“Web content strategy is a pretty well-documented space these days, but the interwebs are surprisingly silent on product-focused content strategy.”
Did you come here feeling frustrated for lack of a comprehensive product-led SaaS content strategy guide?
You’re not alone.
That 1st paragraph is a quote by Shopify’s Lead Content Strategist, Alaine Mackenzie. It shows she also felt the same.
No wonder, she continued:
“In my experience, while [developing regular content strategy] requires the same core skills and systems thinking, [the] arsenal of tactics as a product content strategist are vastly different.”Alaine Mackenzie.
In order words, Alaine says to founders, marketers, and anyone who cares to listen that:
Creating a comprehensive product-led SaaS content strategy requires unique execution skills.
There are misconceptions about what a rock-solid product-led SaaS content strategy covers.
Facebook’s Lead Content strategist, Jonathan Colman, even admitted this. In his viral presentation, Build Better Content, Jonathan said:
“Content strategy isn’t copywriting. Content strategy isn’t managing writers. Content strategy isn’t content marketing.”Jonathan Colman.
What then is content strategy?
To this question, Jonathan advised:
“Design content as a system, product, and experience.”
And his definition?
“Content strategy is interaction design. It’s also user experience. It’s design thinking.”
These expert opinions make sense. And the reason for this is there for all to see.
At the core, driving a successful product-led business revolves around oiling three pillars:
Code engineers the product. Design makes the product appealing.
But, words are what sets the tone that springs these other two pillars to life.
You want to know why?
Internally, your team may know all the dots connecting your product. As this illustration shows:
But, what happens without a well-defined, ground-up content strategy?
Users will see your SaaS product as a blurry object, and not know where or what to click on:
Thus, words – I mean carefully-selected ones, bring your SaaS product alive. The following reasons explain why:
- They’re foundational in that they help describe and articulate what needs to be designed, coded, or developed.
- They set the tone with which you communicate your product’s value proposition.
- They help your target audiences make sense of that value proposition in your marketing.
- And done well, they empower those target audiences to not only take action and sign up for your tool, but enjoy its use.
If words, or content, give meaning and context to your product’s entire engineering and design efforts, don’t you think it requires a holistic, ground-up strategy?
Like you, I couldn’t find a step-by-step guide on this topic when I researched. Hence, what follows is my attempt to create one for myself (and you).
Fancy an exciting journey to develop an all-encompassing product-led SaaS content strategy?
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room.
What is a Product-Led SaaS Content Strategy?
Starting with regular web content strategy, renowned content strategist, Kristian Halvorson, defined it as:
A “plan for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable words.”
Relevant to products, Director of Content Strategy at Publicis Sapient, Rachel Lovinger, gave it more context.
In her words:
Content strategy is “[the development and] use of words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.”
At the time I researched this guide, there was no content strategy definition specific to product-led brands.
Thus, I scraped and pieced all I found to define it as follows:
A product-led SaaS content strategy is an overarching framework that guides the creation, publication, and governance of words to position a product, attract new users, and support meaningful, interactive product use experiences.Victor Eduoh.
My definition also comes from the back of words by Intercom’s Director of Content Strategy, Elizabeth McGuane:
“…though the work is founded in the product team and design work, content strategy has an impact across the organization.”
Those words by Elizabeth is another reminder not to relegate content strategy to the backseat.
Because it affects all sections of your product, including:
- The strategic words used to position and differentiate your product.
- The words used in your content marketing and ad campaigns to attract customers, and
- The copywriting and UX writing. These give users a meaningful experience, as they solve problems with your product.
Your content strategy must sit nicely between all. And that because:
- It governs the internal use of words with which different teams across your organization describe the product (and its features).
- Also, it directs its use across the customer-facing, external end.
I went ahead to create a framework that shows content strategy’s position:
Using the SaaS content strategy framework above, you’ll see, step-by-step, how I develop holistic, product-led SaaS content strategies.
