Curious about what it takes to create and grow a successful membership business?
In this article, the founder of Product Marketing Alliance (and Baremetrics customer) Richard King, shared how he turned a network of product marketers into a thriving paid community with over 20,000 members, using some simple but powerful content marketing tactics.
Read his story below!
Product Marketing Alliance first came onto the scene in March 2019 to fill a gap in the market. Product marketing had been a ‘thing’ for a long, long time, but people in the industry didn’t have the one go-to place for information tailored to them.
No-one was providing product marketers with the network and resources they needed to really refine their craft and come together, and so that’s exactly what we did.
We started by asking a small group of people from our community if this is something they would be interested in.
Everyone was instantly really excited because the other communities that were already out there were specific to certain regions. There was nothing out there on a global scale, so we took those insights and used them to fuel something truly global.
So we created a platform whereby product marketers all over the world could get together, learn, share, even vent, and really level up not only the products they market, but their career.
We started by simply listening and unpacking what product marketing actually is, and the rest is history.
The key to our success—listening!
From day one we’ve taken an agile approach and we’re constantly listening to what those inside and out of our community want and are adapting our approach based on this kind of feedback.
It isn’t rocket science really, but we just listen out for trends and when we spot one, we act quick, and that’s the beauty of being a startup in that we can consistently do that.
In terms of how we actually do that listening, it’s a real mix.
We obviously make use of our own Slack community, we also have Customer Advisory Boards, use social listening, amalgamate trends we see in feedback forms and reviews, and so on.
Fast forward to where we are today, at the time of writing, our community is home to 30,000+ product marketers globally, each of our reports gets at least 5,000 downloads, 1000s of new and seasoned PMMs pick our course to get PMM certified, and our membership plans reached $23,000+ MRR within eight months of launching.
Things scaled real quick.
Our journey started by listening, and our journey’s continued on its trajectory because we’ve continued to listen.
Our PMMs said they wanted reports, so we gave them reports. They asked for podcasts, we delivered. Masterclasses, membership plans, digital events, certification, AMAs, articles, you name it, it’s born from appetite within the community.
It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s something many businesses all too easily bypass. We listened, we never stopped, and our deliverables back up that the word ‘listen’ isn’t just lip service with us.
How well do you know your business?
Join Product Marketing Alliance and hundreds of other startups who use Baremetrics to track growth!
Our content-first approach fueled our growth
For the first 10 months of our existence, we didn’t offer any paid products. Through podcasts, articles, reports and events, we very much took a content-first approach.
We wanted to provide totally free resources that added value and answered the questions our community were asking.
We gauged success using a few metrics.
First and foremost was the numbers for the week on week growth of our Slack community as this was our constant.
Outside of that, we’d look at things like site traffic. As we continued to consistently produce value-added content, we started to see our traffic increase and increase. And not just sporadically, this was month-on-month increases and those numbers continue to rise to this day.
What’s helped us here is the consistency.
Yes, we have the hallmark content like the State of Product Marketing report that helped us establish ourselves and is something people continue to reference and look forward to, but outside that we continue to add value day in, day out, in all sorts of ways - articles, podcasts, AMAs, webcasts, you name it.
In terms of which types of content were our growth levers in the early days, it would definitely be our reports.
We published our first State of Product Marketing report just a few months after PMA was born and it hit 5,000 downloads in no time. For a company of our age at the time, that was a really strong number and really put us on the map.
A few months after that, we followed up with our Product Marketing Salary Survey and this again flew off the shelf, getting more than 7,000 downloads in an incredibly short space of time.
These reports filled gaping gaps in the product marketing industry and addressing those gaps really helped us solidify our mission and presence on the product marketing scene.
Fast-forward to where we are today, we produce 10 reports a year and each continues to consistently hit 1,000s of unique downloads.
In the early days, it was the kind of content that helped define product marketing that really went down well because there just wasn’t anything out there that did that well and brought real clarity to the role.
While that kind of content continues to be hugely popular, we’re seeing increasing popularity in the kind of content that addresses problems on a more granular level.
So not just content for product marketers in general, but content created specifically for product marketers who operate in certain verticals, or are a specific stage in their career.
How we launched our first paid product
It wasn’t until the very end of January 2020 that we officially launched our first paid-for product; our membership plans. By this point, we had built a name for ourselves and we were a trusted resource within the industry and this trust was our growth lever.
Before we went all-in with our full-blown launch, we gave a number of our founding members access to our membership portal for free so that we could gather feedback on the go and continue to iterate what was inside before we went out to the masses.
Again, nothing revolutionary, but when we listened, we acted, and that enabled us to build a product that genuinely added value.
In terms of the kind of feedback we got, people were telling us they were a little overwhelmed when they logged into their dashboard. Because we had so many resources in there, they just didn’t know where to start.
We didn’t necessarily view this as a bad thing of course, because we knew all the content in there would be tremendously valuable to them, but it was just about presenting it in a more manageable way.
To try and combat this, we spent some time really refining the searchability side of the site so that our members could quickly and easily search for and find what they needed, when they needed it, without being too inundated by the wealth of content in between.
As is the case with all our products, outside of the usual growth tactics (email, social, paid, etc.) our product eventually started to sell itself, and we now have companies like Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Typeform, and Amazon in there.
People who purchased our membership plans were digging what they got and they wanted to tell people about it. We leveraged this by using social proof as our main selling mechanism and you’ll notice we do this across board.
It’s no secret people prefer hearing the words of their peers than companies, so we doubled down on this.
Going back to that initial launch, within 24 hours of announcing our membership plans were on the market, we had 100 paying customers!
In the seven days following that, we had a further 100 paying members. Fast-forward to 11 months later and we reached over $23,000 MRR.
How we’re growing a thriving community
We’re very fortunate in that our community has, and continues to grow organically. We say fortunately, but that’s in no small part to how we’ve kept it engaged.
We have strict house rules in place within our community and our community managers are incredibly hot on the pulse in ensuring these are enforced.
We want our community to be a place where people can speak freely, answer openly, and not be sold to.
In the early days, I managed the community myself. Then we hired a full-time copywriter who helped out a bit. We didn’t hire a full-time community manager until a year after launching.
We made this decision when we knew we were stretching ourselves too thin on areas of PMA outside of the Slack community (reports, courses, membership, etc.) to maintain the ethos and standards of our Slack community.
What was hugely beneficial for us though is the commitment and enthusiasm of the members of our community. If people were violating the community rules, our members would let us know immediately. As the community scaled so quickly, this community-wide support was invaluable.
Outside of our Slack community, we keep the community alive by:
Bringing them into our roadmap
When we’re planning out upcoming activities, we do this based on chatter we physically see going down in the community, but also by outright asking “what do you want?”. This helps us ensure what we’re doing is aligned with the community’s needs.
For example, we saw lots of people asking about other people’s PM:PMM ratios, so we ran a poll on LinkedIn.
We turned those poll results into this piece.
And we noticed OKRs were a pretty big sticking point, so we wrote this eBook.
Honestly, so much of what we do is based on these kinds of interaction there’d be too many examples to give!
Consistently providing high-value resources and products
We’re always flat out behind the scenes working on our next launch - whether that be a course, or piece of content, or event, but we don’t ever skimp on quality and that really comes through when we look at the numbers and feedback.
Track and measure your community's growth
Growing a membership business is no simple task. Using data to monitor MRR, churn and other crucial metrics can give you insights to make smarter decisions.
Join Product Marketing Alliance and hundreds of other startups that use Baremetrics for their subscription analytics.