August 16, 2023

What Product-Led Marketing (PLM) Is, and How to Use It to Grow Your User-Base [+ Helpful Resources]

Nate Turner
Nate Turner

Product-led marketing (PLM) is a rapidly growing approach to promoting and selling in which companies rethink how to leverage the product and user experience to grow users and revenue.

Whether you’re using a traditional sales-led model or offering the simplest freemium, low-touch onboarding experience to get your product into people’s hands, every team can learn something from product-led marketing teams about growing their own company.

Let’s look at how the most successful teams leverage their products as part of the larger marketing motion.

What does product-led marketing (PLM) mean?

Product-led marketing is a strategy where the product itself becomes the primary vehicle driving customer acquisition, retention, and expansion. 

Instead of a robust sales-led approach to close deals and execute direct outreach, PLM leverages content and marketing channels that emphasize the product’s functionality, assist with fluid onboarding, and support the product management team to ensure the UI and content help users realize the product’s value quickly.

Here is a list of core attributes associated with SaaS companies and their products that ensure they’ll benefit from product-led marketing:

  • User-centric design and self-service onboarding: Prioritizing the customer experience above all, ensuring the software is intuitive enough that a user can usually successfully onboard themselves
  • Freemium or trial model for your product: Allowing users to experience the product before committing, proving its value first, and ensuring higher user acquisition
  • Natural viral loops: Incorporating features that naturally encourage users to share the product with others without feeling as though they’re helping you sell your product
  • Investment in community building: Fostering a strong community around the product and your industry, encouraging user and expert collaboration, and highlighting your users within the community
  • Access to product-usage data: Using in-app metrics, you’re able to understand user behavior, refine the product, and provide proprietary data to your users (like benchmark reports)
Recommended Reading: Product-Led Growth: What It Is, Examples, KPIs, and Department Roles

Product-led marketing vs. traditional B2B marketing at sales-led SaaS companies

Let’s talk about how traditional B2B marketing at sales-led companies differs from the product-led marketing approach mentioned above.

Traditional B2B marketing is about creating awareness, establishing trust, and building a relationship with a broader audience with a focus on lead generation (MQLs and SQLs).

Your role as marketer for one of these companies is broad — it's about understanding the market, identifying target segments, and creating tailored campaigns to generate and nurture leads. The marketing team usually hands over qualified leads to the sales team after they've been nurtured sufficiently. 

Revenue depends largely on direct sales interactions to close these deals. It's often a more aggressive approach, emphasizing direct outreach, cold calls, and personal selling techniques. 

Additionally, the buyer at these companies is often an organization or a decision-making team within a company. Marketing efforts are targeted toward a group, considering organizational needs and challenges — rather than an individual user within a product-led marketing organization.

Recommended Reading: Product-Led vs Sales-Led Growth - Try a Mix of Both

What is the marketing team’s role in a product-led growth strategy?

A product-led marketing team’s primary responsibility is to ensure the product remains at the center of all growth efforts. 

Let's explore the vital marketing activities of the best PLG go-to-market strategies and their significance in the customer journey.

Awareness and education:

As discussed by Kyle Poyar in both the OpenView blog and Lenny’s newsletter, awareness and education are driven primarily by SEO and content marketing in combination with “product virality.” This starting point gives you the most cost-effective way to generate a significant number of users at a reasonably low CAC.

Product-led marketing data from OpenView
Source: OpenView’s 2023 Product Benchmarks Survey

Leveraging and enhancing the user-centric design from the feedback loop:

A product designed for its users will naturally drive engagement and referrals. When users feel heard and see their feedback implemented, it fosters loyalty and promotes organic growth.

As their feedback comes in, it’ll give your marketing team ideas for onboarding prompts and knowledge-base articles to improve the overall experience for future users.

Community building and engagement:

More and more product-led marketing strategies center around cultivating an active user community through forums, Slack channels, social media, and events. A strong community provides invaluable feedback and advocates for your product, attracting new users and reinforcing loyal fandom among existing ones.

Pro tip: Marketers often recommend avoiding direct product promotion inside the community as a way to keep members from feeling like it’s just another way for a company to upsell them.

Seamless onboarding experience:

Product-led marketing means assisting with intuitive onboarding flows. Your team should create educational content like tutorials and product announcements to ensure users:

  • Can easily use the product and reduce overall time to value
  • Don’t experience frustration and a lack of customer support/success (avoiding churn)
  • Explore additional product features

Retention and expansion:

PLG marketers know that retaining users is often more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. 

By understanding user behavior, marketers can offer segmented, personalized experiences to keep customers happy and help them find the features of your product most applicable to their needs.

Advocacy and referral programs:

Marketers like yourself need to design programs that reward users for referring the product to others. Leveraging their satisfaction and stories can significantly lower customer acquisition costs and drive further organic growth.

Recommended Reading: 3 Product-Led Brainstorming Ideas That’ll Help You Drive Organic User Acquisition

How companies acquire and upsell with product-led marketing

Most impactful marketing channels

In product-led marketing, the focus is on authentic product experiences and organic growth through select channels. Here’s where most companies find the greatest initial value:

In-product messaging

If you need the upsell and added product stickiness, in-product marketing is your friend. 

Direct communication within the product environment ensures the message aligns with the user's current experience to highlight announcements, features, and address the next natural questions they likely have.

SEO and content marketing

SEO and content are among the most efficient and effective means of generating a significant volume of new users.

From blogs to templates, podcast episodes, whitepapers, and trend reports, you have plenty of opportunities to impress potential users.

Email and lifecycle campaigns

Email remains a potent channel for personalized outreach. Automated lifecycle campaigns based on user behavior or milestones can nurture leads, onboard new users, and reduce churn.