By the end of this guide you’ll:
- Learn how to get deep knowledge of your product. This directly informs your design team’s UX writing, copywriting, and product use cases.
- Achieve a genuine understanding of your target audiences and ICPs (ideal customer personas). This informs your marketing strategy, including PPC copywriting, content marketing & SEO, email marketing, and social media marketing.
- Finally, you’ll see how to assimilate market wisdom (trends and competitor analysis), which helps you position and differentiate your product.
As you see, this framework has six pillars. They combine to help you create a comprehensive product-led SaaS content strategy.
Six Pillars Of a Product-Led SaaS Content Strategy
Based on my framework, an effective product-led content strategy development hinges on six pillars.
But, developing the strategy itself only succeeds when there’s buy-in from your entire organization.
It’s not something you can do in isolation.
And that’s precisely how Biz Sanford, a Content Strategist at Shopify, said they go about developing one.
In her words:
“Through all stages of a project, content strategists work very closely with designers, developers, researchers, product managers, support, and anyone else who needs to be involved.”
The reason for doing this?
Sanford added it was critical to involve critical product teams, as it helped to:
“…focus on the hierarchy, flow, and structure of information in an experience, so people can quickly understand and use products.”
And why did I take the time to highlight this point?
Because when developing a product-led content strategy for clients, I always get buy-ins from relevant stakeholders involved in the product’s development.
So, as you jump in and follow this walkthrough to develop yours, ensure to do the same.
1. Deep Product Knowledge (Informs 4)
In the words of Emma O’Neil, LearnUpon’s Senior Content Marketer:
“Product knowledge is a skill where your employees fully understand and can effectively communicate with customers about your product’s features, benefits, uses, and support needs.”
Above all, she also added this:
“Product knowledge is a critical skill that your customer-facing teams need…” to steer growth.
In order words, content strategy guides how in-house teams describe your product and brand. It also directs how your external, customer-facing teams communicate to customers.
Thus, to develop an excellent product content strategy, start with an in-depth knowledge of your product:
Okay, you can start where’s okay for you. I’ll start here.
And I’ll follow Biz Sanford, Shopify’s Content Strategist’s advice:
Get input from designers, developers, researchers, and product managers.
But it doesn’t end there.
Talk to the founders, executives, support team, and anyone involved in developing and managing the product.
Become an investigator.
Query everything about the product. From the incepting idea of the product to the technology used in its development, features, and down to design choices.
Start by meeting with each team individually. Then collectively, arrange for a meetup where everyone can relate to each other’s take.
Your first goal?
To get everyone sold on the importance of developing a unifying content strategy. Secondly, to communicate how their corporation will help you identify the words to bring their work alive.
A tool like Survey Anyplace can make it super easy for everyone on your team to respond to your questions.
Survey Anyplace is an interactive questionnaire and survey tool. It’ll help you to send and receive prompts responses in a fun manner.
Once you get this critical, across-the-board corporation, you’re ready to start querying them to get deep product knowledge.
What to query?
Three things: Why? How? And what?
- Why does the product do what it does?
- Why should it exist?
- Why are certain features being developed?
- Why should anyone in their right mind care?
These questions boil down to Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.”
Here’s how Facebook’s Lead Content Strategist, Jonathan Colman, answered their’s:
- How will the product go about achieving its “why”?
- How will the product’s path to achieving its “why” make it look?
- How will prospective users participate in achieving that “why”?
- How will users’ actions affect the “why” positively?
Sticking with Facebook, it goes thus:
- What engineering and design choices will facilitate the “why’s” while keeping with the how’s?
- What should be researched to articulate the “why’s” and facilitate the how’s?
- What perception of this product are you looking to project in the market space?
- What are the product’s specific use cases?
At this “what” stage, you want to understand what different teams are doing to develop the final product.
Again, as Facebook does:
A little caution as you proceed.
