How MarTech Companies Market Themselves
What we learned from our conversations with the ultimate SaaS marketers
The channels that MarTech companies rely on
To reach success and stick around in the competitive MarTech arena, it’s critical that you know your audience. A big part of the equation is learning which channels yield the best ways to get in front of your customers. In our series of MarTech conversations, we heard these related themes:
- Marketers need to use content channels that are relevant to their audiences.
- Inbound strategies are taking over.
- Marketers are increasingly turning to product-led growth.
- Email marketing will almost certainly undergo a dramatic change.
- Social media channels are more integral than ever—especially LinkedIn.
- MarTech companies are building vibrant, engaged communities.
The underlying theme is that your audience drives the channels you use today. This yields a gentler sales pitch, one that provides value before asking for anything in return.
How you provide content must match how your audience wants to consume it
There are dozens of content channels available to SaaS marketers. While blogging provides a solid bedrock, mediums like video and audio are continuing to increase in importance.
The key takeaway is that the channels you use have to match how people prefer to get their information, as director of marketing Jennifer Zapp noted. She’s found that memes have resonated with her target audience at SaaSquatch. “It's understanding that everyone has a different attention span in a way that they want to consume the content; if you aren't providing the content the way that they want to consume it, they're just not going to consume it.”
If you aren't providing the content the way that they want to consume it, they're just not going to consume it.
Original video content was a hot content medium mentioned by many, including those at SaaSquatch, Ruler Analytics, inwink, MadKudu, and Vyrill.
Andre Calvente of Alana AI also underscored the importance of interactive forms of content, saying that “the future of content will be about delivering a way for clients to interact with you while they consume content.” He thinks that’s why webinars and online events are so popular.
Inbound marketing strategies are eclipsing outbound efforts
Over the past decade, inbound marketing strategies such as content marketing have increasingly taken a front seat over outbound activities. This trend is continuing, perhaps driven by people’s preferences for researching choices on their own rather than being “targeted” by companies.
By inbound, we mean activities that attract customers and engage customers organically. This could be creating an exciting social media presence that your audience naturally wants to be part of, or showing up in search results when a customer researches an issue. In contrast, outbound refers to tactics that put a sales pitch or content in front of a prospect when they haven’t asked for it. Examples are cold emails and paid ads.
The Content Marketing Institute annual survey found that in 2020, “24% of all respondents said their organization had shifted traditional paid advertising dollars to content marketing in the last 12 months.”
Of the MarTech players we spoke to, many found inbound tactics worked better than outbound.
Vincenzo Ruggiero has done away with many traditional outbound tactics altogether, he said. “Our philosophy is to bring quality and to focus on that. So we don't do Google AdWords, we don't do Facebook ads, we don't do affiliation. To be honest, we tried all that at some point, but, as it’s completely outside of our DNA, it didn't work. It just didn't work.”
Szymon Bolczyk, CEO and co-founder of Afi.to, explained that he thinks paid ads are less effective than they seem. He said, “If you have a paid ad for a page that appears at the top of a Google search, but you also have great SEO, you’ll also appear in the second-ranking position. So, if you didn’t have that paid ad, you’d still get the same number of clicks. Essentially, people only click on ads when they’re already looking for the product.”
People only click on ads when they’re already looking for the product.
Content can attract like-minded people and build brand preference in a way that outbound techniques can’t. Marketing manager Catherine Fournier told us that building inbound through content has increasingly become her most successful approach at inwink. “Content, rather than outreach, has been most effective for us. The thing is, we are working on a very specific topic. We are talking to marketers who want to organize B2B events. There are many of them, but not so many that we could implement an outreach campaign without precise targeting. Content is a way to make sure that people who are actually interested come to you.”
Content is a way to make sure that people who are actually interested come to you.
Given this shift toward inbound marketing, it’s not surprising to see a tendency toward a product-led culture—the ultimate inbound marketing strategy.
The product-led growth approach works for MarTech companies
An increasing number of SaaS companies are adopting the product-led growth (PLG) approach. This means letting the product do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing activities, and growing users by offering a free trial or freemium (basic features at no cost), according to the guide on product-led growth marketing by Userpilot.
OpenView Partners, the organization that coined the term ‘product-led growth,’ tells us that the concept of PLG fits well with how buyers prefer to make decisions now. This is because “the center of power has shifted from the buyer to the end user. And the consumerization of software means that end users now demand better experiences from the tools they use.”
