Despite having built a rocket ship of a product that people both want AND love, Slack has a challenge.
As the company seeks to go past the saturating early-adopter market and march towards world domination, Slack’s team cannot rely on virality and word-of-mouth alone.
Indeed, if Slack is going to cross the chasm, vanquish the old ways of communicating and collaborating, and successfully enter into the global mainstream, it must give the entire world of knowledge workers reasons to believe.
This means getting tons of things right.
One of the most critical of these things is product marketing.
What, exactly, is product marketing?
Product marketing encompasses a lot of important components, including:
- Crafting positioning and messaging.
- Analyzing the competitive landscape.
- Building a go-to-market strategy.
- Creating content to help the sales team close deals.
- Educating the company on all of the above.
But underpinning all of these things is the product story.
Generally defined, the product story boils down to the exact words you why explain your product matters to the people in your target markets. A great product story does not focus on features. It also does not focus on benefits.
A great product story focuses on the customers’ desired transformation. Specifically, it paints vivid, compelling pictures of their dark, painful world before the product and their wonderful, pain-free world after the product. And then it places the product as the natural bridge between the two.
In its ideal form, a product story centers around the concrete promise you make to your customers about the transformations they will experience when they are successful with your product.
While your product’s features and benefits play important role here, they are not (or should not be) the hero. No, your features and benefits should simply be the means through which your product transforms your customers’ world for the better.
What was wrong with Slack’s original messaging?
A couple years ago, Slack dropped its original homepage and put up a new one. It was a substantial improvement: It sported a cleaner, more elegant design. The copy was more straightforward. It smartly downplayed a customer case study video that had been the centerpiece of the previous page.
Instead of a headline (“So yeah, we tried Slack”) that focused on the case study video and felt out of place, the new headline focused the message on the product, itself: “A messaging app for teams.”
These are all improvements. Yet the copy on the page and the messaging it represented sold Slack’s awesomeness short.
Let’s dig in and get specific.
The top of Slack’s old homepage page was big on product, short on results
Let’s start with the headline and subhead: “A messaging app for teams. All your communication in one place, integrating with the tools and services you use every day.”
While this is a straightforward, clear, and accurate description of the product, it could also describe Slack’s most direct competitors (like HipChat and Hall).
Remember: A great product story is about the promise your product makes, the transformation it delivers to your customers, AND the ways it is different than the alternatives.
Also remember: a great homepage headline doesn’t just describe the product. It sells the product. At its best, it makes a promise so unique and compelling that if you’re in the product’s target market, you can’t wait to read more.
While “A messaging app for teams” is simple and direct, it doesn’t meet that bar.
So what might do Slack’s product justice?
For insight here, I turn to Hiten Shah’s awesome product/market fit survey of 731 Slack users. (Read the write-up when you’re done with this post. It’s great).
As Hiten discovered with his survey and articulated in his analysis, the single greatest benefit Slack’s users describe is a sharp decrease in internal emails.
Indeed, when a team successfully adopts Slack and leverages its wide array of integrations, the volume of sluggish, time-wasting back-and-forth in internal email precipitously declines.
This is a huge deal.
A number of companies have heralded their tool as an email killer, but each of them has in some way fallen short. Slack, on the other hand, seems to be delivering on that promise, at least for internal communication.
Again, this is a huge deal, yet the first mention of email is 2/3 of the way down the page.
If I were re-writing Slack’s homepage, I’d run a test that centered the entire product story on this benefit: when your team embraces Slack, it will escape from endless email threads and the tyranny of a tool built on a protocol (SMTP) built over 40 years ago to help scientists plan lunch.
Everything else (deep search, file-sharing, even the 80+ integrations) is a sideshow—simply a means to this awesome, holy-grail end.
There are other issues with the top of the homepage (the slider, especially) but they are less significant than the headline and subhead.
Ok, so how would I re-write them?
For the headline, I’d try:
“Finally, a communication tool that really does kill email.”
