Survival of the fittest. A sentence coined by Herbert Spencer, to describe the Darwinian theory of natural selection, perfectly reflects what entrepreneurs and marketers have to deal with everyday.
In a world, in which basically everyone is able to start their own software company overnight, the role of the marketer is more important than ever before. Consumers, be it B2B or B2C, are constantly seeing ads from all kinds of products.
The increasing amount of ads, we see on Social Media, while browsing the web or when watching a video leaves us with more choices to make than ever before. How can we, as marketers, be heard, have an impact and reach our potential customers?
On the search for an ultimate, secret strategy, I had a closer look at three of the leading SaaS companies that currently exist. If you’re not yet familiar with them, let me introduce you.
Here they are.
A closer look at 3 leading SaaS companies
Slack: With the slogan: “Be less busy”, Slack is one of the front runners in a new type of team messaging app. With a rather interesting founding story, the company has seen tremendous growth and is now valued way beyond $2 billion.
Moz: Probably the best known company amongst SEOs, Moz is one of the leading software as a service providers for digital marketers. With astonishing growth rates, Moz’s software tools belong in every marketer’s tool kit.
Buffer: A tool that makes it significantly easier to share and schedule social media posts. The bootstrapped company came a long way and is growing with impressive rates year over year.
My findings and take on these companies :
The three companies, I have looked at couldn’t be more different from one another. All of them have different founding stories, motivations and operate in different industries. Slack is a messaging app. Moz, a research kit for digital marketers and Buffer a Social Media software.
However, despite their initial differences all three of them rely, to some extend, on the same three marketing strategies. I believe that the amazing application of those three tactics have contributed quite well to the success of their companies.
Here are the three marketing strategies I’ve found:
- Community Building
- Customer Evangelism
Building up and concentrating on these three strategies requires a thoughtful long term approach to marketing and branding. I believe that focusing on the long term instead of quick wins, makes the difference between success and failure.
Let’s dive in and see how our three SaaS companies apply the different strategies and how you can also implement them. Have you ever seen a movie about the American midwest? You probably have. Then you can also imagine the scene of men sitting around a bonfire, sharing a drink and telling each other stories.
Or maybe you can remember, how you sat in front of the wood fire oven, listening to a story being told by your mother? Every child enjoys a good story. In fact we all do.
Since the beginning of time (well, almost at least), marketers are aware of this factor and are using it cleverly, in all sorts of ads. Storytelling itself can be defined as: “Explaining a series of events through narrative.”
Great! Let’s have a look at a real life example.
This is a screenshot of the Slack homepage. Doesn’t it look and sound intriguing? Don’t you immediately want to enter your email address and see what this messaging app is all about?
Well, good stories tend to draw one in right away. So how is it possible, to explain that much with so little? Let’s dissect the page and discover the elements that make a great story.
The first most prominent part of the page you’ll see is the tagline. “A messaging app for teams who see through the earth”. Oh really? That sounds actually awesome. So who is this team?
When we read on we can see that the team, that uses Slack is part of The IceCube Collaboration. Wow so those are the guys that see through the earth. Sounds simple.
If you take a closer look at what The IceCube Collaboration is actually doing, it gets a bit more complicated. Some deeper research shows, that IceCube is a particle detector at the South Pole that records the interactions of a nearly massless subatomic particle called the neutrino.
If Slack would have put that on their homepage, what do you think, how many people would still be willing to sign up?
Lesson 1 in Storytelling: Keep it simple.
Moving on we can read: “make working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive”.
This sentence could have also been written like: make work simple, pleasant and productive. But that doesn’t sound that great, does it?
Phrasing the sentence, using the comparative increases our emotions towards the text and builds up a certain excitement from simpler to productive.
Lesson 2 in Storytelling: Make it emotional.
Would you rather stand in line, waiting for a seat in a restaurant or go into the empty one across the street?
Yes, you got me; social proof. While we would rather dine in a place, that appears to be frequented by many other people, we also seem to need a social backing when trusting someone’s story.
With this sentence, Slack made it pretty clear, that The IceCube Collaboration is not the only but rather one of tens of thousands of teams trusting Slack. Oh, so the story gotta be right.
Lesson 3 in Storytelling: Be trustworthy.
Don’t you love it, when a movie starts with: “Based on real events”?
I do. It makes watching the movie, much more fun and afterwards you can’t wait to start researching the real story.
A similar concept is used here. The combination of the background image, which shows the the research facility itself and stating name and location proofs the reality of the story. No one would question its existence, even if they never heard of the IceCube.
Lesson 4 in Storytelling: Be real.
Storytelling is an art that allows you to explain, even complex things more easily. A good story is able to quickly get the attention of the listener (or visitor in our case) and excite him or her about your product.
Stories tend to immediately form bonds between teller and listener. Have a look at the following example of Buffer.
This is how one part of the Buffer blog looks like. When the visitor enters the site he is immediately taken in by the story that unfolds in front of him.
