For tech marketers, it pays to be a master of definition. After all, if you can define your product in ways that instantly click, you’re in position to attract as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible. Product Marketers in particular use a constellation of conceptual tools to develop these definitions, from positioning and value frameworks, to messaging architectures and customer personae. Ironically though, one of the most powerful of these tools is also one of the murkiest to understand and hardest to leverage.
That’s right, you guessed it — use cases.
The concept of use cases began in software development before making its way into the customer-facing language of product marketing. In the process, the term has taken on very different meanings. While Product and Engineering teams tend to think of use cases as the series of steps a user takes with a product to achieve an end result, Marketing and Sales teams tend to define use cases in terms of customer segments. In the B2B world for instance, you’ll often hear use cases discussed in terms of industries, business sizes, roles, functions and so on. With all of this variation, it can be hard to know how you should define use cases, let alone how to leverage them in your marketing.
Getting past the confusion is worth it though. Because whether you’re marketing a CX platform with a use case of “tracking customer experience across the customer journey,” a CRM used for “coordinating marketing and sales activities,” or an analytics platform for “monitoring cloud infrastructure,” use cases are one of the single most powerful ways to connect with customer need. By defining your product in terms of customers’ own goals, use cases crystallize its value, allowing them to see exactly how the product fits in their world. To help you make the most of use cases in your own marketing, here are three key ways to leverage them.
By defining your product in terms of customers’ own goals, use cases crystallize its value, allowing them to see exactly how the product fits in their world.
Align your teams
Before you start marketing use cases though, you should make sure your teams are aligned on what they are in the first place. This is important for all companies as Product, Sales and other teams tend to think about use cases differently, but it’s especially important for teams with complex tech that serves many needs for many customers. For these teams in particular, it can be hard to maintain a shared understanding about what customers actually use their company’s products for. When this understanding breaks down, you can end up with marketing and product decisions that don’t resonate with customers because they don’t reflect what they care about.
So how do you get your teams on the same page about use cases? By cutting through the complexity and nailing down the essential ones that are common across your customer base. Because although different groups of customers might be using your product in different ways, they also likely share some fundamental goals that the product enables all of them to achieve. In order to nail these use cases down, talk to your customers and talk to your teams.
To start, simply ask your customers what they use your product for, keeping the focus less on end benefits and more on the specific goals they set out to achieve. Then compare what your customers say to what your Sales and other customer facing teams say. What do they see as your product’s core use cases and what language do they use to effectively describe them? By answering these questions, identifying response trends, and distilling those trends into a list of core use cases, you’ll arrive at a common understanding to align your teams around.
By getting your product’s use cases down to this level of simplicity, you’ll strengthen everything your product, marketing and sales teams do — from pitching your product in conversations with prospects, to developing landing page copy, to deciding the next capabilities on your product roadmap.
By getting your product’s use cases down to this level of simplicity, you’ll strengthen everything your Product, Marketing and Sales teams do.
Clarify your product’s value
Since use cases define exactly how customers realize the value of your product, they’re extremely helpful for making that value more tangible and real. That’s always a good thing, but it’s especially helpful if you’re selling a product that’s extremely flexible and/or new to the market.
Take Zendesk’s open CRM platform Sunshine for example. The platform is extremely flexible in its ability to connect a very wide range of customer data, enabling businesses to use it in a variety of ways. This is exactly where use cases shine. By defining the core use cases of open CRM’s, Zendesk drives home its platform’s value in a way that makes it concrete, avoiding the danger of nebulousness that comes with heavily marketing a product’s flexibility. These use cases — from tracking the history and health of customer-focused assets and devices; to understanding the product/order lifecycle; to understanding in-product behavior — help clarify Sunshine’s value by articulating the goals that customers can expect to achieve with it.
Similarly, if your product is new to a market, leaning into use cases can help customers recognize your product’s value even if they don’t recognize the product itself. Dropbox is a perfect example of this. When they pioneered the internet file hosting service category in the early 2010’s, customers hadn’t seen anything quite like them.
If your product is new to a market, leaning into use cases can help customers recognize your product’s value even if they don’t recognize the product itself.
How’d Dropbox make sure this didn’t mean customers didn’t understand what they were good for? Use cases.
Even if the idea of an internet file hosting service felt a little foreign to you, if you visited this early landing page you’d know immediately what you could use Dropbox for, even if you didn’t know exactly how it worked: storing files, syncing files, and sharing them. It’s as simple as that. With paths to value that clear, it’s easy for customers to follow along and get over the initial hurdles that come with learning new products and ways of doing things.
Hone your segment messaging
Use cases are also extremely effective when it comes to creating relevance with your customers. By honing in on the goals of your segments and tailoring use case messaging to suit, you can quickly bridge the gap between your product and their world.
By honing in on the goals of your segments and tailoring use case messaging to suit, you can quickly bridge the gap between your product and their world.
The data analytics company Splunk does an excellent job of this. Rather than lean into the platform’s core use cases, their Product Marketing leans into the use cases of the company’s three key segments: IT, DevOps and Security.
From predictive analytics for IT, to threat detection for Security and cloud migration for DevOps, Splunk explicitly calls out and organizes its web pages around segment use cases so that all of its customers know exactly which goals the platform helps them achieve. Prominently foregrounding use cases in this way helps ensure that customers not only recognize the product’s value, but also and at a higher level, trust that Splunk is truly equipped for the challenges that matter most to them.
As valuable as marketing segment-specific use cases can be, though, it’s important to consider whether doing so gives you more leverage than marketing core use cases common across your segments. You could of course do both, but depending on your product, category, growth stage and other factors, it likely makes sense for you to lean more into one or the other of them now.
Zendesk, Sunshine and Dropbox already gave us a couple of examples of scenarios in which emphasizing core use cases holds the most advantage — selling a highly flexible product that appeals to a broad range of segments or selling a new, category defining one. A similar scenario to consider is where you’re selling into one vertical and still have a lot of room for growth. In this case, it might be possible to break that vertical down into smaller, more granular segments and market those segments’ specific use cases. However if there’s extensive overlap between those segments, then doing so could end up diluting your core message and creating noise that prevents customers from understanding the larger goals you help them with.
Alternatively, if like Splunk you rely heavily on a small number of different segments with very distinct use cases, emphasizing those use cases in your Product Marketing could be the right move for sending an effectively tailored message to each segment. This is especially true if you’re in an already established category that serves multiple segments whose attention you need to compete heavily for. Finally, if you’re in a situation where you’ve had some success in starting to sell to customers in a new segment with high growth potential but your Sales team is still struggling to make the product fully land with them, then that segment’s use cases may be the most valuable ones for you to focus on right now.
Ultimately, whether you need to hone in on individual segments, keep the focus on your entire customer base, or start from square one by aligning your teams around the basic goals your customers can accomplish with your product, there are few concepts more valuable than use cases. And although they can be difficult to pin down, the more you lean into them, the more you’ll find use cases to be one of the most direct bridges for connecting your product to your customers.