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What Is Product Education?

Here’s a statement that may make you spit out your coffee: TikTok is the future of product education.

Not because TikTok videos are particularly educational, mind you. But they do combine user-centric content in digestible chunks with an emotional payoff. And that formula has proven irresistibly engaging—in fact, the average session on TikTok is 11 minutes, nearly twice as long as the second most engaging social media app. 

What does that have to do with product education? Well, it just so happens that relevant, easily consumable, emotionally satisfying content is the most effective way to educate a product user. Users want to receive only the content they need, only when they need it. And the more quality education they receive, the more motivated they will be to learn more. Product teams, I hope you’re taking notes!

Product Education 101

Before we go too deep into today’s lesson, we should define our terms. Many people might consider “product education” to be the user guide or documentation that accompanies a software product. But these “instruction manual” tactics are only a very small part of educating the user.

True product education is the practice of ensuring that your users understand how your product can help them achieve their goals and become wildly successful. It’s not about understanding the ins and outs of every functionality; it’s about what the key benefits are for the user. 

But the problem with the instruction manual approach isn’t just what you are teaching, it is how you are teaching. Giving a customer a thick user guide to read is too passive. It doesn’t meet users where they are when they need it. And it also doesn’t motivate. When product education helps users achieve value while using the product, it generates tremendous confidence and a desire to accomplish even more.  

Effective product education helps your users learn by doing so that they gain a full grasp of how your product benefits them and how to maximize those benefits through further engagement. 

Meeting Product Users Where They Are

To be impactful, product education needs to happen at points within the customer journey where it will actually make a difference. Once you understand where the user is, educational messages should be targeted and tailored to that stage of the journey. 

Customer Journey

Awareness – Product education actually begins long before the user even starts using the product. At this stage, usually part of a marketing effort, you want to educate the potential user on the value proposition and set expectations for the user experience.

Point of Sale – Free trial or freemium users are interested in sampling the product before they are willing to become paid customers. The key here is to educate on a few limited features to show how useful the product can be, while also informing about more advanced features they don’t have access to yet.

Onboarding – The crucial time when a new customer is ready to adopt the product. Onboarding education should focus only on core features so that users are not overwhelmed. These features should show early value and generate quick wins for the user so they begin to feel comfortable using the product on a regular basis. 

Post-adoption – After the user has begun regularly using the product, you have the opportunity to help them go deeper and explore more advanced features and functions. As the user masters more features over time, their perception of value will grow and you will reduce user churn.

Upsell and/or expansion – Based on user feedback and analytics, you will want to identify when users are bumping up against the limits of their current subscription. This could be anything from the number of licenses to the need for entirely new features or even a new product; once you have identified these opportunities, you should educate the user on available options for expansion. 


Finding the Right Tools for the Job

Users are more likely to engage with product education tools when they are interactive and intuitive. And different user segments will respond to different tactics. In other words, there is no silver bullet, so it makes sense to deploy multiple tools.

UI design. Gamification, progressive disclosure, empty states, tooltip tours, audio guidance, and first-use/one-time tutorials—if you aren’t familiar with these terms, you (and your product design team) should start learning how these powerful techniques can boost educational engagement. 

Contextual educational content. The content could be anything—demos, webinars, docs, videos, gifs—but the key to success is timing and placement. The trick is finding the right way to deliver it. You don’t want to be intrusive and spammy, but you also don’t want to fall through the cracks. 

In-product messaging. Delivering the right message at the right time will encourage specific actions and help overcome friction at any point along the customer journey. Is a freemium user trying to access a paid feature? Is a user stuck on an onboarding step? A short and simple message while they are using the product can be a gamechanger.

Product walkthrough videos: While somewhat passive, a video or video series that explains your product can be useful for users who are big consumers of video. Gen Z users especially have been raised on YouTube. 

Interactive product tours. Especially great for onboarding, this tactic is an interactive tutorial that teaches users how to use the product by making them complete assisted tasks. Just make sure that the tour is 100% focused on the user’s perspective and that you keep it short—if it is too long or complicated, users will give up. 

Community boards. Peer- to-peer forums are places where users can come together to ask questions and get feedback on your product. Not only does this help with product education, but it is a valuable source of information for your Product team. 

Who Should Be the Product Educators?

The success of your product is the responsibility of the entire company, and product education is no different. Ideally, all of your teams will be aligned around delivering value to users; however, depending on the stage of the customer journey, different teams might take the lead in driving product education. 

