How to Implement In-App Feature Announcements & Release Notes

Feature Announcements

Software companies invest a lot of time interviewing customers and developing features to improve their product. Unfortunately, only a fraction of that time is typically spent marketing those features and ensuring that customers actually use them. Most feature announcements consist of little more than an ineffective blog post or email blast.

In-app notifications and release notes are two of the most effective ways to market new features to customers. Release notes provide a record of all changes to customers—including bug fixes that many marketing efforts ignore—while in-app notifications enable you to introduce features to the right customers at the right time. 

Let’s take a look at why feature announcements are important, what tools you can use to make them and tips that you can use to fine-tune your message.

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Why Announce Features?

Software companies spend a lot of time interviewing customers and developing features. While some users may be eagerly waiting for a feature to drop, most users probably don’t even notice them when they launch. Some customers may even become confused and frustrated by changes to user interfaces without the right introduction.

There are several reasons to make feature announcements:

  • Reduce confusion by introducing users to a changing user interface rather than expecting them to know how to use it.
  • Reduce churn by showing users that you’re listening to their needs while re-engaging users that are frustrated with existing limitations.
  • Boost retention by helping users become more successful with new features that they can’t live without or find in competing solutions.
  • Expand by targeting potential customers that may have been hesitant to purchase because of a prior limitation addressed by a new feature.

Feature announcements communicate why a feature exists, who it might help and how to effectively use it. Depending on the audience, these announcements might be press releases, onboarding sequences, in-app notifications or simple release notes. The key is communicating a relevant value with context to the target customer at the right time. 

Planning an Announcement

Many companies that launch new features do so with little fanfare. For example, they may create a short blog post or email that describes the feature and send it to their entire email list. The problem with this approach is that many features only apply to certain subsets of users and simply describing the feature doesn’t compel them to actually start using it.

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There are a few steps to craft the perfect feature announcement:

  1. Define the target persona. Different features appeal to different types of users. For example, a new feature in an accounting application might appeal to small business owners, certain types of businesses or accountants.
  2. Hone in on the benefit. Determine the benefit of the feature to the target persona. For instance, does the feature help them save time? Does it automate some part of their job? Does it help them better serve their own clients?
  3. Craft an effective message. Create content that helps them recognize the benefit and use the feature. Depending on the feature, that might involve putting together a short video, developing an onboarding sequence or simply pointing out a new setting.

In an ideal scenario, the marketing team should have visibility into the development pipeline to see what features are coming and thoughtfully prepare announcements. The marketing team should also have segmented their customer base based on different types of users in order to simplify the process of targeting the right people at the right time. 

Start with Release Notes

Release notes are an essential starting point for feature announcements. By listing all of the changes in a release, development teams have a starting point for marketing efforts, a deliverable for stakeholders and a list of changes for users. Many app stores also require release notes to detail changes and encourage users to update apps.

There are two key audiences for release notes:

  • Internal audiences use release notes as part of their planning processes. For instance, a development team may send release notes to the marketing team, which can use them to start planning feature announcements.
  • External audiences can easily see all of the changes that have been made—including things that may not be mentioned in feature announcements. The most common example would be bug fixes that a small number of users want to see.

Marketing teams should take release notes and prioritize the features contained within them. For example, a minor bug fix impacting very few users would be a “low” priority while a major change to a common workflow would be a “high” priority. Feature announcements should be built for high priority items that impact a lot of users or provide a lot of business value.

Feature Announcements

Automated Release Notes for Jira – Source: Amoeboids

If your development team uses Jira, you may want to consider Automated Release Notes for Jira as a way to automate the creation of release notes from Jira issues and the sharing of release notes with different audiences. For example, you could automatically send release notes to the marketing team prior to release to help them prepare.

Reach Out with Notifications

There are many different ways to make feature announcements. While blog posts and emails are the most common, there are several other ways to introduce customers to new features. The right feature announcement channels depend on the nature of the feature, content of the announcement, target audience and other factors.

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Some of the most common marketing channels include:

  • Email
  • Blog posts
  • Onboarding sequences
  • In-app notifications
  • Status pages
  • Live chat
Feature Announcements

In-App Notification Example – Source: Intercom

In-app notifications have become one of the most popular ways to announce features because you can target specific users on a personal level. For example, Intercom lets you send notifications when a user segment begins a specific workflow that involves a new feature. If the user has a question, they can use the same notifications to quickly connect to support.

Depending on the feature, you may want to link to a video tutorial showing a user how to get started with a new workflow or simply explain a new setting. In-app notifications through chat-like interfaces also make it easy for customers to ask a question whereas those that exist as pop-ups tend to have more friction when it comes to getting support.

The Bottom Line

Software companies spend a lot of time interviewing customers and developing new features, but woefully little time marketing those new features to customers. With release notes and in-app notifications, you can create a simple and effective workflow to minimize confusion and churn while boosting retention and expanding your customer base.

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