Turning Traffic Into Users: Why Branding Is Important For Product-led Growth

Product-led growth is supposed to enable the product to sell itself, so there’s really less of a need for sales and marketing, right? Wrong.

Though the product itself does a lot of the heavy lifting when guiding the user to discover value without human guidance, product positioning and messaging becomes incredibly important throughout the user’s journey. It’s at its most valuable when users have discovered a product and are deciding whether or not they should sign up and give it a shot.

Bar chart explaining the median numbers of visit-to-signup rate based on product experience

With standout PLG visit-to-sign up rates hovering around 5%, marketers and product teams alike should be working to optimize for as many signups as possible. How can these teams achieve this? Old school positioning.

Unfortunately, the best founders—highly technical experts who have solved for a real pain point they’ve felt in their work—are typically less experienced in classic messaging and positioning. This can sometimes result in innumerable consultations with agencies, countless website revamps, and soul-searching from the organization itself.

Don’t panic! We’re here with a quick start guide.

So what’s a founder to do? Spend six figures of precious capital on that marketing agency you’re not convinced will help? Rebuild the website (again)?

Not so fast.

Our team fired up the wayback machine and investigated the changes that a handful of standout product-led organizations made to their websites over time. All this to better understand what works. What really induces users to sign up for a product? How can founders develop and hone messaging over time?

We’ve developed all of this research with an eye to helping founders catapult themselves past common pitfalls and mistakes.

Messaging: The key to getting prospects excited about your offering

Your visitors are on your website to learn about your product, so all messaging should be about your product, right? Not exactly. People like to learn about things in the context of their needs. Consider explaining your product through the lens of how it can help them.

For example:

Typeform gets right at users’ concerns with “boring forms” while Mailchimp gets right to business with users’ aspiration to turn emails into cold, hard cash.

You might also notice that both of these websites get right to the point.

We’re taught in school to set up a hypothesis, develop supporting arguments, explore the other side, and then loop back to prove a point. All of that is not going to fly with a web audience. When building a website, use a journalistic point of view, leading with the punchline of why your product matters to your audience, and then developing the supporting arguments after your core point is made.

Finally, throughout this research, I noticed that quite a few PLG SaaS companies leverage users’ fear of missing out (FOMO) to drive credibility and desirability throughout the website. For many companies, FOMO could simply be displaying customer logos, while for enterprise-focused businesses, they may use something more like a Forrester Wave or Gartner Magic Quadrant report.

Some startups take this to the next level by displaying users’ love/like tweets, emails, and user testimonials. A favorite example in the market today is Thinkst Canary, which has a constantly updating page of customer kudos.

Regardless of how you choose to structure your website, keep these core messaging findings in mind, and consider hiring a marketer sooner than later. Data from our 2022 Product Benchmarks report revealed that organizations whose first GTM hire was a marketing expert had the highest signup rates, even at scale.

That’s most likely because these marketers are able to tackle fundamentals like positioning, identifying the “jobs-to-be-done” of core user groups, and writing copy that entices prospects to sign up.

Design: Not just for app interfaces anymore

Product websites usually have a very difficult job, as they’re required to convey a ton of information while also making the business seem young, innovative, and unique.

In recent years, that’s led to a lot of websites that begin to blur together, with lots of white backgrounds, sans-serif fonts, chatbots(!) and lots of dropdowns. It’s gotten to the point where you can figure out where a startup is in its fundraising cycle and marketing executive maturity by the number of website revamps they’ve performed.

It’s understandable that websites can be trigger points for seasoned founders and executives, but we’ve gathered a few design trends of top-tier PLG companies to help ease the pain.

Remember, show and tell isn’t just for kindergarteners. Showing off the product via gif, video or other animation are all the rage right now.

screenshot of calendly's easy to understand website marketing with immediate email sign ups.

Both Calendly and ClickUp are alike in terms of their UI. They both give the user the ability to get started right from the webpage (leading to an amazing web-to-signup rate), and most importantly, they provide an animation of how the product works.

Another point to remember regarding the messaging element of websites is that prospective users are people. Whether these users understand it consciously or not, they want to be told that other people are using your product (leading to FOMO). One way to help fulfill this subconscious need is to show people on your website, too.

screenshot of Amplitude's product messaging with tutorials showcased on their main page as reasons why you should trust them.

Amplitude kills two birds with one stone by showcasing their testimonials from aspirational brands, as well as highlighting actual pictures of the users that gave those testimonials.

Intercom puts people at the forefront of their web design, which works well with their messaging as an engagement platform.

a screencap of intercom's successful product positioning, where they use people in side profile views looking at each other and talking.

 

When it comes to design, your team can—and should—experiment quite a bit with usability, colors, and fonts. But without an understanding of how your product works visually and how it applies to them, users are less likely to hit that beautifully designed and tested sign up button.

Deployment: Shipping and testing as you learn

As you begin to learn more about your customers and start to see growth in your product, your positioning will feel like it is ever changing. With a moving target, how do you know when to ship? The answer is to iterate and learn.

You don’t need to go behind a curtain for six months and build an entire new website that will launch. In fact, you can, and should, do it in pieces.

Think you understand your customer’s pain? Launch a new homepage.

Looking to optimize conversion for a specific offer? Rework your navigation.

The key here is to launch experiments with a small number of variables so you can see the impact of these changes. Watch your funnel and your analytics to see the impacts of deploying updates to your site, just as you would with your product.

We know a website redesign can feel daunting, but don’t let that stand in your way of making measurable progress towards your goals.

Building a website that speaks to prospective users is a slog, but don’t ignore it

Next time you revisit that website’s design and your product’s positioning, take a step back, take a deep breath, and put some real thought into it. If you’re building a product that helps your business acquire, grow, and retain users, it will set the foundation for a stronger company that can withstand more user growth.

Demand generation and discoverability of your product tend to bear the majority of that load. But make no mistake, your website will become either the bottleneck that makes your product a large-scale business, or one that holds it back from succeeding.

5 key findings:

Messaging

  1. PLG websites revolve around people, not product features: People want to know how your product is going to make them look good. That’s all that matters.
  2. Great websites use an inverted pyramid to tell their story: The most important, most convincing line of copy that answers “Why this?” must go at the very top. All copy below that should answer common questions and convince skeptics.
  3. Create FOMO: Messaging must imply that the smartest, most in-the-know people in the industry rely on your product—and if you want to keep up with them, you’ve got to get on board.

Design

  1. Show, don’t tell: When possible, show the product in action by using a video or animation that plays on page load and loops.
  2. Focus on people: Using photos of real people makes it easier for potential customers to picture themselves using your product.

Note: Calendly is an OpenView portfolio company. For a full list of OV portfolio companies, please see our website.

Kyle Poyar
Kyle Poyar
Partner at OpenView

Kyle helps OpenView’s portfolio companies accelerate top-line growth through segmentation, value proposition, packaging & pricing, customer insights, channel partner programs, new market entry and go-to-market strategy.
You might also like ...
Marketing
Should You Buy A Media Company?
Earlier this year Pendo acquired Mind the Product, the world’s largest destination and community for product folks. Odd, right? What...
by Kyle Poyar, Sanjiv Kalevar
Communications & Branding
The Five Pillars for Building an Effective Community
I get a lot of questions about building a community—specifically, how I did it at OpenView. For context, I joined...
by Casey Renner
Marketing
How to Write an Outreach Email That Someone Will Actually Read

With the average person receiving over 90 business emails every day, it’s no surprise that the majority of cold emails get ignored.

by Anastasia Belyh