The Definitive Guide to Successful Feature Releases
Before we start, let’s make it clear. If you are looking for a secret sauce. Please stop reading. Because there is none. Even the best companies and teams who have done this a thousand times can still mess it up.
A feature release refers to the introduction of new functionality in a product, typically in the software industry. It's a significant update that often includes improvements, enhancements, or completely new capabilities that are designed to add value to the user's experience.
For instance, take the introduction of the Reactions feature by Facebook in 2016. Before this, users could only "like" posts. But with the feature release of Reactions, users gained the ability to react with love, laughter, surprise, sadness, or anger, providing a broader range of expression and making the platform more engaging.
New functionality is the added capabilities or enhancements in a product that were not available in the previous versions. These are typically designed to improve user experience, add value to the product, and address user feedback or market demand.
Here is a sample feature list for a hypothetical social media app:
- Enhanced Privacy Settings: Control who sees your posts and personal information.
- Improved Search Functionality: Find friends and content more easily.
- Dark Mode: Reduce strain on your eyes with this highly requested feature.
- Group Video Call: Connect with multiple friends at once with our new video conferencing feature.
- Post Scheduling: Plan your posts in advance and schedule them to go live at a specified time.
Now if you are asking yourself questions like: How can I optimize our chances to make this new feature or product widely adopted by my customer base? How can we take this chance to show our customers we care about their voice and use it to make our feature or product even better? How can I use this product of new feature release to attract new customers, or reengage with churned users while also making existing ones happy?
It means you are at the right place! Because these are questions that come out naturally as any founders, customer support or product people want to start making sense of their impact on the business.
And it happens sooner or later in any company.
Take Intercom, the famous customer support system. Before March 2014, the team never took feature releases and product announcements seriously.
In fact, before Intercom became the hundred-million-dollar annual recurring revenue company that it is today, the company wasn’t as focused on announcing new functionalities as it was on building them.
According to an article they posted at the time they made the shift, they were (for a long time) more focused on generating new accounts than retaining and expanding existing ones.
Now, when one reads between the lines of the article they posted, the ingredients of the pivot they made somewhere in 2014 become crystal.
They adopted a combination of several rather simple initiatives we will analyze in this article, along with several other great products and feature release examples.
After all, this is our specialty at ProdСamp. We help digital companies turn customer feedback into successful feature releases and great product announcements so it was only natural we have something to say about this process.
But enough small talk, let’s start by taking a look at two interesting examples and try to find out what is THE thing they have in common.
Back in 2006, AWS, the IT branch of Amazon was launching a new cloud service with Amazon Web Service EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud Instances), each and every knowledgeable member of the development community could not wait to test it out.
Later, in 2011, Atlassian and Jira launched Jira Cloud (a project management software) as Jira OnDemand on top of its Jira Download (the on-premises offering), every Jira user and most of those in the development community knew it was about to happen and were looking forward to using it.
Notice, in both cases, even when the public wasn’t aware that such a service was now available, the right people were.
To create amazing delightful products people would want to use and recommend, we all know how important it is to constantly develop new features.
It’s vital, for any business which has growth in mind.
But we tend to miss out on how much the quality of the way we will announce these new products, services, or features can impact our results.
Don’t worry, it won’t happen to you - you are here! Let’s keep going and get you more actionable insights and real-life examples.
The five Pillars of a Great Feature Release
When it comes to making the most out of your product or feature releases, there are five things we must consider.
- The right information
- The right people
- The right place
- The right time
- The right way
It is always important that you know why you are telling your clients about this feature or product at the moment, and it should be clear to them too. Think about their journey and their experience with your product when you will be crafting your messages.
The right information
As Bill gates once said: “Being flooded with information doesn’t mean we have the right one.”
When it comes to what to talk about, nobody wants to be the company that cried wolf.
Plus nobody likes to have too many useless details! On a product roadmap, a business plan, or even an email.
So remember; you can’t just talk about every feature or product you create, as if it were an absolute game changer (unless you’re Elon Musk, right? And if you are, Hey, Elon! 👋– we need to consider all corner cases).
How to select what to talk about?
- What did you change?
How exactly did you improve the product or service? Is it a small thing to make your client’s life easier or something big?
- Why did you make the change?
Where does it come from? Your own revolutionary idea, sourced via your user’s feedback, people want to know why you did it.
- What impact will it have?
How did this change their lives and make it better? Do they need to learn or modify something to leverage it?
And avoid sharing the wrong things?
- Don’t be too technical
Nobody wants to get detail about the piece of code your dev team has fixed. Think about the business value you bring to your users. Not the great technical depth you’ve managed to overcome.
- Don’t be too boring
Tell a short compelling story. Retrace the journey of this feature and how it will impact things. Be mindful of frequency and the amount of improvements that you ship and which of them need to be talked about.
- Don’t forget the user
The release should not be only about you, the great work of your team, or how proud your company is to deliver this new product or feature. It’s easy to forget it after all the hard work and sleepless nights. Feel free to say something about it if you feel your customers care. But make it about them first.
- Don’t make everything public
Be selective. Who wants to talk about a computer failure fix that has been going unnoticed?
At the end of the day, you will realize that some feature releases made by your company are not supposed to go public at all. Especially bug fixes.
This information is probably only supposed to be known by the core team or the company’s board, depending on how sensitive the information is and how much client retention or revenue it can bring.
Or only by the people who were directly affected by it.
The Right People
Considering continuous release management and development. Selecting “who” is probably one of the most important aspects of a successful feature release in the SaaS and digital industry.