Many marketers we spoke with in the MarTech space say they are finding success with product-led growth.
At Overloop, (formerly Prospect.io), Vincenzo Ruggiero has almost completely done away with traditional marketing techniques in favor of letting the product speak for itself. He points to word of mouth as a natural byproduct of this emphasis. “We don't really do marketing. Well, of course, we do marketing, but not the way you think. What we do is that we put a lot of focus on the product. We strongly believe in word of mouth as a marketing technique. And we also strongly believe in the power of good design—great UX, great UI, and craftsmanship.”
...We put a lot of focus on the product. We strongly believe in word of mouth as a marketing technique.
Ruari Baker, co-founder and CEO of Allegrow, agrees. He said, “If you start with the product first, you’ll often find that success follows in other parts of the business. From zero to one million in ARR, we plan to keep our marketing efforts focused on product growth. And after one million in ARR, we’ll start to expand the strategies we use beyond organic. So we’ll be doing webinars, much more content, and so on, but in the early days, it's just about cracking the product-market fit and letting that be the main growth lever.”
Laura Kendall, MadKudu’s VP of marketing, also feels that PLG is working for her customer base. “I think PLG is really blowing up. There’s a lot of buzz around product-led growth, and leveraging that as a go-to-market motion. Even Tomasz Tunguz made a prediction that PLG will be a dominant go-to-market motion for software companies. We're seeing our customer base trending in that direction as well—either considering a free trial or freemium product or putting more emphasis to ensure that they're going to see some substantial growth through that go-to-market motion.”
We believe that our product sells itself.
Andre Calvente, global communication lead at Alana AI, has made a dramatic pivot to PLG, completely dropping the company’s outbound sales team in favor of letting the product itself do the selling. He told us, “As we’re shifting toward becoming a self-service platform, our setup within the marketing squad is currently shifting. I used to have a sales force ... but we’ve just gotten rid of it. We believe that our product sells itself.”
Whether you’re on the product-led growth bandwagon or not, one medium in particular, email marketing, plays a role in nearly every SaaS marketer’s approach.
Email has been a key pillar of digital marketing for decades, despite the issue of inbox saturation. A 2019 study by Adobe found that 75% of emails are ignored. People on the receiving end of marketing emails often view them as pesky, even when they’ve signed up to receive them.
But email still shows great potential as a channel to reach and appeal to customers. Its accessibility, efficiency, and flexibility inspires B2B marketers to continue to evolve how they use it. For example, the last several years saw practices shift toward growing your own email list that you can nurture, instead of sending cold email blasts to a purchased list.
But now “...all the strategies that used to be groundbreaking are now common practice,” as Ruari Baker of Allegrow said. For example, he explained, “Very few people were doing multi-touch follow-up sequences that actually had a rep behind them previously. Nowadays, that's more of a level playing field and very common across SME and enterprise marketing departments.”
All the strategies that used to be groundbreaking are now common practice.
Mike Donnelly, CEO and co-founder of Seventh Sense, believes that email will continue to be important, with smart marketers using new strategies to reach their audience and break through the noise. “Email, I think, is going to continue to become an even more important component of every company's marketing and sales playbook. . . . I think we're going to see the smart companies really invest in better ways of reaching their audience when it comes to email rather than continuing to give a ton of money to the FANG stocks because you can't grow a business profitably that way.”
For Brett McCarey at Ontrack Workflow, however, the oversaturation of email marketing has prompted him to look for other channels to stand out.
The way to stand out now is to send physical items.
McCarey noticed that direct mail has made something of a comeback: “We're just overloaded with all these emails that we have to sort through, and most of it is just sales junk. So the way to stand out now is to send physical items. I think there's been a swing back—I think direct mail went away for a while, and I think it's coming back.”
While the future of email marketing may seem uncertain to some, many brands are turning to community-based marketing to connect better with their customers.
How powerful it is when you connect with others around a common belief or purpose! B2BMarketing defines community based marketing as “bringing professionals together around a shared practice or area of expertise to create closer, and more valuable, relationships with prospects and customers.”
