Complete Guide to Product Education (2023)

Product education is educating users about the uses and benefits of a product, and how to engage with the product to achieve those benefits.

So is that marketing? Is it sales? User onboarding? User training and support?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

It is all of those things, and more.

Product education is pretty much everything you do to go from having developed a great product to have your audience use it successfully to complete their required tasks.

It is impossible to exaggerate just how important this is. It doesn’t matter how clever and useful your product is if customers can’t figure out how to use it, and how to get the value that they are seeking from it.

So let’s understand product education better by taking a look at when product education happens and who traditionally does it. Then we can talk about why traditional approaches to product education are often problematic, and how to transform your product education from passable to inspired.

Product Education Touchpoints

Product education needs to happen throughout the user journey. And we often associate the different touchpoints with different teams.

  1. Awareness-Raising – when potential users become aware of your product. For an app or online service, this is probably thought to be the domain of the marketing team. For a SaaS, it might sit with the sales team.
  2. Conversion – turning an interested user into a registered user or a paying customer. Again, this is usually associated with marketing or sales.
  3. Onboarding – when users set up and learn how to use the product. Although most assume that the product and the customer support/training team are responsible for creating an onboarding, it is actually a company-wide task that needs everyone to contribute.
  4. Retention – this is when the user engages more deeply with the product, encountering issues, uncovering new features, and so forth. This could variously sit with the customer support team, the communications team, the in-product messaging design team, and so forth.
  5. Expansion – when customers upgrade subscriptions, invest in new features or buy complementary or related products. This is variously considered to sit with marketing, sales, or product development.

What is clear from this overview is that product education happens throughout the user journey and that responsibility for product education often sits with many different teams and individuals.

This can be the root of many product education issues!

product education

Benefits of Centralization

The various teams that are involved in product education often have different goals and are working on different metrics. 

  • Marketing might be measured based on the number of visits to the product website or the number of downloads. 
  • Sales might be measured on the number of newly activated users or income figures.
  • Customer support might be measured on the number of complaints dealt with and customer satisfaction ratings. 
  • The design and development team might also be looking at satisfaction ratings, and the number of users to complete different tasks.

Product education includes a huge variety of elements: UI design (gamification, progressive disclosure, empty states, tooltips, tours, etc.), contextual content, in-product communications, external communications such as emails, and the list goes on.

What is the result of this?

It can be users receiving different, repetitive, or even conflicting messages. This is not a recipe for either happy or well-informed users.

For this reason, many pioneering organizations are integrating these various functions within a product education team. This facilitates consistent messaging being delivered in a consistent voice and at consistent times.

How to Educate Users In-Product

There are 3 main ways to educate your users about your product:

  1. User manuals: detailed and long articles where you explain your product with screenshots and guidelines. These are usually not an efficient way to educate your users since reading long technical articles can be boring.
  2. Product walkthrough videos: A video or video-series where you explain your product and its features and display how it is used. This method is also inefficient because it lacks interactivity, through what we can learn effectively.
  3. Interactive product tours: These are interactive tutorials where you teach your users how to use your product by making them complete assisted tasks. These are the most fun and efficient way of educating your users since it is completely user-oriented.

Because it is the best way to go, we will discuss how you can create interactive product tours in this article.

If you are not sure about creating yours, check out our article where we explain exactly why you need interactive product tours.

There are 2 ways to create an interactive product tour for your business; all by yourself or with the help of 3rd party tools.

In-source

Creating an interactive product tour by yourself is not what I’d recommend since it is a task that requires developed time, which you can use to improve your product. Other details about going in-source are:

  • Money-free
  • Requires time
  • Requires effort
  • Requires technical knowledge and coding
  • Hard to maintain
  • Hard to update

Using 3rd-Party Tools

There are 3rd-party tools that you can use to create interactive product tours, and many more onboarding elements.

UserGuiding is one of them. It is a user onboarding software for web applications that you can educate your users and do more with. Here are the details to the product:

  • Starts from $99/month
  • Doesn’t require any coding/technical knowledge
  • Easy to create
  • Easy to maintain
  • Easy to update
  • Detailed Analytics
  • Various features
  • Fully customizable

Also, UserGuiding has a free trial where you can see how things work and whether it solves your problem.

Try UserGuiding for free today!

Product Education Priorities

While coordinating all elements of product education to provide the customers with coherent and consistent messaging makes sense, that only hits on one element of good product education.

What other elements should be prioritized?

The Value Metric

One of the traps that product education teams often fall into is that they try to do too much.

They flood their customer with information within, for example, the first 30 days after they have been activated. They try and get their users to do everything within the initial engagement period with the product.

While that might work for some products and some customers, it won’t for others. Some users only want the product for certain features. Depending on their work cadence, some users will take longer to reach certain milestones than others.

But the way that customers are often pushed to get the “full experience” can result in a dense communications schedule, which can also feel uncomfortably pushy.

What product education teams should be focussing on during the initial period of engagement is to get users to the point where they are likely to continue using the product, rather than abandon it. This is referred to as the value metric – the point at which the product starts to receive value from the product, and are therefore likely to continue to engage with it.

What that point will be, and how long the user has to take to get there, depends on the product and the user base. It should be identified by looking at the data of existing users and figuring out what differentiates those who stay and those who don’t.