The Wizishop example
WiziShop is a Solution for e-commerce companies. It’s a medium size dynamic company and when they shipped several new payment methods, they knew the job was not perfect.
But they still knew that the people who upvoted their public roadmap would be highly interested in it.
In addition, they knew that the new payment method would have a positive impact and at the same time boost the reputation of their company, which would ultimately lead to more revenue.
So when they made the release. They targeted people who have been voting for the feature first with personal email announcements.
At this point, they continued gathering feedback and working closely with them to improve the new modules before they made a wider public release and more noise around these new functionalities.
The Calipio Example
When Calipio, a small European company; prepared for the launch of its screen recorder, it had to compete with the likes of Vidyard and Loom.
As a result, when they went for their first AppSumo and SaaSmantra launches, they decided to deploy their public roadmap right away to double down on the hundreds of new users' feedback they were about to gather while selling discounted lifetime deals on these platforms.
- They added a link to their public roadmap on their website homepage.
- They sent the link to their public roadmap to each new signup while launching on the below platform.
The right place
Here are the 5 main channels you can use to announce your new feature release:
- Personal email announcements
Making it personal will have a direct impact on early adopters. Also, people who have churned because of missing features might just circle back if they see you’ve finally launched THE thing they were waiting for.
And a targeted campaign like Wizishop did can help you not only recruit more adopters but also help your continuous development effort.
- Public Roadmap and Changelog
Just like Calipio did for their Launch. They have built channels to show early adopters and news customers they can be heard and demonstrate that the product is alive and well. The changelog was a nice part of their strategy.
- In-app release note
Available in ProdCamp and something we leverage for our own users. It can also be a good feedback channel when it leads to a public roadmap.
- Blog or Guest Blog
If you are launching a brand new product it’s a great way to put it under the spotlights. But keep this type of channel for big things. If you start publishing a blog post for every single bug fix or feature improvement people might get tired.
And remember your own blog is not the only place you can advertise your new functionality. Publishing posts on other websites or blogging platforms will be a great way to improve your reach.
- Social media posts and discovery platforms
Social Media is a great way to address your community on a larger scale while relaying blog posts or other forms of release notes or product announcements.
And don’t underestimate platforms like ProductHunt or G2 to publish new functionalities or launch new products. Everyone knows a majority of users are influenced by what they can find on such platforms.
The Right time
They are 4 milestones you don’t want to miss for a new feature release to be successful. 4 key moments you need to leverage to communicate with your customers.
- Before planning
It might seem slightly counter-intuitive, but to make the most out of your new feature or product release, you need to start sharing your plans before releasing it.
In that situation using a public roadmap will help you share this type of information early and before even working on a feature will help you identify who is interested in the functionality you are planning to build.
You can now keep verifying the need is still here and growing while you work on it.
- After planning and while building
If you are using a tool like ProdCamp you will have the ability to identify whom to speak to, get their comments on the announcement, and organize testing sessions or feedback meetings to get a better understanding of the problem your team is solving for them.
First, you want to keep a continuous reality-check, making sure your team actually builds what people expect when they asked for this service or product.
Second, you want to keep retaining clients that expect this functionality and see it as a key feature while they don’t have it yet.
- Upon and after release
Hooray! It’s ready. Now what?
If you know who was craving for it remember to tell them first as Wizishop did.
This may also drive up-sell or cross-sell opportunities if the feature can lead a free user to a paid plan or a paid one to a premium subscription.
Now that it’s live you need to keep measuring your client’s interest and get feedback from the people who need and are using this functionality the most.
To make sure you did build what was expected from your users and learn what your team can improve further and what you did nail.
The right way
Solutions like ProdCamp can help you improve the way you communicate with your customers upon a feature or product release.
- Gather feedback from anywhere, anytime.
- Personalize the feedback loop and the feature or product release cycle with email notifications.
- Give perspective to their users by sharing plans without specific release commitments to keep up with customers’ expectations and ever-evolving needs.
- Leverage feedback to turn users’ interest into product development focus while improving the way they select which feature to build and which not to.
Bonus: Feature Release examples
Here are a couple of examples illustrating the effective use of changelog in SaaS feature release:
Slack, the collaboration hub used by teams worldwide, has a dedicated changelog page where they announce all their updates and new features. When they released their much-awaited feature, "Shared Channels," in 2017, they used their changelog to detail the feature's functionality and benefits. This allowed them to communicate directly with their user base, who could immediately see the value of the new feature and how it would work. The changelog also linked back to their blog, where users could find more comprehensive information about the feature.
GitHub, the world's leading software development platform, also maintains a detailed changelog. When they released "GitHub Actions," a feature that automates software workflows, they shared it in their changelog. This gave users a high-level overview of the new feature, its functionality, and benefits. GitHub also provided links to their documentation and blog for users interested in a deeper dive into the feature. This approach allowed them to effectively communicate the feature release to their vast user base, aiding rapid adoption.
Notion, the all-in-one workspace app, utilizes a very visible changelog to communicate new features and updates. When they released their "Timeline View" for projects, they used their changelog to give users an overview of the new feature and how it could help in project management. They also linked to their help center, where users could find detailed guides on using the feature. This transparency and immediate access to information helped users to adopt the new feature quickly and effectively.
In all these examples, the SaaS companies leveraged the changelog as a primary touchpoint to announce and detail their new features, driving user awareness and promoting successful feature adoption.
So what are you waiting for? Create your own changelog and release features like a pro.
It only takes a few minutes to get started!