I went with this approach because it simultaneously tells the whole story AND creates a bit of intrigue: “Really? Have I found something that, unlike everything else that’s made this promise before, actually does the job? I should read more!”
For the subhead, I’d reinforce this awesome benefit, and only then explain what Slack actually is:
“Our customers report an XY% decrease in email within a week of switching to Slack. It’s the last messaging app for your team that you’ll ever need.”
And then, of course, I’d kill the slider, because sliders kill conversions.
Let’s move on.
The first call-to-action: Right direction, not enough punch.
Given that Slack is a freemium product, I like the crisp, clear copy about the free version: “Slack is free to use for as long as your want with an unlimited number of people.”
This message encourages potential customers to take the plunge by eliminating a lot of the risk: “Great! I can get some real value for free, and they won’t ever take it away!”
However, the copy about upgrading to paid plans (“You can easily upgrade to our paid plans, which offer more features and controls)” could use oomph. What features and controls, exactly? What benefits do the paid versions deliver FOR ME?
Getting precise would help: “Need more integrations, more powerful access controls, or private chat rooms for guests? Check out our paid plans.”
My other critique with this section is the call-to-action button: “Sign up for free.” While re-emphasizing that it’s free to sign up is good, I’d make the button 50% larger and test a less generic message: “Get your team out of email — Start using Slack for free!”
Let’s move on.
The next section tols me how the feature’s work, but not what they can do for me.
By itself, the headline (“The crazy thing is, it actually works”) seems out of context. Assuming that most people skim the headlines before deciding (or not) to give the page a closer read, this headline comes right after “A messaging app for teams.”
Given that, I, the reader, find myself confused why it’s crazy that a messaging app for teams actually works. Shouldn’t working properly be table stakes? Don’t HipChat, Hall, and Telegram also actually work?
After my suggested headline for the top of the page (“Finally, a communication tool that actually kills email”), this headline actually works.
But it could still be stronger. I’d try something like:
“Slack gets your team out of email. The crazy thing is, it actually works.”
With this alternative headline, I’m aiming to reinforce the key benefit and set up a deeper dive into the features and benefits, all while maintaining Slack’s playful tone.
I won’t dive deep into the individual feature blocks in this section. I’ll just say that I’d try re-orienting them away from broad descriptions of features and focus the copy on the features’ benefits.
The first benefit blurb was great.
The top of this section contains my favorite part on the page: “Say goodbye to those neverending email threads.”
Now this is a benefit I can get my head around!
As Hiten Shah’s survey suggests and I’ve reiterated, getting your team out of email is the key benefit that Slack delivers. Yet here it is, buried most of the way down the page.
But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. All-in-all, from that headline down to its supporting paragraph, this benefit block is the most compelling writing and product marketing on the page.
I especially love the closing line: “More productivity, more transparency, and less email. That’s Slack.”
Adding concrete numbers (“We spend 47% of our time, reading, answering, and searching email…” is also a nice touch.
The next benefit blurb is intriguing but confusing.
Let’s talk about “Like your team’s collective brain.”
When I was at Asana, we played with this exact same story. The idea is that teams are like an organism, and communication tools are the brain that guides its actions—the enabler of a hive-mind.
I am intrigued by the “collective brain” concept, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about hive minds and the future of humanity. However, most people don’t think much about these things and for them, I suspect this copy seems weird.
Remember: the best web copy explains how the unique features of your product combine to make my life and world better. The more concrete you can get, the clearer and more compelling your story becomes.
Talking about things like collective brains, while fascinating for some to think about, will slow most people down at best, and confuse them at worst.
The paragraph below also doesn’t illuminate the brain concept. It simply talks about the integrations with over 80 external services, and the fact that you don’t have to switch between apps.
There is an awesome benefit buried in there: instead of using “just another app,” Slack could be positioning itself as “one app to rule them all.” The copy hints at this benefit with “No more switching between apps,” but doesn’t follow it all the way to the end.
