Even in the current business climate, there’s never been a better time to be a B2B SaaS marketer. With the exponential growth of SaaS solutions in virtually every industry, marketing has arrived as a driving force of differentiation and, as a result, growth.
If you’ve seen the bold, colorful visuals of Dropbox and Intercom, read the casual tone of Slack and Zendesk’s copy, or come across any of the downright quirky content put out by Mailchimp and Wistia, you’ve seen SaaS companies leveraging brand to stand out in increasingly crowded marketplaces.
This press towards differentiation runs much deeper than brand aesthetics though, into the communication of value that lies at the very heart of SaaS marketing. With not only the rise of competition but also broader trends towards the consumerization of SaaS and general convergence of B2B and B2C marketing, simply communicating how your product meets a critical need is no longer enough.
To sign new customers up — and keep them coming back month after month — you have to show not only how you solve their problem today, but how solving that problem moves them towards a larger vision for tomorrow. The pressure to express value that is at once tangible and aspirational, both practical and visionary, is one of the most exciting challenges facing SaaS marketers today.
The pressure to express value that is at once tangible and aspirational, both practical and visionary, is one of the most exciting challenges facing SaaS marketers today.
The most effective marketers are meeting this challenge in virtually every field — from software development and customer engagement to cloud computing, communication and information security.
And so at the same time that Zendesk aims to solve its customers’ urgent problem of “providing a faster, more personalized experience” to their own customers, they also move customers to imagine an ideal state in which their support teams can “solve any issue.” Similarly, cloud computing company VMWare meets its customers’ immediate need to operate in the cloud by enabling them to “build, run, manage, connect and protect any app on any cloud,” but it also presses them towards the much grander goal of “building a digital foundation.”
And while New Relic frames their software performance monitioring solution as “observability made simple,” it does so for the much grander purpose of helping customers “deliver more perfect software.” Finally, for one more example, at the same time that Splunk helps their customers move towards “bring[ing] data to every question, decision, and action,” they also address the more modest problem of making “data accessible, usable and valuable to everyone.”
More than trite taglines, these examples point to a deeper ability on the part of these companies to market both how their product produces business outcomes in the near term and helps their customers inch towards a vision that, even if unattainable, is worth striving for.
So how do SaaS marketers manage to do both, differentiating their products and brands in the process? The truth probably lies somewhere between relaying a Job to Be Done and pitching a Promised Land, but rather than another framework, here are a few simple principles for communicating the value you bring to your customers — both on day one, and on day 701.
Help customers think bigger
Truth is, when customers first come across your brand, they’re probably not looking for vision. More than likely, they’re looking for an expedient solution that solves their problem in the most effective, business-requirement-friendly way possible. So of course, articulate your product’s immediate value with clarity and crispness, concisely justifying its merit for your customer’s economic buyer and all the other decision makers in the room.
But then—and here’s your opportunity to shine, marketers — do more.
Level up your customers’ thinking by showing how your solution helps them achieve a much bigger vision. As the expert on their problem, show them how all of its negative consequences, both subtle and overt, not only cause the pain they feel today, but also inhibit them from achieving a larger goal — whether that’s “delivering great customer experience, no matter what” (Intercom) or “making work work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive” (Slack).
When your marketing doesn’t meaningfully lean into higher order problems like these, you do both your customers and your brand a disservice. After all, by not marketing how you solve for the bigger challenges, you limit both your ability to help your customers and the value of your solution in the long run.
When your marketing doesn’t meaningfully lean into higher order problems, you do both your customers and your brand a disservice.
Connect today’s solution to tomorrow’s vision
To pull it all off, you need to build a bridge from the solution you’re offering today to the larger vision you’re promising tomorrow. In particular, you need to be able to connect your immediate solution to the positive outcomes that result in the near term, to the big vision opened up by those outcomes, to the continued delivery of value that keeps moving customers closer to it.
This last point of continued delivery of new value is key— whether it manifests as an articulation of your brand’s approach to managing the customer relationship, your product’s future direction, or something else. Not only because SaaS business consumers expect ever higher levels of customer experience and regular delivery of new product capabilities, but also and more fundamentally because effectively marketing future value is what triggers your customers’ recognition that the horizon of your product’s worth stretches out further and higher than they can see today.
If your brand and product marketing can accomplish this, you know you’re on track towards differentiation.
Make partnership the paradigm
When your marketing connects today’s solution to tomorrow’s vision, you’re operating from a partnership paradigm in which you and your customers grow together, tackling bigger and bigger challenges as you do.
The more you communicate this paradigm at every touch point, the more your customers will recognize your value in a sea of competitors focused only on delivering value now.
Of course, the extent to which you can market this paradigm effectively depends entirely on the degree to which your brand actually embraces it in practice. If there’s no strong story or vision of long-term customer value driving it, then there is only so much you can do.
And so this then is perhaps where you, SaaS marketer, can make the biggest impact in helping your brand differentiate for growth — not only by driving your customers towards a big bold vision, but by driving your company towards it too.