According to Intercom’s Director of Content Strategy, Elizabeth McGuane, as you interrogate different teams, you’ll find that:
“Your product is a mess, and you’re using the same word to mean two different things. People are asking lots of questions about clarity and not understanding the basic system that you have.”
This lack of clarity isn’t out of place. You should expect it.
It gives birth to your next move.
Piece all the answers gleaned from different teams into a coherent, crisp-clear content system. Then, refine those answers into words your entire organization understands and can draw from.
Keep in mind that these refined words will inform your in-app UX writing, product use cases, and copywriting. They ensure you don’t lose the product’s voice and unique story.
Don’t know where to start?
Use the template I created to guide me through this process. It’s yours for free (click File >> Make a copy):
This process helps you to collate words different teams use to describe your product. In this first pillar, you want to assemble, articulate, and lay the foundation refining these words.
And refining these words start with the next pillar: Your target audiences.
2. Target Audience + ICPs’ Segmentation (Informs 5)
The first, all-important exercise, gives you deep product knowledge. You’ll know why the product should exist, how it will exist, and what your company is doing to ensure it does.
- Who will it exist for?
- Who will care?
- Where will you find them?
- What key characteristics about them do you need to inform ongoing product development? How would they help to better communicate your product’s value proposition?
In order words, at a broader level, who is your target audience? And on a more granular level, who are your ICPs (ideal customer personas)?
No matter how much or well you know your product, you can’t tell its story in isolation.
Do this, and you’ll be describing your product in ways your target audience won’t understand.
You’ll end up speaking jargon no one can relate with.
Thus, the task at this stage is to identify your target audience, segment them as much as possible, and find their language.
You’re looking for words that’ll resonate with the people who’ll use your product.
These words will help you refine the ones gathered from the 1st step in this product-led content strategy framework.
They’ll also inform the 5th step: Your marketing message.
In the end, you want your content to talk about your product in its target users’ language. You want to speak in ways that get them to say, ‘yes, this is for me!’
But, you must do this without losing your product’s unique voice.
Do a poor job here, and you’ll struggle to attract prospective customers.
The reason for that?
What you do at this stage affects the effectiveness of your entire marketing message.
Don’t know where to start?
The amazing Product Marketing Alliance team developed battle-tested frameworks for navigating this stage.
Own or marketing a B2B product? PMA outlined a set of questions to help understand your target audience better:
Even if it’s a B2C product, PMA got you covered:
Identifying your target audience is only half the battle.
To win the war, identify the words they use to talk about their problems relative to your product. Using these words in your content strategy is how to command desired actions in your marketing message [step 5].
To find them, however, you must segment your target audience and locate your ICPs.
Your ICPs are champions of each customer segment created from your target audience.
They’re the core personas whose words you must infuse into your product’s messaging.
ICPs come from thorough qualitative and quantitative research. It reveals people in each customer segment who cannot do without your product.
Again, the team at Product Marketing Alliance has templates to navigate this.
There’s the B2B ICPs’ framework:
As well as one for B2C products:
Want to save hours researching your target audience and ICPs?
Then, head over to the Product Marketing Alliance. Get even if a one-month membership, and you’ll have access to these templates.
It’s $24/month, and it’s worth it. (P.S: I don’t get ANYTHING whatsoever when you sign up). Although I’m an Ambassador of PMA, I’m only recommended these templates because they’re worth their value.
The goals to keep in mind as you go through this 2nd step:
- Understand your target audience in-depth.
- Segment that audience and identify your ICPs.
- Listen to how they talk about their problems relative to the solution your product provides.
- Glean the exact words they use to talk about those problems, and most importantly
- Blend the deep knowledge product obtained in step 1 in your target audience’s words. Doing this creates a positive influence on your marketing message [step 5].
The next step?
Ensure you talk in a way that’s different from others.
You don’t want your content strategy to produce product messaging that sounds me-too.