As Vedran Rasic of LeadDelta points out, community is the way people buy, even when it comes to software: “One big trend is community—people buy from people. And I think there's that maturity stage on the internet where people figure out the signals that really work. And they trust those signals. If you ask yourself when you last bought software without social signals, without a community, without being a part of a group where it was discussed, the answer is probably once or never.”
One big trend is community — people buy from people.
At Albacross, head of growth Marcus Svensson believes that community building is, in some ways, becoming more important than lead generation: “I see more people focusing on creating an audience instead of lead generation because then you get top of mind. And when they are ready in the future, they’ll come to you.”
Laura Kendall of MadKudu is focused on community-building currently, using meetups and discussions to engage with people. “A big goal at the moment is tied to building a user community. We’re starting things off with meetups and roundtable discussions—bringing cohorts of customers together to discuss a hyper-relevant topic, share best practices, build relationships with each other, that sort of thing. A challenge will be how to translate that and help them continue the conversation after that meetup.”
And Dave Smithbury, head of marketing at Ruler Analytics, is using community-led content, as well as surveys and training programs, to build a community around his company’s brand. He said, “The way we're looking to build up community is by creating a survey lab and more community-led content. We're also creating a lot of training programs. We're expecting that off the back of that, we’ll get higher engagement from people who are really interested in the topic of attribution.”
We're looking to build up community by creating a survey lab and more community-led content.
Whether you build community through interactive content, through hands-on training programs, or through social media, it’s vital to create a sense of connection between your brand and your customers. As Vedran Rasic put it, “People buy from people.”
One way that community-building can be facilitated is through content—especially those channels that are interactive.
LinkedIn is the platform of choice
LinkedIn can be a wonderful channel for building a community for your brand. A significant number of marketers we spoke to found LinkedIn to be a useful tool when it comes to growing a SaaS startup. Research from the Content Marketing Institute backs this up, stating that “LinkedIn is the most often used B2B social media platform, both for organic and paid distribution.”
Many marketers are taking to the platform to share content and connect with potential leads on a more human level.
Increasing activity on LinkedIn, increasing the following — these things are increasing the direct traffic and generating more opportunities for us.
LinkedIn has been instrumental in building the brand at Albacross, increasing valuable traffic and higher-converting leads: “We focus a lot on branding, using LinkedIn as a channel. And this helps the whole organization. One big way it helps is that it increases traffic. And those meetings that you have generated from that traffic have a much higher conversion rate. And we’ve seen that increasing activity on LinkedIn, increasing the following—these things are increasing the direct traffic and generating more opportunities for us.”
Catherine Fournier of inwink told us that LinkedIn complements her content marketing efforts: “We mainly focus on content marketing, so from that perspective, I would say that LinkedIn is really bigger than ever. You can’t afford to not be doing some big stuff on LinkedIn. So, lately, we've decided that we want our CEO to post on LinkedIn because we realized this type of thought leadership is something that you cannot afford to lose. And the fact that it’s him speaking rather than the brand as a whole, that’s very powerful at the moment.”
Dan Roche, VP of marketing at Scoro, uses case studies on LinkedIn to humanize his company’s brand: “Every week, we create a post on LinkedIn that features one of our customers talking about a use case and the difference they've seen since using Scoro. So we're trying to make it personal and humanized. It’s not designed to directly generate leads, but to create new demand by showing the faces of the real people we're working with. Since commencing the campaign, we’ve seen a 20% increase in branded search terms via Google, which demonstrates that it’s having an impact on broader awareness of Scoro.”
[Our LinkedIn posts are] not designed to directly generate leads, but to create new demand by showing the faces of the real people we're working with.
Vedran Rasic, co-founder of LeadDelta, successfully used LinkedIn to circulate engaging content: “We had zero budget for ads; we had zero budget for PPC. So we started doing search engine optimization, and we started partnering with other folks. And, quite honestly, we were using LinkedIn to the fullest—we were all over LinkedIn. And this was a time when LinkedIn actually started giving more power to creators. We were doing lots of webinars, lots of guerilla campaigns like that.”
- How you provide content must match how your audience wants to consume it.
- Inbound marketing stratefies are exlipsing outbound efforts.
- The product-led growth approach resonates with MarTech leaders.
- The role of email is evolving.
- MarTech companies are building communities around their brands.
- LinkedIn is the platform of choise.
Let’s take a deeper look at the state of content operations in MarTech companies next.