Education Is a Feature of Balsamiq's Whole Product

The latest news from Balsamiq:
Learn how our company values drive our marketing strategy.
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We’re about to launch an exciting new design course. Get exclusive access here.

What marketing looks like inside Balsamiq

In his recent annual year-in-review blog post our founder Peldi summarized our marketing philosophy like this:
At Balsamiq, we do very little traditional marketing. Instead, we lead with our product and our mission.
Regular readers of this newsletter won’t be surprised by this, but it is still atypical in the SaaS industry.

We believe in the Whole Product concept, which says that your product is not just what you sell, but everything you make and do as well as how you behave. So, marketing is actually just one “feature” of your broader product. Whole Product thinking leads to focusing not just on trying to get new customers, but helping them become awesome at what they do.

In our case, one of the best ways to help our customers be awesome, besides making Balsamiq Wireframes, is to teach them how to use it and build easy-to-use products with it. This begins with our support and documentation and then crosses into our education efforts.

Here is a graph of what that looks like over time:
 

Note that the timeline shown above is Years. Helping someone become “world class” at something is not a quick task.

In the Whole Product newsletter Peldi also writes:
Talk to your customers, really LISTEN to them, and understand what problems they’re trying to solve.

Keep an open mind and get to work on a solution: it could be a new software feature, but it could instead be a new tutorial, or a new section of your website, or a combination of things. It’s all part of the same Whole Product in the end.
One of our most-loved Whole Product features is our "What should I make for dinner?" menu item. (Does it translate into sales for us? We have no idea 🤷)

We internalize the Whole Product concept by defining 4 pillars of our success: our product, our company, education, and community support. Each of these pillars make our company stronger, longer-lasting, and more reputable.
 

How Balsamiq Wireframing Academy fits in

Balsamiq Wireframing Academy is the home for our educational content. It showcases the educational pillar of our company. 

Because we lead with our product AND our mission, the job of the Education Team is not to drive customers toward our product. This is how our educational content differs from most “content marketing” articles and sites. The content can be an end on its own, not just a means to an end.  

Our company mission is, and always has been, to rid the world of bad software. One way to do that is to improve the quality of the software that people design (using our tool or not). Design education is yet another feature of our Whole Product.

This idea comes straight from the book that inspires our first mantra: "Badass" by Kathy Sierra.
 

For Balsamiq, it's:

Don't just make a better wireframing tool. Make a better product designer.

(Note that lots of different jobs involve designing software products. UX designers, but also Product Managers, Entrepreneurs, Developers, Marketers, and more.)

That's why on our site we not only share tips and tricks for making better wireframes, but we also: These all fit into our education mission to offer “practical training for creating more usable products.”

Honestly, I can't tell you how refreshing it is not to have to think about driving traffic to our downloads page when we plan what to create. We really don’t measure any kind of ROI for our education efforts. (Peldi is famously "allergic" to metrics, so he has never even inquired into the metrics for our education pages.) Our focus is what’s on the screen, not what’s behind it.

It is very intentional that the articles on our Wireframing Academy site have no page-blocking pop-ups, ads, promotions, or even cookie banners. We recently even got rid of the navigation bar on the side so that the only thing you see on the page is the content itself. The only “distraction” we have is a form to sign up to this newsletter at the bottom of some pages because, well, we're fond of it, and would rather connect on a more personal level with you all 😊
 

How we choose our content

The other thing that's refreshing is being free to invest in content and content creators that we like and enjoy. We only accept guest content from people we know, or who “get” us and write nice emails directly to us, never from people advertising content conversion services or promoting their SEO knowledge. 

Most of our articles and videos are created by us and come from our own, real experiences. As current and former designers ourselves, we create and seek out the material that we wish existed when we started out.

The two primary characteristics we look for in our educational content are quality and timelessness. Which, not coincidentally, overlap with two of our core values — “Be so good they can’t ignore you” (a Steve Martin quote) and “Aim for longevity.”

Bringing this back to the Whole Product concept, our company values inform our educational content strategy. Those values make it easy to decide what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to.
 

A special treat for you

As our latest example of high quality and timeless content, I'm very excited to announce, exclusively to our inner circle of newsletter readers, our newest video course. It’s called "How to Design Navigation for Large and Small Screens" and was produced by renowned author, UX consultant, and educator Donna Spencer.
 

