Product Management and Introducing New Features

I was recently watching episode 543 of This Week in Startups with Des Traynor of Intercom discussing product management.  It's worth watching for those interested in that sort of thing, and I'd also recommend watching his other appearance on This Week in Startups in episode 510

I agree with most of what he says, but I'm not sure about his thoughts on introducing new product features.  Around 48 minutes into the talk he explains that it's not a good idea to email users with a lot of information about minor new features because they won't care and will dismiss the email without giving the features much thought.  This is because they are not in the mindset of using your product, so unless the new feature is truly revolutionary it just won't matter to most people in that moment.

Instead, he recommends that you introduce new features when the user returns to the product.  A lot of web sites and apps take this approach, but I'm not sure it's actually effective.  Often when I am using a product, I have a specific goal in mind.

Before writing this update I had to log in to Box.com and download a business file.  When I logged in, Box presented me with a screen takeover offering to guide me through their new file preview features.  I actually am interested in the Box file preview features, but not right now.  I just wanted to download the file, so I quickly dismissed the tutorial.  That's a loss for both Box and myself, because they lost the opportunity to explain their new feature to me, and now I won't know about a piece of functionality that I do care about.  I just didn't care in that moment because I was trying to get work done.

Atlassian tries to overcome this in their JIRA product by having the new features window pop up every time you log in, until you tell it not to do that any more.  But I still find this a bit obtrusive and I tend to get in the habit of just clicking dismiss without ever thinking about whether I might want this information.

A more successful strategy in my mind would be to have an unobtrusive, but obvious, call to action on the screen letting me know something has changed.  Perhaps a notification in my inbox.  Or a graphical icon on the screen inviting me to click for information on new features.  The key is recognizing that your users are using your product to accomplish whatever it is your product helps them accomplish.  While they do care about product improvements, much of the time they may be coming to your product with a very specific task in mind and limited time to accomplish it.  Let them know that something new is available, but don't assume they can take the time right now to learn about it.