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How to Run a Successful SaaS Marketing Campaign: A Guide

Jan 10, 2018
Digital Marketing / SaaS
by Jera Brown
How to Run a Successful SaaS Marketing Campaign: A Guide

Have you ever visited a software website, looked around, and left having no idea what the software actually does? Me too. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with SaaS marketing.

The solutions provided by the SaaS applications are often abstract and difficult to describe. And even when they’re not, the differences in their feature sets often are.

Software as a service is redefining the meaning of a product. You don’t get a tangible object or even a download. You get, what? A login, access to a site with abstract functionality.

The good news is, more and more consumers are growing accustomed to this cloud-based market. This means, your SaaS company  doesn’t have to worry as much about selling SaaS itself and can focus on selling their product.

Many successful SaaS companies have connected to their users through effective digital campaigns and other long-term marketing tactics to drive qualified leads and conversions. Here’s how you can be apart of the conversation.

1. Know your current and target customers

The first step to running a successful campaign is understanding your current users and your target customers. Specifically:

  • What industry they’re in (for B2B companies) or their interests (for B2C)
  • Where they live (geo-targeting can work in your favorite)
  • What their pain points are (knowing this will let you know your product can solve them)

A big SaaS marketing mistake is creating user personas based around assumptions of their customers. If these assumptions are wrong or don’t “hit home” with perspective clients, any campaign based off of them will be ineffective. Don’t create a campaign around a guess. Use analytics, surveys, and actual conversations with customers to get to know them.

Find out about the best tools SaaS Companies are using to get to know their audience.

2. Develop your campaign around user’s problems or pain points

Marketing expert Jay Baer once said, “If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.”

That bigger story could be about your company — people like underdogs and companies with an ethos of transparency. That’s all great. But people also want to be incorporated into the story. And some of the best stories have heroes and happy endings.

By focusing on the problem your users have, you can turn your company into the solution they’ve been looking for, i.e. their hero.

Success Story: Slack

Slack, a business collaboration tool, is one of the fastest growing SaaS company of all time who went from $0 to $4 billion valuation in four years. For the first two years, Slack grew organically using robust content on their website and spreading by word of mouth before ever utilizing outbound marketing strategies.

But organic growth can only go so far. Two years in, Slack launched its first ever mass-market campaign. As marketing director Brad Morris explained, “We are switching from trying to keep up with growth to trying to generate growth.”

To prepare for the campaign, they surveyed their user base to find out just how people were using their product and what the advantages were (which is why we have step number one). Slack users reported a 32% increase in team productivity, 48% fewer meetings, and 48% fewer emails. They used this info to create a campaign focusing on people’s problems, such as an overflowing inbox and meeting burnout.

“We wanted the campaign to express the very real benefits of Slack to people who have never heard about us, while also addressing the aspects of working life that everyone can relate to in a playful way that was in keeping with our brand,” Morris said.

They effectively focused on their target users’ issues and sold their product as the answer.

Check out these other 5 SaaS companies that truly understand digital marketing.

3. Tailor your campaign to target different industries or locations

By investing in specific industries or locations where you’re already seeing success, you can accelerate this growth. Who is currently using your product? Why? Where do they live and work?

Success Story: Square

The popular financial services company Square featured local merchants across the U.S in their 2013 campaign. They paired up a series of blog posts featuring local business owners like cupcake shop owner Pam Turkin with a traveling event series known as Let’s Talk. Square’s co-founder Jack Dorsey traveled around the country to talk to meet with local merchants about how to “collaborate, connect and strengthen their communities.”

By promoting small business owners, Square showed an interest in local communities and allowed their customers to share the limelight. But Square’s strategy didn’t stop there.

In an interview with First Round Review, Square’s Director of Product Communications and Marketing Khobi Brooklyn explained that she focuses on local newspapers. This is why it’s helpful to know where your user base is located. Concentrate on the hubs and push your campaign locally ideally spotlighting people in the area. “Do the legwork to show examples of how customers are already using your product to do something important — for us, it’s boosting local economies,” Brooklyn explained in the interview. “The point is to surface information that the reporter doesn’t already know and then make it about the customers, not your product.”

Brooklyn explained that Square doesn’t just target local, they also focus on the industries that make up their user base. Brooklyn makes a point of following and advertising in trade publications of those industries. “If you’re not in that world, beauty trade magazines like Hair Salon Today or Nails Mag might seem abstract, but people read them — a lot of people … You need to immerse yourself in each of these areas and figure out who people are listening to. That’s the only way you’ll get their attention.”

4. Empower your existing customers to be brand advocates

Your outbound campaign needs to be supported by inbound content that continues to spur organic growth for your brand. Hype around campaigns peak and dissipate whereas quality content on your website and social media platforms can continue to grow over time.