Probably one of the best-known examples of this comes from Twitter. They have identified that people who follow at least 30 accounts within three days of joining the platform are the most likely to become active users. This is why an essential part of the Twitter user onboarding experience is getting new users to follow popular accounts based on subjects of interest.

When this value point has been identified, all the communications during the awareness-raising, conversion, and onboarding phases shouldn’t just focus on getting people to use the product, but on getting them to use it successfully – which means hitting this value metric.

It is only after users have reached this point that retention and expansion should be addressed, integrated into product education, and used as success measures.

Personalization

Anyone who works in communication will not be surprised to see personalization here. This doesn’t mean using the customer’s name in all communications – though this is also good practice and should be done.

It means that users need to receive the right message, at the right time, and in the right place. It means treating customers as individuals, rather than sending out mass communications. Unless you are going out of business, there should rarely be a need to send to the same message to all your users at the same time.

Right Message

To differentiate customers successfully, they should be divided into meaningful segments.

There are many different ways to segment users, but the overall idea is to break them into groups where you know enough about them that you can personalize your message, without having to go down to the individual level. So what makes a meaningful segment depends on the product and the user base.

It is common to segment users based on demographics. For individuals, this can be gender, age, and location. For SaaS companies working B2B, this might be things such as size and industry. 

Behavior is another common segmentation strategy. This relates to what the user wants to achieve with the product. Take for example an energy bar: users can be segmented into those that want to lose weight, gain weight, need something to eat on the go, and so forth.

Right Time

Communications should also be triggered by where the user is on the user journey.

This can be time-based, but task-based is better, as not all users will reach the same milestones on the same timescales. 

Take for example an email marketing product. When a customer meets a certain number of subscribers and might need to upgrade, they should receive communications about that. Perhaps they have sent a number of emails, but have not started segmenting their audience, perhaps it is after their fourth or fifth email that they should receive a push to investigate this functionality. It should be contextual about what the user is likely to need.

Right Place

Finally, information should be provided to users where it is useful to them.

Email is great to remind lapsed users to re-enter the product and complete certain tasks. Complex training, such as for sophisticated SaaS solutions, should often be done in person or using other in-depth tools such as online webinars. But most communications should happen where the user is, in the product. 

This could be via in-product messaging that is triggered by certain activities, or in product chats with support staff. All of these in-product communications can be delivered and managed using tools such as UserGuiding. 

Wherever possible, you don’t want to take the user outside of the context of the product. They are less likely to welcome this if they are in the process of completing a task, and less likely to return if they do not find the information useful or satisfying.

Benefits of Good Product Education

If you think that doing all of the above sounds like quite a lot of work, you might be asking yourself whether it is really worth it.

For most industry experts, the answer is yes.

Well-managed product education has been shown to have profound benefits for both product owner and user. Good product education can result in:

Improved Customer Satisfaction

Customers tend to be more satisfied when they understand how to use a product and aren’t encountering issues constantly, and when the product is delivering the results that they are after.

Deeper Customer Engagement

The more value a user is getting out of a product, and the more enjoyment, the more likely they are to use the product more. This can result in upselling and may see more of your customers converted into the kind of advocates that recommend your product to friends and colleagues.

Better Customer Retention

Customers that are at home using a product, which is delivering on their needs, are less likely to be hunting around for alternatives, or be tempted away by cheap deals elsewhere. This means less customer churn. This is only good news as, in general, it costs five times as much to sell to new customers than retain the ones that you have.

in-product education

Where to Start

If having read this article, you are inspired to look at improving your product education, the best place to start is with a product education audit.

  1. Identify all the resources that you are currently making available and all the communications messages and challenges that you are currently using. Map these on to the user journey. 
  2. Identify who is involved in product education and bring them into a single team or a looser collaborative group.
  3. Have the team look at your user data to identify your value metric, which should act as your key success measure. You can also identify additional metrics related to retention and expansion.
  4. Review the result of your audit. Look for duplication, gaps, inconsistencies, and untapped opportunities. Come up with a new strategy that focusses on getting the right message to the right user at the right time and place, across the full user journey.
  5. Then get started! Even small improvements in product education can have a big impact on user satisfaction and retention.
  6. Make sure you have appropriate metrics in place and you are measuring your success. Also look out for warning signs, such as heavy drop-offs after registration, a high number of support queries, and low conversion from free to paid services.
  7. Finally, monitor, tweak, iterate, and improve. Treat product education like the important part of the product itself that it is.

Conclusion

Product education should never be an afterthought, left to be figured out by sales and support teams once a product has been developed. It is something that should be integrated into the planning of the product from day one.

It is one of the keys to creating not just a great product, but a successful one.


Frequently Asked Questions


📚 What is Product Education

Product education refers to explaining to users what your product is, what it does, and how it does it in various ways.


⏳ When should the Product Education start?

It should start as soon as a user signs up for a product, but all the education cannot be packed into the first hours. It should be distributed not to bore users.


❓What is the best way to educate users?

The best way to educate users in-product is by interactive product tours because they are fun and push users to complete tasks on their own.

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Selman Gokce

Selman Gokce is the Senior Inbound Marketer of UserGuiding. He is highly invested in user onboarding and digital adoption, especially for SaaS, and he writes on these topics for the UserGuiding blog. When he's not writing, you can find him either listening to LOTR soundtracks while cooking or getting angry because he lost in a video game.