention spans, so prioritize the details that matter most to them. What’s the shortest, neatest way to explain why this new feature is good and why your users need it? Sometimes your new feature allows your customers to do many jobs, but don’t be tempted to communicate all of these benefits straight away. Instead, focus on the most important job, and let your users learn the rest over time.
  3. Add an image or video
    Whenever possible, show instead of tell. People are visual learners, so add a screenshot or a short video to help your customers quickly understand the job they can now do with your feature. Try adding a button that links to your video like this:

    Or simply embed your video in your message:
  4. Stay personal
    Building an emotional connection with your users will encourage action. If you’re beta announcing your feature to a few select customers, let them know they’re amongst the chosen few. It will make them feel special and they’ll be more likely to try your feature. Here are some more ideas for staying personal at scale.

Learn from your users

Shipping a new feature is a great accomplishment, but at Intercom we see it as the beginning of a much longer process. It’s time to see how many message recipients used the feature and who these users are.

To help with this, before you even create your announcement, you can send an event or user attribute to Intercom that will help you track the action you want people to take. For example, if you’re announcing your new calendar feature and want to see how many and which message recipients updated their calendar, your event might be something like ‘Calendar updated’. Identify the users who meet this goal, message them for their feedback and filter that to your product team. What you learn from one feature announcement, will help inform what you iterate on and announce next.