If there’s one thing SaaS companies need to be good at, it’s launching new features or products. As you’re about to see from these major and minor release notes examples, some of them are brilliant at it.
But a lot of SaaS companies get the building and shipping part right, then struggle when it comes to actually driving adoption.
Release notes can be a bit of a pain to get right. That’s why I thought I’d write this guide on how you can drive adoption with your release notes.
I want to start by explaining what I mean by major and minor releases.
Then I’m going to explain the different ways in which you can launch those releases.
I’ll also be sharing some top major and minor release notes examples from successful SaaS companies so you can learn from the best.
Let’s get started…
The different types of releases
The best way to think about releases is through version numbers.
You know the sort. Version 1.0.0, goes to Version 1.1.4, then Version 2.2.1, and so on.
Each of these numbers corresponds to a different type of release.
The first number relates to major releases. The second number is for minor releases. The third number is for patches (or micro releases).
So, if a piece of software was Version 3.2.5, that would mean it was on the third major release, second minor release, fifth micro release.
Virtually every SaaS product can be broken down into those three types of releases.
Let’s explore the differences between them.
What is a major release?
A major release is a fundamental change to a product.
It could be a big new feature that completely changes how your users interact with the product.
Maybe it’s a massive UI overhaul that requires your users to relearn your product.
Or perhaps it’s a brand new product entirely.
Major releases don’t tend to come along too often, and they require a lot of work when it comes to launching them.
Generally, major releases will have a detailed cross-platform product marketing campaign. This includes blog posts, emails, landing pages, in-app notifications, and even appearing on Product Hunt.
You can also make the most of your social media platforms to spread the word. Some of the top SaaS companies, such as Drift, even create their own events to market their new products.
We call this a 360-degree release because it encompasses all aspects of your marketing and advertising.
Major releases can mark a shift in target market, or open up new avenues for expansion, and so require lots of planning and research.
What is a minor release?
A minor release is a smaller addition to your existing product.
Generally, these are new features that don’t radically change the rest of the product.
They could also be small improvements to the UI, rather than a complete redesign.
Minor releases are often the lifeblood of a SaaS company, with new features being added at least once or twice a year.
Despite not being as game-changing as major releases, a lot of work still goes into launching them.
You’ll usually use a combination of emails, blog posts, and in-app marketing to tell users about your new minor release.
What is a micro release?
A micro release is essentially a patch, designed to fix bugs or make incremental improvements.
Provided they aren’t product-breaking bugs, any issues will normally be fixed in batches. These fixes are then shipped as micro releases.
These micro releases can happen virtually all the time, and represent gradual improvements to the stability of the product.
As a result, you probably won’t be producing a full launch for each and every iteration.
Instead, you’ll generally just update your changelog with any updates you make.
Major and minor release notes examples
The bulk of your release notes will be for minor releases, though major releases are clearly equally as important.
Micro releases are often handled a little differently, so I’ll get to those later.
For now, I’m going to go through each of the main types of release notes, including examples for each.
This will give you an overview of each step of the funnel.
The announcement email (for major and minor releases)
Major and minor releases are a big deal, so you need to tell everyone about them. Not just your existing users, but everyone on your mailing list.
This means that current users learn about your product’s new functionality, but also that prospects might be inclined to give it a try.
The email is essentially marketing your new release. As such, it needs to be focused on the benefits that your new feature provides.
You should also keep it clear and to the point. People don’t want an essay in their inbox. Use bullet points, imagery, even embed a video.
Finally, don’t bombard people with different CTAs. You just want one, and that’s going to send them to either a relevant landing page (for major releases) or a blog post (for minor releases).
Examples of announcement emails
Here’s a great example from Storychief:
They start their email with a neat graphic that basically tells you everything you need to know: That Grammarly now works with Storychief.
For those who are unfamiliar with Grammarly, the image also shows you how it actually works.
They keep their copy focused on the benefits:
Grammarly helps you eliminate errors and find the perfect words to express yourself.