You must be different to stand out from the crowd.
And to do this, you need market wisdom.
3. Market Wisdom (Informs 6)
The subscription economy isn’t new anymore. Being a SaaS company doesn’t make you unique.
Shopify’s Lead Content Strategist, Alaine Mackenzie was right:
A generic content strategy doesn’t get the job done anymore.
In short, as per ChiefMartec’s 2020 report, over 8,000 products are vying for customer’s attention in the SaaS Martech segment alone.
And by vying for customers’ attention, it’s only natural to assume they all have a content strategy as part of their go-to-market motions.
Even if your product was the best in its niche, you can’t win this intense attention war with a generic content strategy hinged on a better offering.
Anyone can build better features. Anyone can copy that.
You need to stand out from the crowd.
Your content strategy needs to tell a story unique to your product and brand.
You need to be different.
According to advertising and copywriting expert, Sally Hogshead, that’s how to win the attention war and drive growth. In her words:
“Different is better than better.”Sally Hogshead.
But, to do this, you need factual market wisdom:
- An in-depth analysis of your competitors, and
- An understanding of relevant industry/economic trends.
As the illustration shows:
This stage of the process is essential.
It is where you study and analyze your competitors’ content strategy and make sense of relevant market trends.
But that’s only the beginning.
You also have to blend in the deep product knowledge and customer insights from steps one and two.
Doing this helps you to kill two birds with one stone.
First, it allows you to develop internal content governance for your entire organization:
For example, how Shopify does it:
Second, it lays the foundation for creating external, customer-facing content assets like UX writing, copywriting, marketing content, and others:
Studying and analyzing your competitors informs how best to differentiate your product and its features (part of step 6).
Don’t know where to start?
In a LinkedIn post, Kyle Poyar, OpenView’s VP of Strategy, shared how to generate competitive insights that go beneath the surface:
- Win-loss interviews: Regularly interview folks who evaluated you and competitors in your space. What were they trying to solve when they started their search? How did that evolve over time (and who influenced it)? What did competitors do to shape the conversation and position themselves against you?
- Org chart teardown: Gather data from LinkedIn and job postings to rebuild competitors’ org charts. This can help pinpoint areas where they’re doubling down and also ceding. Are they expanding internationally? Have they added Pre-Sales staff to go after the Enterprise?
- Marketing analytics: Using tools like SEMrush, investigate what keywords competitors own (organic and paid) and where they’re investing to win. What’s your share of voice on the keywords that matter?
It doesn’t end there.
Examine relevant market trends (the rest of step 6). The goal here is to:
- Understand how your niche, industry, and the economy is unfolding.
- Identify the right words and content formats to help position your product along with relevant trends.
Thread with caution as you go about this step.
Keep everything in sync with your product (step one). And ensure it resonates with your target audience (step two).
Do you need help going through this step?
Myk Pono’s competitive analysis template comes highly recommended:
The part of your product-led content strategy framework your end users and the market will see.
It’s the part that drives sales:
Before you proceed, ensure you’ve made sense of the three steps, leading up to this stage in the framework.
Do this, and the three steps that follow take a natural course, as they all draw from insights you’ve gleaned up to this point.
And it starts with the words you choose to describe your product with.
4. UX Writing + Copywriting (Draws from 1)
In-app UX writing and SaaS homepage copywriting are the first things prospects see when they discover your product.
It’s also your first chance to get them into action, like trial-ing your product or signing up for a demo.
It’s so essential to new customer acquisition that Intercom’s Director of Content Strategy, Elizabeth McGuane, said:
“That’s the thing we’ve iterated the most, and it really comes down to Intercom’s mission. What does it mean to be personal?”
She was correct, and Intercom’s content strategy success reflects this.
To craft excellent UX and homepage copywriting, you must draw directly from your product’s knowledge (step one).
The next box to tick?
