Announcing New Product Features

In a SaaS world, new product features are added frequently and are being pushed to all customers at once. Customers no longer decide when to upgrade. In fact, customers are typically not even aware that a product feature was introduced.

At the same time, it is important for the SaaS vendor to let customers know that a new product feature is available. Hopefully, this new product feature increases the business value of the product. But in most cases customers have to start using the new product feature before the business value is realized.

Nowadays most SaaS products include some notification mechanism letting customers know about new functionality. Here are a few examples I found as to how that’s being done.

Let’s start with some Google examples:

Google Adwords includes a red link titled Announcements at the top of the page. The link opnes up a pull-down menu that show all announcements.

Google Analytics includes a notification (red again), titled “New Version”. In this case, this is a hyperlink that changes the application’s user interface to the a new one, which is technically running off a beta version.

Gmail has a (well, red) note at the top right with the specific new product feature that is now available. In this case, it’s an Import mail and contacts feature. This is a hyperlink that, oddly enough, simply leads to the user’s settings page, where the user presumably can locate the new feature.

Despite the Google glamor, I’ve never been a big fan of Google’s application design. Not only do three different applications exhibit three different behaviors (which is understandable at such a large behemoth), none of the three seems to do a good job in introducing the new product feature to the user.

A few more examples:

Zoho Docs (a direct Google competitor) includes a visible yellow area at the top of the page (and red text, again). This announces the new product release, with a hyperlink leading to more information. Interestingly, Zoho seems to be using “traditional” product version numbering  (“2.0” in this case), and is linking users to a page that would have been called “release notes” in traditional software.

Zoho Docs

DeskAway (a SaaS collaboration product) spells out each new (imporant?) feature in a yellow area. Each feature includes a Learn More hyperlink that leads to additional detail.

Deskaway

Box.net (a document sharing product) is using an extreme approach: when users log into the tool, a new overlay announces “the new Box”. Users can watch a video that shows the new functionality. Strangely enough, there’s no alternative for users who don’t feel like watching a video (or don’t feel like annoying their co-workers). Either way, clearly this approach only makes sense with major product launches. I would be surprised if Box.net uses this method to introduce less substantial product features.

Box.net

At WebCollage, we’ve recently standardized our new product feature announcement, which is placed at the top, in a dedicated (yellow) area.

We also use this area for other important announcements, such as maintenance notifications. We’ve designed this area so we can override the message for strategic enterprise customers, for which the announcement may be worded in a tailored way.

Interestingly enough, over half of the SaaS products I logged into in the last few days had an outstanding announcement about some new product feature or release. I guess this can be taken as an interesting indicator as to the pace of launching new product features, as well as to the new product feature announcements being an integral part of the product release cycle.

[Added May 14, 2011]

Another announcement, by Gmail; well thought out, in this case:

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