The slogan below the blog name “Our journey to greater productivity, more transparency and a happier work culture”, does not only explain the visitor what he/she can expect from this section of the blog, but also what can be learned.
The next section that catches the eye of the visitor is the newest blog post on the very top. It confirms the statement made in the slogan and the visitor is reaffirmed that he/she is in the right place.
When the visitor starts to scroll down a little bit, a window slides up to encourage the visitor to join more than 10,000 thinker and revolutionaries. As in our previous example of Slack, the power of social proof makes the story that is being told here, much more believable and trustworthy.
Even if you have never heard of Buffer before, but as soon as you visit this page, you are intrigued by the story of transparency and a happier work culture. And of course you want to be one of the many other forward thinking revolutionaries of work culture.
Good stories always have a hero. The hero is the symbol of success, victory and trust. Have a look at the following example of how Moz manages to to tell an inspiring story by introducing their own hero figure.
Most companies do have some core values on which they try to base every internal and external decision as well as the style of communication on. But only a few manage to actually tell a story based on that.
Not only should the core values of a company be reflected throughout everything the company does, but so should a good story. The personification, which Moz did, is a very powerful form of storytelling.
Not only does TAGFEE serve as a cute mascot but it is also being regularly picked up by media and journalists. The landing page tells its origin, purpose and idea beautifully. The smiling robot is just something you gotta love.
In today’s world which is connected faster than ever before, storytelling can no longer be seen as an exclusive event, used for a single ad. But instead storytelling needs to be incorporated throughout all marketing campaigns.
And that’s how you can do it:
#1 Stay true to your value proposition
When you start a business, one of the very first things you should have in place is your value proposition. It tells you what your entire business is about. When you start creating a story around your brand, you need to keep a close eye on your proposition. It is the core of all principles that drive your business and people love authenticity.
#2 Incorporate your story everywhere
It is crucial, that you don’t just fall back to storytelling when you want to launch your new video or ad campaign. Instead try to display and tell the core message everywhere you can. It should be on your homepage, in you ad copy and your press articles.
#3 Talk to your audience
There is little point in telling a story and creating content that no one wants to read, or the wrong people are interested in. When you think of ways to tell a company wide story, do keep your audience in mind. Ask yourself if what you have to say is relevant for the people you would like to address.
#4 Start simple
The greatest stories of mankind have been transmitted orally. Don’t get discouraged if you do not have the budget or the talent to create amazing videos or pictures. Instead start out with something simple and authentic. Adopt the copy of your website or start a podcast. Just do it.
Over the years Moz has understood how to build a huge and active community of marketing professionals globally. Just by looking at the landing page of the Moz community, you get all the information you need. It’s a community that helps you to learn all about online marketing.
The core value of this community lies in its members. With way more than 250k registered accounts the Moz community can probably count almost every digital marketer as a member. Marketers of all industries and positions are able to ask questions, that again will be answered through peers. This active behavior creates a vast amount of content everyday and not surprisingly Moz ranks for almost all kinds of marketing related questions well in the search engines.
In 2013 Michael King published an amazing in-depth article about the Moz community. The findings proved why building a community has paid off for the company. Let me sum up the key findings of the article for you here.
A sample size of 14k accounts has been analyzed and 15k URLs have been crawled. The analysis revealed findings about user subscription status, user retention, interests and occupation of users.
As it turned out, the people that have been members for more than one year tend to be mostly Moz pro subscribers. So the longer the relationship between person and the brand, the more like it is that people purchase from you.
Another statistic showed, that the more users Moz added onto their community the more people would be retained year after year. That means that social trust is tremendously important and the more people you have the easier it gets to grow your user base.
Another interesting aspect about the Moz community is the integration of a certain amount of gamification. Each member is able to collect points. Those so called MozPoints are collected through various acts such as writing articles. The community also has the leaderboard of the most successful contributors. To be honest, once I saw that it tickled me to become number one on their leaderboard.
As you can see, building a community works quite well for Moz. To get a better understanding of why that is, let’s have a look what community building means.
Community building is the act of establishing a group of peers or like minded people that share knowledge and do things together.
More and more companies understood that it can be quite beneficial to establish a community around their brand. As you can see in California alone, there are more than 12k job vacancies for community managers.
Building a community is not an off the shelf solution and it comes in many colors and tastes. Every company needs to find their own sweet spot and test what works for them.
Buffer for example runs two communities that are focused around bringing people with the same passion about digital marketing and social marketing together.
Us humans, we are very social. We live in families and we surround ourselves with friends. In general we don’t like to be alone and we are constantly on the lookout for people that think alike. This is exactly why communities are so powerful.
Buffer regularly brings people together on Twitter to discuss marketing related topics. Tune in once in awhile and you will see how excited people are to engage with others of same interest.
The usage of both words in one sentence, triggers, subconsciously, exactly what people are looking for. A family and friends.
People that join the Buffer community will already enter with the feeling that they are in the right place. And the longer people are engaged with the Buffer community the closer their relationship with the brand becomes. Which of course has many benefits regarding, CLV, up-selling or conversion.