Personalize the copy for your target audience. Also, use words that are unique to your product and brand and don’t sound me-too.
You do an excellent job here by leaning into insights gathered from the 1st three steps of your content strategy documentation:
Using this framework to navigate this step is in line with the words of Publicis Sapient’s Director of Content Strategy, Rachal Lovingar:
“Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design… [the] use [of] words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.”Rachal Lovingar.
However, as you go about crafting your product’s copy, keep in mind that people don’t read on the web.
They scan around and pick words that are important to them here and there. Your copywriting style must consider this.
John Saito captured it well in his excellent article, “How to Design Words.”
John said UX and product copywriting:
“[Is] a style of writing where brevity beats brilliance, and every character counts. Writing interface text is actually a lot like design—designing words for people who hate to read.”John Saito.
And how do you ensure your copy addresses the fact that people hate to read?
Switch from giving them what to read to using your copywriting to tell a unique story about your product that resonates with them.
Again, to be exceptional at this, you need to:
- Draw from the combined insights gleaned in the 1st three steps of the content strategy framework used up to this stage, and
- Use the product-led storytelling SaaS copywriting template.
The product-led storytelling copywriting template guides you to personalize your copy for different audiences while telling your product’s unique story:
Get the complete product-led storytelling SaaS copywriting research guide and template here.
Next up is to create awareness and drive traffic to your product, so your copywriting can do its work.
In order words, marketing takes the wheel from here.
5. Marketing [Content, SEO, PPC, Email, Social] (Draws from 2)
A quick Google search for SaaS content strategy and most of what you’ll find are articles by content marketing agencies.
These articles talk about “saas content strategy,” as though it is synonymous with saas marketing.
As you’ve seen so far, marketing is only a section of your product’s entire content strategy.
But an effective SaaS marketing strategy relies on a well-documented content strategy.
Look at it this way.
If content strategy is a car with different parts to drive traffic to your product, marketing is the fuel and oil that keeps the engine steaming to reach its customers.
Take it off, and you’re left with a car with no gas to create awareness, let alone bring people’s attention to your product.
Thus, using my product-led SaaS content strategy framework as a guide, your marketing strategy relies on all the content strategy pillars up to this point.
And on a more specific level, it draws directly from step two: Your target audience and ICPs:
Reasons your marketing strategy draws directly from step two are:
- The marketing channels you choose must be the ones your target audience hangs out.
- For prospects to find your product, you must use words they use when searching for the problems it solves.
- Finally, your marketing, be it SEO, email, social, or PPC, must lead with your target audience’s language.
Does your marketing tick those three boxes?
When it does, you show up where prospects are, become discoverable, and sound familiar.
But, your competitors would do these same things when vying for customers’ attention.
So how do you avoid me-too marketing?
Create a new category your SaaS product will live in and leverage the same to build topical authority.
The good thing?
Creating a category or building topical authority doesn’t mean new or more features than others.
Anyone can do that too.
It’s about the strategic messaging you wrap your entire marketing.
To do this, identify your prospects’ needs.
Then, name, and project a value proposition that’ll resonate with those needs.
Your product’s unique story must be integral in the formation of this value proposition. And it should depend on its features to achieve.
Examples of this are Drift (conversational marketing) and HubSpot (inbound marketing).
The end goal?
As prospects talk about this created category or search for how to leverage it, your product should come to mind or be at the forefront of the marketing channels you play on.
As the below image shows, you can do this with the SaaS Content Topic Clusters’ Strategy, CTCS:
As this image shows, top-level content marketing, be it for SEO, email, PPC, or social, created to promote your product should project the category you named.
Next, each feature of your product should have content clusters.
These content clusters should address the exact problems they solve in a way that connects to the main category.
When you do this, you end up using your product’s features as pillars to support your product’s category. Also, you’ll have articles, addressing relevant stages of your prospect’s buying journeys.
And to create each cluster content piece, show (don’t tell) how your product solves prospects’ problems.