The final benefit blurb didn’t seal the deal.
“Wherever you go” is the headline that leads off the final benefit blurb, and I have a few issues with it.
First, it’s vague. Sure, I can guess that it means that Slack can go mobile, but as the must-read Steve Krug book on web design argues, “Don’t Make Me Think”—even for a second.
Second, it’s not a compelling benefit. Mobile apps for a messaging product are obvious—even if yours are more elegant than the competition.
Third, it’s doesn’t connect to the other blurbs above.
Remember: a whole bunch of your potential customers will rapidly skim the headlines of your page before deciding to read more deeply (or not). Given this, you want your headlines to tell the whole story on their own. Each one should flow logically from the next.
The good news is that there’s a much more compelling way to tell the story buried in the first sentence of this blurb’s supporting paragraph: “Stay in sync.”
If I were doing a rapid-fire re-write of the page, I’d simply combine this benefit with the original headline: “Stay in sync with your team wherever you go.”
Then I’d re-write the blurb’s paragraph to focus on the value, importance, speed, and beauty of Slack’s native mobile apps.
The logo-fest contains an awesome set of brands.
This is a fantastic set of logos they’ve got here. When I see these logos, I instantly know that Slack has some real chops. If America’s space agency and a handful of its leading software companies and media brands have adopted Slack, maybe I should, too.
What I’d like to see is more concrete, specific copy. So you have “Thousands of happy customers,” but why are they happy? What results did you deliver for them?
I’d rewrite the title of this section to re-emphasize the big story:
“Thousands of customers from dozens of countries use Slack to cut WAY down on email, ramp up their productivity, and keep their teams in sync.”
This kind of improvement probably isn’t a huge deal, but it helps reinforce the most important message and deepen its credibility.
When you write marketing copy, keep your eye on the sale: Speak directly to the problems, needs, and desires of your target reader, and you will go far.
Next up is my other favorite part of the page.
The “Wall of Love” was simply great.
In lieu of a static set of customer testimonials, Slack has chosen to source the voices of their customers directly from Twitter. Indeed, they’ve actually embedded a scrolling set of real, live Tweets.
I love this: it gives Slack’s testimonials an air of directness, immediacy, and authenticity that is different than any other set of testimonials I’ve seen on the web.
My only complaint is that tweets lack some important context. I’d like to know who these tweeters are, their official titles, and the companies they represent. To get this information, I’d likely have to click through to their profiles on Twitter, taking me away from Slack’s site.
I’d also like to see testimonials sprinkled throughout the page.
But those are relatively small nitpicks with this awesome idea.
Demoting the video case study was good, but they went too far.
On Slack’s original homepage, the customer testimonial video took center stage. Given that most people who visit your site for the first time probably won’t take the time to click and watch a case study video, demoting it to the bottom of the page seems like a reasonable choice.
If you’re going to use video on your homepage, you’re probably better off with a short, clever, awesomely-executed explainer video, rather than a video case study. (See Neil Patel’s thoughts on the value-generating power of great explainer videos here.)
But I wonder if they demoted it a bit too much. The small thumbnail and the small text next to it are easy to miss. Meanwhile, the copy doesn’t encourage me to click the video to watch.
I might make the video thumbnail 25-50% larger, and change the copy to:
“Watch this video to learn how the team at the Sandwich Video company used Slack to escape from email and change the way they communicate.”
Conclusion: Big improvements with room for much bigger improvements
As we’ve seen, even a hyper-growth company like Slack can grow without mastering its product marketing and copywriting.
But even with Slack’s explosive growth, it’s clear that the product story they tell on their website could use a substantial upgrade.
The key for Slack (and probably for you, as well) is to focus its message on the benefits and results of using the product, not the features.
This is what separates passable product marketing from great product marketing: understand your customers, empathize with their problems, pains, and desires, and tell a story that explains clearly how your product makes everything better.
Combine a great product with great product marketing, and you will do great things.
Thanks to Hiten Shah for reading the draft of this.