With one image and a couple of lines of copy, Storychief are able to announce their new minor release.
Note that the nature of Grammarly is that you need to install the Chrome Extension. Therefore, Storychief decided that should be the primary CTA.
This is a great example of a minor release announcement email. So what do Storychief do for a major release?
Storychief recently announced a massive new feature: Social media management.
Part of their announcement came in the following email:
Again, Storychief keep it simple and relevant. They focus on the benefits of their new release, and aim to drum up interest in it.
They stick to one CTA, in this case asking people to sign up for early access.
The landing page (for major releases)
Landing pages are an art form. They can be incredibly difficult to get right. But, if you manage it, they’re instrumental when it comes to major release launches.
The idea is that you’ll drive traffic to your landing page via your announcement email or through social media (both organic and paid).
Your landing page is your best opportunity to really hammer home the benefits of the new release.
It basically works the same way as the landing page for your overall product. It has to introduce a problem, and then explain why your product solves it.
That might sound simple, but it’s often fairly difficult.
There are, however, a number of tips that can help.
Firstly, consider using images of your product. A picture paints a thousand words, and when it comes to describing your product, there’s really nothing better than actual pictures of it.
Actually, that’s not quite true. A video is even more effective than screenshots, as it lets people see your product in action.
Secondly, you need to focus on the benefits. Just a heads up, this will be a recurring theme. It’s the underlying principle of any good marketing.
Don’t simply explain what your new release does. That’s not really what people care about. What we want to know is how it helps us. What do we get out of it?
Thirdly, grab their attention. Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said that five times as many people will read your headline than the rest of your content.
In other words, that one sentence at the top of your landing page needs to do its job and capture people’s attention. It should be clear, and present an offer that you can’t refuse.
Examples of landing pages
First, let’s look at this example from Buffer:
This is a fantastic example of an attention-grabbing headline.
Build your audience and grow your brand on social media.
In one sentence, Buffer communicate why their “Publish” feature is so useful.
It speaks directly to the visitor’s pain point, ie., that they struggle with their social media presence.
As you scroll down, the landing page explains how Buffer is able to solve that problem.
By using clear copy that focuses on the benefits, Buffer created a very effective landing page.
Perhaps the only downside is that they opted for mock-ups instead of actual screenshots.
That brings us nicely on to the second example:
Airtable puts the product front and center on this landing page. They use screenshots so you can see exactly what the product looks like.
Not only that, but Airtable also scroll through different use cases, showing a different screenshot relevant for each one.
This highlights the versatility of Airtable, and means that the landing page caters for a wide range of people.
The content (for major and minor releases)
Content marketing is everywhere, especially when it comes to SaaS companies.
There’s a blog post for everything these days, and your new product releases should be no exception.
Content marketing is your opportunity to educate your users and prospects about what you’ve been up to.
Your shiny new feature might look cool, but the real way to drive adoption is to explain why you built it, and how it can help them.
Having said that, the chances of somebody clicking to read a blog post called “Why we built this new feature” are slim. Very slim.
So you need to dress it up a little.
Much like the landing page and announcement email, your content needs to focus on the benefits. Concentrate on the “why”. That’s what people care about.
Instead of “Why we built this new feature”, consider going with the angle of “How [FEATURE X] helps you to do [BENEFIT Y]”.
That formula is far more likely to result in people actually reading your content. And ultimately that’s the point.
Also, it doesn’t have to be a blog post. As you’re about to see, webinars are a great way of educating your audience while simultaneously showing off your new product or feature.
Any release notes content ultimately needs to engage and educate, in that order.
Examples of content
The first example is a blog post from ContentStudio:
This blog post covers a number of minor releases that were recently added to ContentStudio.
The first thing I want you to notice is that they introduce the benefit of the new release right away.
The second thing is that they include a gif that showcases the new feature.
Much like the landing page advice I gave you, blog posts are a great way of showing off your new releases.