Best of all, content marketing has created a way for customers to easily spread the word of your brand. Create content people will want to share, and they’ll become brand ambassadors without even meaning to. User generated content never hurts.

Success Story: Buffer

The most successful marketing tool used by Buffer, a social media management tool, has been their blog — which took off after Leo Widrich, their co-founder and COO, read and followed the advice from Rand Fishkin’s Content Marketing Manifesto talk. In the talk, Fishkin tells his listeners to not get sidetracked by relevance. He explained, “Great content that performs well doesn’t have to fit the ‘relevant to current customers scale.’” It’s enough, he continues, if the content is relevant to anyone who interacts with potential customers. Because they’ll share it, and your name will get out there.

Widrich took this advice to heart and started writing about topics he thought might interest customer’s friends. His hope is that these friends might also like Buffer. He wrote about psychology, life-hacks and productivity — really sharable subjects. After this, the reach of his content quadrupled.

In an interview with digital marketer John Doherty, Widrich explained that attempting to measure lead conversions via content is short-sighted. Their goal for the content is to build brand recognition, which they see pay off in various ways.

He’s in agreement with Fishkin who, going back to his talk, explained that one of the things people get wrong about content marketing is believing that the primary point is to directly drive sales conversions. Instead, according to Fishkin, content marketing works to:

  • Build familiarity with your audience
  • Build likeability with your brand
  • And build trust in your brand

By the way, Buffer is not alone in using a blog to grow their brand. In fact, 99% of Cloud 100 companies maintain a blog on their site. By growing name recognition, you’re more likely hook long-term customers. For SaaS companies, you not only want people to continually invest in your product, you want people to continually invest in your brand.

5. Prepare your site to handle growth and glean ROI

With inbound and outbound marketing strategies in place, are you ready to handle growth? It’s great to pull people to your site, but that alone doesn’t necessarily lead to a new customer. The first step for preparing your site to convert viewers into customers is having a call-to-action.

According to Drift’s Cloud 100 Report which investigated the marketing tactics of the top 100 private cloud-based tech companies, 69 of the top 100 cloud-based companies maintained a call-to-action (CTA) on their website. Ideally, it leads users down a pain-free process to buying (or at least trying it out) your product.

Having a unique and well-tested CTA is vital for it to be successful. Case in point: HighriseHQ, a CRM solution from Basecamp, saw a 200% increase in conversions when they redesigned their CTA copy. When CrazyEgg decided to test it out and copied the CTA word-for-word, their conversion rate decreased 10%.

What works for one company doesn’t work for another, but there are some norms. In ChartMogul’s 2017 analysis of over 100 SaaS landing pages, they found the following trends:

  • 92% of signup buttons use less than five words
  • 70% of all CTAs are green or blue
  • Many sites have multiple CTAs or make them “sticky”
  • One-third utilize a signup form element

Investing in user experience is a common denominator among the most successful SaaS companies. If you’re unsure how much your SaaS should invest in marketing, follow the industry standard.

6. Prepare your product, as well

Consider offering a freemium or trial version, both of which give potential customers a chance to try out your product. When your product is hidden behind a paywall, users don’t know what they’re signing up for. No matter what fancy videos or charts you may show on your site that explains your product and its features, nothing compares to getting to try it out for oneself.

Remember earlier when we said that Slack grew organically for their first two years? One of the biggest reasons they were able to grow without using costly outbound marketing campaigns was by offering a free version of their product.

“Even the best slogans, ads, landing pages, PR campaigns, etc., will fall down if they are not supported by the experience people have when they hit our site, when they sign up for an account, when they first begin using the product and when they start using it day in, day out,” Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack said in Drift’s Cloud 100 report.

Per Drift’s report, 36% of top performing companies offer a free or freemium version of their product.

Success Story: Trello

Another success story behind free or trial versions is the five-year-old project management tool Trello. Last year, Trello boasted 150,000 new users each week with over 1.1 million active users daily. They managed this growth by offering their product for free for the first two years. In 2016, only three years after beginning to monetize their product, Trello reached $10 million in revenue.

Marketing expert Lincoln Murphy advises against paying heed to the conversion rate between free and paid users. “Garbage in, garbage out. Low quality leads in, low conversion numbers out. Simple. If you have a well-optimized Free Trial process, but low-quality prospects coming in the top of your funnel, your conversion rate will be low.”

Focus, instead, on building a great product that sustains more users (even the free ones) will grow trust and respect for your brand, which is what all of these steps add up to.

These steps add up to brand recognition and loyal customers

By researching and targeting the pain points and specific industries or niches of your users,  providing consistent authentic and sharable content, and, finally, ensuring access to your product, you’re building a relationship with your users that will pay off for years to come.

As Slack’s CMO Bill Macaitis put it, “A brand is the sum of every experience a customer has with your company, and a strong brand will always generate long-term growth and revenue.”

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