Digital Transformation Agency

Software as a service has a branding problem

By Kier Humphreys | Experience director

May 24, 2022 | 6 min read

In the B2B space especially, almost every provider is switching to a software as a service (SaaS) model, making competition tough and permanent. Kier Humphreys, experience director at Hallam, argues that SaaS companies need to go back to basics to stand out: develop a clear narrative of differentiation.

Software as a Service (Saas) needs to deliver two things: software and service. It’s easy to think of this as a capital-light way to access tooling, but as every provider moves to a SaaS model, the fight for share-of-wallet has moved from an annual beauty parade to an always-on-consideration.

Hallam considers how switching software can help marketers stand out.

Hallam considers how switching software can help marketers stand out

Procurement decisions have added a dialled-up layer of emotion with service now front and center. If there’s one thing that can positively impact our emotions, it’s effective brand execution (something that 82% of B2B marketers agree they need to be more focused on).

It’s all about narrative

Brand investment isn’t new or magical: Tesco’s Finest range isn’t objectively better than its standard in-house range, but you sure feel fancy buying and consuming it. The level of experience vastly increases the perception of value and quality.

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You aren’t the only SaaS offering in your industry. Chances are, your pricing and feature set are comparable to the competition’s. What separates you is the narrative you build around your brand and your ability to demonstrate the features you offer and the life-changing productivity, efficiency and life hacks your model delivers.

What can you do to make sure your SaaS marketing stands out? Simple: truly impactful experiences, from the first second someone reaches your platform. Ensure first impressions stand the test of pricing, onboarding and contracts. Stand apart with cohesive and distinctive brand development and creative execution.

The total experience is what drives churn reduction, LTV and growth. It’s B2B, but you’re still dealing with humans. Brand doesn’t stop with the first impression; it’s perception, which exists in each micro-interaction from day one onward.

The brand echo chamber

It’s easy to get caught in an echo chamber when thinking about brand. You can waste hours considering the exact language for a brand vision document, but copy for a website will be written in minutes. Worse still, hours can be spent on how many times the phrase ‘digital transformation’ can be peppered throughout your homepage copy.

Brand has become a way to make your service more complex through language, rather than a perception built on promise and delivery. While it’s good that 50% of marketing budgets are allocated to branding in the most mature B2B brands, that often still focuses on the superficial.

Peep Laja (a hero in the conversion rate optimization space and founder of the message testing platform Wynter) recently posted on LinkedIn: “Your company home page is not where you should tell your narrative.” This should be printed out and stuck to the wall of every brand.

When we talk about dialling up your brand, it doesn‘t mean beating people around the head with the journey your founder took from humble goat farmer to hustling rockstar in the SaaS space. These narratives very quickly sound the same. Buyers (humans) don‘t operate in a vacuum. They don‘t view their interaction with you as epics to rival Lawrence of Arabia, ending up on your team page and marvelling at the collective genius that makes transformation simple through technology.

What real differentiation looks like

Every SaaS brand exists in a competitive marketplace, and every brand wants to stand out. It‘s easier to sell the idea of standing out by looking and sounding different. But what if you stand out by setting up a market-orientated solution and ensuring every touchpoint meets or exceeds buyers’ expectations?

Successful brands do the thing they said they would. If you aren‘t doing that, that beautiful font and pattern are as useful as Elon Musk‘s humility coach.

Where should this brand reset begin? Start small. Talk to your prospects. Have new employees review the competitive landscape. See how those most important to you perceive the brand you‘ve created. Talk to new and long-term customers and see if there’s any cohesion between initial promise and the reality of existing within your ecosystem. Improve both, and never stop.

Investing in your brand is more than just improving the look of your site and saturating the colors in your palette to deliver distinction. It‘s about providing a reality as close as possible to the perception you work so hard to project at the beginning of the association. Think of it as a new relationship: if the first date is you at your best, and every date after that slowly reveals the gremlin inside of you... you get the picture.

Constantly focus on your brand, and fixate on ensuring every touchpoint a customer or prospect reaches is as good as, if not better than, the first. Start with research; objectively audit your brand experience and focus on the areas causing customers and prospects the most pain. That, versus a new brand execution built on nothing but a desire for change, is the way to achieve sustainable growth.

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