But there’s an even better way…
I mentioned that webinars are really effective, and the folks at Drift use them to great effect:
This webinar introduces their audience to their new feature, Conversational ABM. They basically use this to demo the new release, highlighting how it helps your business.
Webinars are better because people can actually see your product in action, and are more likely to pay attention.
In-app marketing (for major and minor releases)
One of the most effective marketing channels you have when it comes to driving adoption is your product itself.
Firstly, because you have an interested audience. These are people who are already using your app. Trying out a new feature isn’t a big step.
Secondly, because you can control when and how they receive the message. You aren’t simply firing your messaging out into a different platform.
There are a few different ways in which you can use in-app messaging to draw attention to your new release.
A common way is by using notifications. Often, this takes the form of a little icon close to the main navigation menu.
Clicking the icon will display a message explaining about the new release.
Another way is to use tooltips. These appear when a user is ready to try a new feature. They point the user in the right direction so they can get started right away.
You can also use modals and pop-ups. These fill the screen, usually when a user logs in after the release has been shipped, and provide information about the new feature.
As you can see, there are lots of different opportunities available with in-app marketing.
I could write a whole blog post about them. In fact, that’s exactly what I did!
Examples of in-app marketing
The first example actually comes from our own product.
We recently released our new NPS feature, enabling you to gather user feedback from within your app.
To draw our users’ attention to it, we placed a Hotspot next to the NPS link. When a user hovered over it, we explained about the new feature.
This means our users could simply get on with their tasks and ignore NPS altogether.
But it also meant we could draw attention to the new feature, and drive adoption.
For a more major release (our new and improved dashboard) we placed a banner at the top of the product:
This included a CTA that drove our users to check out the new dashboard.
Here’s another example from Google:
This tooltip introduces users to a minor release. It grabs the user’s attention and prompts them to learn more about the new feature.
Equally, it doesn’t intrude too much, so that users can continue using the product.
This tooltip also touches on the benefits associated with the new release.
The final avenue we’re going to look at is Product Hunt. It’s the go-to place to find out about interesting new products, and as such it’s a great place for your new release to be.
Of course, you really need to get to the top of Product Hunt’s list if you want to be noticed.
There are two things you need to consider when it comes to Product Hunt. You need a good page, and you need a lot of support.
Let’s start with your Product Hunt page.
You need to it keep it brief. This isn’t the place for waffling on about how your product is going to change the world.
You also need to include screenshots or videos of your product in action. People want to actually see it.
Finally, as you start receiving comments from people, make sure you respond to them. Not only is it polite, but it also encourages more people to engage with you and your product.
As for the support part, you’re going to have to utilize your existing network. Ask your current users to go along and vote for your product. Ask your friends, colleagues, and basically anyone you think would do it.
The more support you can engineer at the start, the more your product starts to rise up the Product Hunt ranks.
####Example of a Product Hunt launch
Our friends over at Poptin recently topped the Product Hunt leaderboard:
As you can see, their write-up is straight to the point. They list out all the new features and improvements that they’ve made to Poptin.
Most importantly, they include a video which shows off the product.
If you scroll down, you see that Tomer (Poptin’s founder) takes the time to reply to each and every person who comments.
It’s no wonder Poptin made it to the top of the leaderboard and made their product launch a success.
We’ve covered a lot in this article, and hopefully, these major and minor release notes examples have helped clear things up.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Major releases are for brand new products. Minor releases are for new features and improvements. Micro releases are for fixing bugs.
- Send an announcement email for major and minor releases. This should quickly explain the benefits associated with the new improvements.
- Create a landing page for any major releases. This should hammer home the reasons why your users should care.
- Publish some content (either blog posts or webinars) that educate your audience about your new releases.
- Use in-app marketing (tooltips, notifications, etc.) to drive users to the new features.
If you want to take your in-app marketing to the next level, then you should give Userpilot a try.
You can create the perfect onboarding flows and drive adoption for new releases. The best bit? It requires no coding knowledge!
Why not get started today?
All the best with your new releases!
About the Author
Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management, product marketing and customer success for the past couple of years