Marketing is generally more involved at the Awareness stage by developing content, campaigns, and ads that educate prospects on the product’s value prop. Success is measured in CAC, CLV, and trial signups.

Sales traditionally owns the Point of Sale, but crucially, in a recurring revenue model they must set users up for success post-sale as retention is the true revenue driver. As such, sales efforts can be measured as customer lifetime value (CLV), in addition to conversion rates.

Customer Success typically takes the lead during Onboarding to ensure that new users don’t fall victim to product churn. They also play an important role Post-Adoption and with Upsell/Expansion as they analyze product data to map the customer journey and develop engagement tactics. Renewal rate, NPS, and CLV are all important metrics.

Product teams should be involved at every stage of the customer journey as they develop and implement a strategic GTM vision that drives users along the adoption arc.

Product Education as a Strategy

Product education is more than just a single initiative or campaign, it is an entire strategy that requires your organization to shift its focus. Working together across the different stages of the customer journey will move the user along from awareness all the way to retention and expansion. Even though the individual segments of the strategy will be distinct, they should be working together cohesively.

The product education strategy starts with activation metrics. Activation refers to the point at which a user finds value within a particular stage of the customer journey. The metric measures a behavior that demonstrates to you that a user has hit an activation point. 

The activation metric will differ based on the product. For example, a social media app may measure activation by the number of accounts followed or by the number of posts made. It all depends on what user behaviors are correlated with retention, based on product data. 

While it might seem strange to boil down activation to a single point, it is actually strategically useful to keep it simple. You want a single goal that your whole team can rally around. This less-is-more approach also helps you focus your efforts and also discourages you from confusing your user with education about less important behaviors. 

There is also a timing element to activation metrics: success depends on the activation point that is important right now in a user’s journey. An onboarding activation point won’t be important if the user is still using freemium. And an expansion activation point is irrelevant if the user hasn’t completed onboarding. It seems like common sense, but it is easy to fall into the trap of an educational information dump.

The more the various activation metrics are in sync with one another, the more effective the larger strategy will be. The customer experience should be cohesive and intuitive as the user moves from awareness to interest to onboarding. You don’t want the user to be receiving messages that are inconsistent. 

For example, if Sales describes the product at the Point of Sale in a way that is different from the way Customer Success explains it during Onboarding, there will be a disconnect. A user will likely be confused and may even feel misled by the sales process. Either way, the likelihood of user churn will go up. 

On the other hand, if all teams are communicating and aligned, they should be able to build synergies that help each team reach their activation points. And the results will speak for themselves. If Sales sets up customers for success during onboarding, retention and CLV will go up, which is a win for everyone. 

Product education messaging should be closely tied to activation metrics in terms of both targeting and timing. For example, if you tease a feature during the freemium stage, make sure to pay it off after the customer has gone paid. Don’t underestimate the potential for emotionally satisfying messaging to build confidence and goodwill. 

A big part of messaging is understanding the perspective of the user. Instead of just explaining what a feature does, show the user how they would actually use the feature and how it helps them achieve value. Don’t leave it up to the user to figure it out for themselves.  

By the same token, remember users have limited attention spans. Don’t waste their time with messages on features they are not ready to use yet.

Metrics for Success in Product Education

Effective product education should reap rewards in terms of business success metrics. While it won’t always be easy to correlate these metrics to product education alone, they are good to keep an eye on.

User satisfaction. Achieving their goals with a product can be incredibly satisfying to users, who will gain confidence and start to see the product as an essential part of their lives. 

User engagement. The more value a user gets out of a product, the more they will come to rely on it and make it a routine part of their activity. Eventually, this deeper engagement will lead to retention, expansion, and/or recommendation to friends and colleagues.

Feature usage. A sign of effective product education is that users are engaged with an ever-growing number of features, starting with the core and then expanding outward. 

Lower churn. Churn happens when customers perceive less value than they anticipated when they purchased the product. If you set expectations appropriately early in the customer journey and then make sure customers can find and use features they want, they will be less likely to be disappointed in the product.

Retention. Well-educated customers will be able to satisfy their needs and find value with a product, making them less susceptible to alternatives. 

CLV. Product education should elongate the lifetime of a customer, which will offset customer acquisition cost (CAC) and put customer values in the black, leading to rapid profit growth. 

How Gainsight Can Help With Produce Education

The Gainsight PX platform makes it simple for companies to build a product education strategy. Identify activation metrics based on real product data, develop effective engagement tactics, and create actionable reports that drive collaboration throughout the organization. 

Schedule a demo today.