We reached out to Donna specifically for this project because of her experience and high-level view of UX. In the course she focuses on 2 timeless essentials of UX design: Information Architecture and Navigation, which she is incredibly knowledgeable about. These fundamental elements can make or break your product experience, regardless of technology, audience, or product domain. 

The entire course will be freely available for everyone on YouTube. Her lessons are invaluable to designers and non-designers alike, whether you use Balsamiq or not.

And you're getting exclusive access to it right now 😊

The entire course (8 videos, 50 minutes total) is 'unlisted' on YouTube for now 🤫. Just go to this link to access the playlist. We’ll be announcing it publicly in a few weeks.
 
Go to the course now

How you can use these ideas

We know that we’re very lucky to have gotten traction with our product without a lot of marketing. It would be easy for us to say that all you need to do is build a great product and people will come knocking at your door, but it’s not nearly that simple. 

Getting your message to stand out in a crowded field of competitors is very hard. Tracking conversion data or pageviews might be a good way for you to connect your product with its audience.

But here are a few ideas that you could add to your strategy.
  • Let your marketing techniques reflect your values. Just because you work on software doesn’t mean that you have to do marketing the same way other software companies do. You don’t have to be data-driven, for example. Maybe doing some generosity marketing makes sense for you, as it has for us. Or try adding something fun or unexpected to your product that highlights your brand or personality (like our “what should I make for dinner” help menu item). If your product is unique, then your marketing can be too.
  • Think “Badass”. Ask yourself whether there is something else you can do to help your customers do the thing they buy your tool to help them do. It could be through education, sponsorship, leading by example, or promoting awareness. Go one step beyond just trying to get them to buy your product. Think about what they want to do with it.
  • Don’t ignore the long-term. Sure, those pop-ups or coupon codes might lead to more sales in the short term, but do they send the right message? Are they the right customers? Will they stick with you when you make a mistake? Will they tell friends and even strangers about you? 


If you try any of these, remember that if you don’t see results right away or aren’t able to quantify them, that doesn’t mean they’re not working.

How about you? Have you used any non-traditional marketing techniques or education-focused strategies to help your customers be more awesome? Feel free to reply to this email with your advice or stories.

Product news

In March we released new versions with a bunch of bug fixes and a few little features here and there. Here are all the details. The most notable change is a new “Back to Wireframes” button in the Assets, Symbols, and Trash views, to help you get back to your wireframes more easily.
 

For the next release, we made a bunch of tweaks to the Mac app for Big Sur, we made our Cloud version work better on tablets, and lots more! We’re going really fast these days, so stay tuned for a lot of exciting innovations coming your way in 2021!

Wireframing Academy news

Some highlights from this past month:
  • Our first webinar is coming up! “How to design effective data tables with wireframes” will be hosted by Billy Carlson on April 29th at 10am PDT / 1pm EDT / 7pm CET - sign up here
    • Bonus: Send us your data table wireframes and we’ll review them live! Email them to learn@balsamiq.com by April 24th.
  • You can now watch recordings of our previous talks on our new Talks and Presentations page
  • Our User Research study is still going. If you'd like to help us learn how to create the best possible content for our Wireframing Academy, please complete this survey. It’s quick!

UX/UI links for March

Company news

We had a one-day fun-filled virtual retreat! We spent the day together: baking, exercising, dancing, and stealing a painting from a virtual escape room. It was super fun, and it refilled our emotional batteries for a while.

Other than that, we’re working on many different aspects of our company: our website, our internal legal policies, our management structure, how we do User Research…you name it! 😊

We published an update on our Ultimate Frisbee Sponsorship, and closed down our Instagram account. We’re finally a #FacebookFree company!
  • Sponsorships and raffles: We sponsored another 21 events this month! Go check them out!
  • Notable recipients of our Free Software Program:
    • INAF - The National Institute of Astrophysics is the main Italian Research Body for the study of the Universe.
    • Foundation Forge - Foundation Forge helps economically vulnerable young people access a quality life through work, continuous learning and commitment to the community.
    • Back2Bikes - Back2Bikes is a not for profit which provides affordable transport for low-income earners and those in need, and assists local schools and other charities by recycling bicycles.

That's it for this month!

Thanks for being a part of our inner circle. Your voices keep us focused and inspired 😊

See you next month, with more behind-the-scenes news from your friends at Balsamiq!
Leon and Francesca for the Balsamiq Team
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