How Unbounce Built a New Category as it Built a New Product

Building a new product category from scratch is every startup’s dream, but it comes at a cost. Speaking with SAAS NORTH ahead of her talk at this year’s conference, Tamara Grominsky explained how Unbounce built a new category as it built a new product. 

Key takeaways:  

  • Identify what risks are affecting your business, then choose a path forward.  
  • Educate the market with a tension story - explain why the old way doesn’t work, share the new way, and provide a solution.  
  • Engage all key business stakeholders from day one - sales, marketing, and product.  
  • Internal communication must come first, since employees are the ones that will help you build the category over time.  

When Tamara Grominsky joined Unbounce in 2018 as a product marketing leader, a threat loomed. Looking out on the horizon, it was clear to Tamara and her colleague Chris Brownlee, the Senior Director of Product Management, that AI and machine learning would drastically change the world of landing pages, which could destroy Unbounce’s core business. In response, she, Chris, and other key stakeholders at Unbounce built a whole new category - called “Conversion Intelligence” alongside Unbounce’s new product development.  

Ahead of Tamara’s exclusive talk at SAAS NORTH, she shared the framework she used at Unbounce to guide the creation of a new category alongside the creation of a new product. 

Enter your text here...Fellow is the meeting productivity software that helps teams collaborate on agendas, track action items, and turn chaotic meetings into productive work sessions.

Identify key risks and pick your path 

By 2018, landing pages had been around for more than a decade. Iterative improvements gave way to competitors copycating features within weeks of incumbents releasing them.  

“Landing pages are a dying industry,” she said flatly. “Everyone competes on features and price, which is really just a race to the bottom.”  

After some initial market analysis and stakeholder conversations, Tamara and the strategy team presented Unbounce’s co-founders with two options: Option one was to ride out the business and eventually sell to a much larger company. Option two was to make strategic bets about what the next 10-20 years would look like in marketing technology and build towards it.  

The founding team decided to go with option two, and Tamara’s duty was clear, even if the direction was vague.  

Ask the right question 

Instead of going away from landing pages, she wanted to know the “modern take” on landing pages.  

Her guiding question became: “What problems are people facing that they think they need landing pages to solve… and what do they actually need?”  

While Unbounce already had an active product development and R&D team - Tamara was not starting from scratch - she wanted to make sure the company understood what was going on in the world so it could impact and inform product development.  

The key problem in Tamara’s case was conversion. People build landing pages to convert customers into buyers, subscribers, or community members. So she decided to focus on what would help conversion as a concept versus simply building a better landing page.  

Bring stakeholders on board from the beginning 

Armed with the simple fact that landing pages were dying and people wanted conversion, it became about rallying the team.  

“You can’t create a category or build a new product with only one part of the company,” she said.  

For any startup looking to create a category, Tamara stressed the importance of getting all stakeholders on board. 

“You need to build the strategy together,” she said. “It’s not about the product team telling the marketing team to take a product to market, or about the marketing team telling the product team what to build. You get inputs from all stakeholders as you go, which informs both product and go-to market planning.” 

Create a tension story 

New categories are created all the time, but only successful when they have what Tamara calls a powerful “tension story.”  

A tension story has three key elements to it: 

  1. A clear problem with how things are operating today (usually driven by evolution or a major disruption). 
  1. A clear indication that there is a better way, but that this new way is very hard to do (usually explained as a strategic concept or action plan). 
  1. A solution that helps people achieve the new, better way (this is your product or service). 

In Unbounce’s case, Tamara said the tension story was:  

  1. Landing pages no longer provide the value they once did, since it’s getting increasingly harder to get - and keep - potential customer attention.  
  2. The better way forward is to use AI and machine learning to automatically segment and customize landing pages for different users, but this solution is incredibly hard right now, requiring highly complex and cost prohibitive technology. 
  3. Unbounce’s new product offering makes AI and machine learning easy to use and affordable so small to medium businesses can easily customize their landing pages at scale. 

“It’s about creating a category and educating the market so by the time we launch our product, we’ve primed the market to understand our story,” said Tamara. 

Communicate change internally first 

“Building a category and an entirely new product is a journey,” said Tamara. “While not all employees will be there for the whole journey, some will.” 

Tamara describes building a new category (and new product) as a long journey with two risks: first, there’s the risk that employees need to buy into this new way of thinking and have the confidence to innovate to build a new category. And second, you sometimes have to make decisions that cause short-term anger in order to feed long-term strategy.  

To mitigate these rocky times, Tamara said it’s critical to focus on internal communication as soon as you nail your narrative down: 

Introduce the narrative: Share the tension story internally as if it was an external marketing campaign.  

Explain the context: Share why you’re choosing the target customers you are and why the tension story matters to the company (both its history and its future).  

Talk about business and customer value: Explain how the journey will make things better for both customers and the company (and, by extension, its employees).  

Making a big change is possible, but can be painful. The more you have employees on board (for however long they are on the journey with you), the easier things get.  

Get more practical insights on category building from Tamara at SAAS NORTH. Buy your tickets HERE 

Insert Image