And a useful newsletter can continue your engagement with your most interested users.

Social media and communities

Social networks give users a platform to share their customer experiences, ask questions, and engage with brands directly. 

Its versatility for distributing multiple content types makes it ideal for supporting anything from podcast clips to user-generated content (UGC), all while giving your company a touch of personality.

Referral programs

Users who love your product will want to share it. And by incentivizing them through a referral program, you can tap into word-of-mouth marketing — which takes patience, but remains one of the most trusted forms of promotion.

Webinars, workshops, and events

Marketers and sales reps can offer a deeper dive into the product's features and best use cases by creating places where interested users can see it in action and engage with your team. Live sessions and in-person events also provide an opportunity for real-time Q&A, strengthening user trust and understanding.

Paid social and SEM

Especially impactful when promoting thought leadership, trend reports, and demo content, paid advertising definitely deserves a place within your product-led marketing channels.

Customer success and support channels

Whether via your chatbot, customer success reps, or robust knowledgebase, the ticket to helping people discover and use your product’s full functionality is providing channels that empower them to find solutions easily and quickly.

Top content types for product-led marketing

Product led marketing's most popular content types
Image Source: Peersignal’s PLG Index

Here are the content types that often play a pivotal role at PLG companies:

  • Product demos and tutorials
  • Podcasts
  • Interactive webinars
  • Optimized blog posts:
  • Programmatic, product-led SEO (large-scale, replicable content types like Zaps or listings)
  • User-generated content (UGC)
  • Onboarding guides
  • Newsletters
  • Templates
  • Video content
  • Certifications
If you want to see where most PLG companies are invested from an SEO standpoint, check out this article:

8 Must-Have Content Types for PLG Companies Investing in SEO [+184 SaaS Marketers Told Us Which They’d Build First]

Examples of product-led marketing from companies you know

Zapier shows off product-led SEO and product-led content to acquire more users

Zapier’s product design and functionality make it one of the leading companies to study if you’re interested in product-led marketing.

Their initial understanding of how people search gave them the idea to scale a programmatic, product-led SEO strategy that created thousands of integration and app pages to show off their number of Zaps. It’s the perfect way to highlight product features and provide a great user web experience without creating traditional content.

Product-led marketing from Zapier's marketing team

But Zapier is also great at creating product-led content. In this marketing strategy, they’ve written optimized content about solutions people try to achieve with certain software products. 

This gives them another endless list of topics people search for on Google. It also allows them to showcase quick CTA buttons through the content that show off all their Zaps related to the solution or software the reader was focused on when they started their search.

Zapier's CTAs for product-led marketing with content

Asana’s community facilitates deeper product engagement and user connectivity

There are various ideas of what “community” means in the SaaS world. It could be a private Slack group where you can access employees and other users for all your miscellaneous questions.

Or it could be exclusive access to an academy, forums, events, and experts like Asana offers.

This product-led marketing strategy helps you find value quicker once you’re inside the product without drowning the limited bandwidth of Asana’s community, support, and success team members.

Asana's community-based product led marketing motion

Certification programs at companies like Datadog and Qualtrics create vendor-led product marketing

Certifications are another great way to encourage companies to promote your SaaS product.

Giving companies a way to show others that they’re experts in using, installing, and consulting for your products gives vendors and in-house teams a reason to engage and recommend your company as a solution.

Datadog's certification banner as part of their product-led marketing campaigns
Using certifications for a lot of technical product led marketing teams

Notion’s templates fuel creative usage and growth

The versatility of Notion’s product makes it a powerhouse for users across a wide range of use cases. To reward users and help future prospects dial in new and exciting ways to take advantage of their product, Notion encourages its users to create, share, and even sell templates that others can use.

All of this has led to a self-feeding, product-led marketing strategy that helps a ton of monthly users.

Notion's product led marketing includes a UGC template database

Product-led marketing resources worth exploring

OpenView’s Content

OpenView is a venture capital firm that happens to be putting out a ton of interesting information about product-led companies, including interesting data, benchmark reports, and recommendations for companies in this space.

Highly recommend checking out their resources like the 2023 Product Benchmarks Report.

Kyle Poyar’s Newsletter

Part of the OpenView team, Kyle has a newsletter called Growth Unhinged, where he further elaborates on PLG and SaaS data. He also interviews individual companies to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what they’re doing that works so well.

It’s worth the subscribe to your index if you’re serious about this space.

Appcues’ PLG Collective

If you’ve searched questions on Google related to product-led growth and marketing, then you’ve probably come across the PLG Collective.

It’s packed with experienced, long-form advice that’ll leave any level of marketer feeling better prepared to support their go-to-market motion.

PeerSignal’s PLG Index

PeerSignal’s Index is a great way to find lists of other PLG companies and see what they’re doing, where they’ve been, and how they’re driving users.

Think ZoomInfo, but with more accurate, up-to-date info on companies with specific GTM strategies.

Aha's Guide For Product Managers

From strategy and research to design, launch, and fully furnished with templates, Aha!'s roadmapping guide is great introduction to the space for members on your team who want to understand the foundations of a true PLG Go-To-Market motion.

Product-led marketing works — let us prove it to you

At Ten Speed, our organic growth team members have worked in-house, as advisors, and as agency partners for some of the most successful PLG companies in the world.

If you want to grow your user base by bringing in more organic traffic interested in your product, book a quick call to see if we’re the right fit for you.

Discover how we can help.

Book a call with us and we’ll learn all about your company and goals.
If there’s a fit, we will put together a proposal for you that highlights your opportunity and includes our strategic recommendations.