A community is all about having something in common. That’s why, when you are thinking of a community don’t just think in terms of people talking together about the same topic, but instead think out of the box.
Slack has one of the biggest communities at its fingertips, which not everyone recognizes as such. Their appstore of integrations. With more than 300 apps in their store, the community is expanding daily.
When you decide to establish a community around your brand it is all about getting creative. There are tons of communities out there, but it is on to you to create the best in your niche. Here are 3 things to consider:
#1 Clearly show the value
When you are setting up your community, it is essential that your target audience knows exactly why they should join and what they get out of it. No one likes to join a group that doesn’t seem to add any value to their lives.
#2 Use an emotional trigger
As we have seen in the examples above we love to be part of families and friend circles. We also love to help build things or make things better. When you are pitching your new community make sure you fall back on certain emotional triggers in your language.
#3 Plan for engagement
Unfortunately I have seen too many groups being created full of excitement but then being abandoned shortly after. The reasons for the abandonment are mainly a lack of planning and resourcing. Before you actually start your community, make sure you have the resources (mostly people) and the content for at least 6 months that will help you to promote and actively engage your members. Nothing reflects worse on your brand than a disengaged group. How likely are you to buy a product when your bestfriend is telling you that it’s great? And how often have you been searching for experiences and reviews about a product you fancy buying?
There is nothing more powerful than the word of mouth. People tend to trust other people. Most brands understand this concept. However most are struggling to find out how to actively engage with their audience to create such a momentum. Or better said how to evangelize their customers.
Customer evangelism is an advanced form of word of mouth marketing, that aims to build such close ties with happy customers that they “preach” your company and product to others. It is one of the most powerful referral programs you can imagine.
Have you seen the Slack Wall of Love yet? That is one outcome of a very successful marketing strategy.
Now that we know what evangelism in marketing is and what’s it’s benefits, the big question remains how you can actually achieve this. Let’s take a closer look at how Slack is set up for that.
I believe, in order to win a massive fan base, it is all about just one thing. Building relationships with your customers. And how do you do that? Through communication.
Slack, as a communication software, is actually a communication powerhouse itself. I have analyzed the last 3 weeks of Slack’s Twitter account and as it turns out 99% of all their tweets have been actual replies to people. And by clicking through some tweets manually, you can see that the replies are actually helpful, fun and insightful.
So taking your Support seriously can definitely win you a lot of fans, but it’s not only friendly communication alone that wins you major endorsements. Instead think out of the box. What does everyone appreciate the most? Appraisal.
Understanding that, Slack continuously states the awesomeness of all their customers and has even created an entire section, to give deeper insights about some of the companies that use their software.
With this approach Slack taps into three components of successful relationship building. Communication, respect and recognition. People using the software will feel as part of a bigger family and will feel very much drawn into promoting the software.
Achieving that your customers fall in love with your brand is an extremely important accomplishment. There is no better salesperson than a happy customer. And happy customers will be sharing their experiences and will be preaching your brand wherever they go.
Making your customers fall in love with your brand is nothing that happens overnight. Instead it requires work. You need to make your customers first feel that you love them, before they can give some love back. Let’s see how Moz is doing that.
If you want to express your love for your customers, it’s all about making them appreciated. You can show appreciation through the way you communicate and of course by providing more value to your customers than they expect.
Another way how Moz providers their users with some extra value, is through partnerships. As a Moz Pro user you get quite a decent amount of discounts on other relevant marketing software.
Feeling valued and appreciated like this is very valuable for a user and creates a mutual feeling of trust and love.
If you manage to make your customers fall in love with your brand, you will be able to harvest the fruits like this:
As you can see the style of the message and the wording itself uses lots of emotional trigger words, which takes the reader right in and makes him feel welcome.
If you are ready to spark a movement of evangelists of your brand then ensure you follow these three tips:
#1 Have fantastic support
It doesn’t matter which software you use for your support, the only important thing is that your customers are able to reach you and you respond in time. Be fast, helpful and honest. There are plenty of softwares out there and users can change them within seconds but offering great support can make you stand out.
#2 Appreciate your customers
Don’t take your customers and users for granted. Instead focus on making each and everyone feel welcome and appreciated. It is your customers that bring the food to your table, so show some love.
#3 Give something back
If you want your customers to be the biggest fans of your brand, so they can bring in more business, give something back first. Your customers are already paying for your service, if you now put some extra value on top which they did not expect, they will love you even more. We have just had a look at some of the leading brands in their respective industries and we saw that they all have one or three things in common.
They don’t just push and try to sell their product, but instead they focus on generating value for their customers. Building up a fanbase that stretches far beyond a buying selling relationship.
Great brands differentiate themselves by showing some love to their customers and focus on building actual relationships. To engage their customers they use three core strategies that make your marketing more human: storytelling, community building and customer evangelism.
What do you think, will you implement these techniques?