This content execution process is what I refer to as product-led storytelling.
It blends your content strategy and copywriting to produce content pieces with outlines that look like this:
This content execution process transforms each piece into direct customer acquisition tools (and not for accumulating MQLs or SQLs):
With this process, irrespective of where you drive traffic to your content, conversion can still happen.
Hence, you can save resources creating and promoting content only where your target audience would find them.
Because, according to Sara Watchter-Boettcher:
“We don’t need more marketing content. We need content that does more.”Sara Watchter-Boettcher.
And that brings us to 6th and final pillar of my product-led SaaS content strategy framework:
6. Positioning + Differentiation (Draws from 3)
You can’t claim a strategic positioning, and it’s automatically yours. Neither can you say you’re different from others with mere words.
Positioning and differentiation only come as a result of other forces at play.
In developing a holistic product-led content strategy, all pillars, from deep product knowledge to how you craft your marketing messages, add up to differentiate you from others.
If you don’t execute those five pillars well, you’ll not be different.
In short, as you see in the framework below, the reverse is not the case:
You can’t own a differentiated positioning by first trying to be different.
You must start with the basics:
- Deep knowledge of your product
- An understanding of your customers’ needs, and
- Factual market wisdom.
You want to develop a holistic content strategy that genuinely differentiates and positions your product for growth?
Start by knowing your product inside-out.
Next, dive deep into what keeps your prospects up at night relative to your product.
According to MailChimp on product differentiation, taking these help you to know:
“…what makes your product or service stand out to your target audience. It’s how you distinguish what you sell from what your competitors do, and it increases brand loyalty, sales, and growth.”
It doesn’t end there.
To truly differentiate your product with your content strategy, get factual market wisdom:
- How do your competitors talk about their products?
- What relevant niche, industry, or economic trends should you align with?
- And most importantly, how do all those relate to your product and ideal customers?
Aha!, a prominent product management software, wrote that when you adjust your content strategy with these questions in mind…
“Product differentiation [becomes] the process of distinguishing [your] product or service from others. [As it] involves detailing the characteristics that are valued by customers that make it unique. [Ultimately], product differentiation creates a competitive advantage as customers view your product as superior.”
Remember, what attracts prospects to your product is first the words used to describe and promote the product.
Hence, differentiation and positioning starts with choosing the right words. And that’s because words are the first things people see when they encounter your product:
It proceeds with crafting those words to form actionable content.
Then, it ends by promoting that content with a strategy that drives it to the right places. From there, it appeals to and attracts the right audience.
In order words…
Differentiation and positioning come from blending all pillars of the content strategy framework.
Doing this helps you to project differentiated external, customer-facing content:
Conclusion: Content Strategy Ownership
Do you have an excellent SaaS product?
Follow it up with an excellent product-led content strategy execution, and you’ll drive sustainable growth.
But even if you recognize the role of content strategy in driving growth, ownership may still be a challenge.
Take Shopify, whose examples I’ve used throughout this guide, for example. A Lead Content Strategist at the company, Alaine Mackenzie, said:
“My team has four content strategists in a company of about 800 other people. Hundreds of these people ship content to our customers every day.”
How do you manage words and content strategy in such a large organization, knowing the critical role it plays?
Luckily, Alaine shared how they do it at Shopify:
“There’s no way we’ll ever be able to keep up. So education has become one of our most important priorities.
As hard as it is for a team of control-freak writers to let go of the need to personally vet every word that goes out the door, the best thing we can do for the team as a whole is empower everyone to write their own great content.”
Alaine’s and Shopify’s process births two questions:
- How do you ensure proper content ownership?
- And how do you do it, yet still empower everyone to write great content that’s in sync with your content strategy?
Use the 1st three content strategy framework pillars to develop internal content governance:
Doing this helps you identify, define, and outline words team members can always reference when crafting content.
Again, Shopify does this: