When exciting improvements are being made to your product, everyone in the company feels the momentum. But do your customers feel the same way?
They won’t unless you invest in consistently excellent communication. Reality isn’t reality; perception is reality, and customers often perceive your product very differently than you do. Just ask the former Microsoft Office team:
If a feature falls in the forest with no customers around to hear it, does it make a sound? It certainly won’t make a splash. In many ways, one of the foremost jobs of marketing is to avoid the scenario above. Though, this is no slight to the Office team—driving awareness and adoption are extremely difficult, especially for a fast-paced product that’s always improving.
While there’s no cure-all tonic for this issue, I’d like to offer one unique solution: video-first product showcases. We hosted one ourselves recently, Kapwing Direct, and today I’d like to share how they work, what problems they solve, and advice for marketing teams looking to host one of their own.
Pulling back the curtains on Kapwing Direct
So, what exactly is Kapwing Direct, and what are product showcases generally for that matter? I define product showcases as recurring marketing campaigns that highlight a deliberately chosen set of features and products—often those you’ve recently released.
My first foray into product showcases was a secondment to support the first-ever Shopify Editions, a campaign that itself was inspired by how gaming companies go direct-to-audience to market their entire product ecosystem (games, consoles, DLC, etc.). Kapwing Direct took inspiration from these and other best-in-class product showcases, including Airbnb’s “Releases” and Sony’s “State of Play”. (I’m sure the Nintendo fans reading don’t even have to ask.)
That’s well and good, but what exactly makes up a product showcase? What are its components and deliverables? Since there’s less of an established playbook for these campaigns—which is part of what makes them exciting—that is up to you. But I think all brands should at least consider the following:
We treated Kapwing Direct as a video-first campaign with a single pre-recorded (and tightly edited) recap video that ran through all of the updates we had to share. Why do we recommend a pre-recorded video? Because you’ll be able to edit the video down to the essentials and avoid any technical issues while demoing new products live.
Speaking of, I also recommend brands consider a live Q&A component at a specific date and time. Kapwing Direct featured a live session scheduled in advance where we premiered the pre-recorded video, then moved into the Q&A with our attendees. Making your team available (in our case, the CEO!) to answer live questions about your product may seem scary, but our experience was very positive.
The great thing about product showcases is they straddle the line between ephemeral events and permanent marketing artifacts. One way you can get the ladder is to create a landing page that organizes all of your updates in an engaging, logical way. Check out the Kapwing Direct and Shopify Editions pages for inspiration. We also transitioned our landing page to serve as a permanent “AI Overview” after the event was over, giving us even more mileage out of our work.
Product showcases are a gift to smart creative teams because they naturally create an opportunity to repurpose content. Event recaps, standalone blog posts, social posts, video clips—you can end up planning multiple weeks of content from one event. Repurposing video will likely be your highest ROI activity for the campaign, which is another reason to invest in pre-recorded videos.
A distinct theme
This isn’t so much a tangible deliverable as it is an exercise you do behind the scenes. The theme of your product showcase helps instill “Why these releases matter right now.” With a strong theme, the messaging you use throughout your showcase also considers the greater context your product operates in; current trends, changes in the market, where things are headed. All of these details reinforce how the products you’re creating are meeting the moment.
From there, the skies are very open—the same inventiveness you apply to standalone product launches can be applied to showcase, so don’t box yourself in based on what you’ve seen other companies do. Test ideas, get feedback, and make improvements to the next campaign.
Why run a product showcase?
We’ve covered the “what,” now we need to uncover the “why.” What are the broad, overarching goals a company might have for a product-focused event? Again, the exact right answer will depend on your business. But there are at least four common reasons I’ve seen brands invest in these experiences:
1. Give customers visibility into everything you’re building
Most companies overestimate how familiar customers are with their product; that we already know. So the first and foremost outcome of a product showcase is building broader awareness for key features, especially those you’ve released recently. “Did you know we had this?” Answer: Now I do.
Current, active customers will appreciate these updates the most, and will likely be the majority of the attendees for any live sessions tied to your showcase. But there are two other important audiences to consider:
- Customers who are slipping away. Customers who are beginning to lose “that magic feeling” with your product may be swayed to stick around after you’ve shared all the improvements you’ve shipped recently. If the future of your product is looking bright, it’s easier to earn a second chance.
- Prospects sitting on the sidelines. “If only I was able to do…” Some customers have very specific workflows they feel can’t be done without a distinct set of features. Showcases are a great way to communicate that a whole new workflow is now available (or improved) in your product, often by showing off multiple new features you’ve recently shipped.
2. Show customers how your product is greater than the sum of its parts
In the article Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers, author John Gourville describes why most new products get rejected: customers overweight the status quo by 3x, while companies overestimate their product’s perceived benefits by 3x. The 9x Effect describes the gap between company and customer, and why it’s often hard to get customers to switch.
The trick, however, is that it’s rare for a product to be “10x better” without a strong set of features that work together to unlock a fundamentally new or better way to do valuable tasks.
If that’s true for your product then it makes sense to market whole areas of your product in addition to standalone feature releases. The theme you choose for your product showcase should reinforce this idea; we used “Accelerate with AI” for Kapwing Direct, as it captures how our recent releases dramatically reduce time spent on tedious, time-consuming editing work.
Want to overcome the 9x effect? Don’t just market standalone features, find ways to exhibit your product as a whole—and consider a product showcase as part of your toolkit to solve this problem.
3. Build confidence with customers that you have strong product momentum
Product showcases are the most direct way to say, “We update our product frequently, and you can expect more soon.” Of course, you need to make sure that’s actually true!
Customers care about this because they want to place their bets on products that keep pace with wherever their industry is headed. There’s just too much at stake to stick with a tool or platform that’s living in the past; nobody wants to use the “fax machine” of their industry.
The feeling you want customers to have is something I call product momentum. Shipping products quickly, though hard to achieve, isn’t actually enough—customers have to feel the momentum.
The problem with traditional, one-at-a-time product launches is customers end up missing a lot of marketing messages. Or, they might simply forget about previous releases; they’re real people with more important things to do than scour your changelog. Over time, this can add up and dilute the feeling of, “Wow, this company ships a lot!”
Product showcases are a great way to earn that feeling back. It’s a chance for you to demonstrate how quickly and consistently you’ve built valuable new features over the course of 3, 6, or 12 months. And once it’s laid out so plainly, the momentum of your product becomes unquestionable.
4. Drive demand and adoption that shows up via your metrics
All of the goals above are best seen as outcomes you’d like to achieve, but they need proxy metrics in order to prove that you’ve actually achieved them. So of course, the ultimate way that product showcases create business value is by moving metrics that matter to the business.
These can include but are not limited to driving new signups and demo requests, increasing product adoption or expansion, reactivating customers who have churned or started to churn, and winning deals with customers you previously struggled to win in the past (e.g., you lost the deal because they couldn’t do one important workflow with your product).
Lessons learned from running Kapwing Direct
Don’t you hate marketing blog posts that feel like a victory lap? Great marketing is never as clean and tidy as the self-promoters would have you believe. That’s why we can’t end this article without sharing some hard-won lessons from running Kapwing Direct.
⚠️ Warning: Mistakes ahead. You’ll probably make a few mistakes with your own product showcases, too. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent; it’s more about recognizing that ambitious marketing campaigns are always tricky. Hopefully, the lessons shared here will help you avoid a few pitfalls in your own campaigns:
1. Market way before you think you need to
One thing I’m proud of is the time we spent planning and building this most recent Direct—we went from idea to event in just a few weeks. That fast pace helped us avoid bloat, which is all too common in campaigns like this.
However, it also led to a mistake: we should have begun marketing the live event much earlier. We serve busy professionals and teams of creative marketers; asking for 45 minutes of their time during the workday is a lot, and we didn’t give attendees enough notice that our event was coming their way.
Customer marketing helped us build up a solid number of attendees anyway, but most of those who attended the live event were existing users. I can’t help but think if we would have been more successful in attracting non-customers had we started promoting the event earlier.
2. Set the right goal and build your entire showcase around it
Did we set goals for Kapwing Direct? Of course. But in retrospect, we under-valued goals like driving feature adoption or reactivation and overestimated our ability to earn new signups via the campaign.
In short: net-new acquisition via product showcases may potentially be a harder goal for startups vs. big, established brands. Instead, a more reasonable and achievable goal is to look at product adoption across the features you highlight and determine how successful the overall campaign was in driving self-serve upgrades, demo contacts for large/enterprise plans, and reactivations.
Had we considered this from the beginning, I think we would have done a number of things differently in regard to how we produced and marketed Kapwing Direct. Lesson learned.
3. Expect half (or fewer) of registrants to attend
Benchmarks for showcases and live events are tough to gauge in my personal experience. There are a lot of factors at play, including the reputation you’ve built with your audience for live events—if they know they can expect great things, your attendance rates could easily beat whatever benchmark.
If our experience is any indication, brands can expect roughly half of their attendants to actually show up, and maybe far fewer if you don’t frequently engage with customers (you should, though!). Again, we would have made different decisions had we known what the dropoff was going to be.
4. Every task needs a Directly Responsible Individual
Maybe you’ve heard of the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) concept. It comes from Apple’s early culture under Steve Jobs. The underlying lesson is that every important activity needs a single person who is directly responsible for its success.
It’s a good principle generally, but it’s especially important for campaigns like Kapwing Direct where there are a lot of moving parts. We had a few deliverables, particularly the landing page, which were collaborative and lacked a single DRI. This complicated the production process and left a few assets in the dreaded “Final_Final_V2” state far too late in the timeline.
Show customers what your product can do
There’s little question that video and content broadly are great ways to give customers a fuller, richer understanding of your product.
However, I think there’s even more value to be had going beyond the standard product launch format. Whether you try out a product showcase or devise a whole new way to flex your product’s capabilities, the content and marketing teams that win big are those that eschew standard practices and think outside the box.