Why should I buy? This is the question people ask before they make a purchase, especially when it comes to software-as-a-service (SaaS) product.

We’re now at a point in time where consumers are overwhelmed with too many choices from software products that serve the same purpose. Take something as simple as calling a colleague located halfway around the world. There are so many different apps that you can choose to do this. You have Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger, just to name a few.

Besides properly validating your business idea; for a SaaS startup, this is perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome: how do you get people to know you exist in this ocean of SaaS companies.

The answer: brand awareness

Next to developing the product or service, creating a reliable brand is critical to your ability to scale and grow your startup. That’s because when people buy a product, they go beyond the quality of the product or service they’re getting. Rather, they put considerable weight on what they know about the company: its reputation, character, relationships, values, and so on.

Brand awareness can’t be separated from the core operations of your startup. In fact, your brand is the heart and soul of your business. It’s what tells your customers who you are and why you started your business.

With that said, developing strategies to promote your brand is one of the keys to your company’s growth and success. And while there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to this, success tends to leave clues, which is why we’re going to look at lessons learned from successful startup founders.

After reading this article, I hope that you will be able to apply the steps here to help you propel your startup’s brand more efficiently now than when you first started reading this.

Lesson 1: Leverage the power of word-of-mouth

Out of all the different marketing strategies available, word-of-mouth marketing – online many may call this a viral loop – remains to be not only the most efficient but also the most cost-efficient.  When done right, this marketing strategy can get the word out about your products and services quickly with significant results.

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the cornerstones to the successful growth of Slack, an internal collaboration and communication tool. Today, Slack is recognized as the fastest growing SaaS company of all time. It’s grown in value from $0 to $4 billion in just four years and adding as much as $1 million worth of new contract every 11 days.

The use of word-of-mouth marketing as the primary strategy to launch Slack is attributed to its co-founder, Stewart Butterfield. As the founder of the photo sharing platform, Flickr, Butterfield maximized his contacts and connections to get people to try Slack out before its launch.

What’s significant about this is that it is something that can be quickly applied by SaaS startups even without a massive contact database like Butterfield. Here are some take away steps that you can do to implement this marketing approach to promote your startup’s products and services and increase brand awareness.

Step 1: Convince everyone you know to try out your product or service ASAP

Once you’ve got your product or service up and running, reach out to everyone you know to try it out for free. Try to choose people who are very close to your ideal target market.

Doing this lets you achieve two crucial milestones. First, the feedback you receive from your contacts will give you the opportunity to iron out any issues about your product that could jeopardize its success in the marketplace.

Second, allowing your contacts to test your product lets you start collecting testimonies. You can then leverage these testimonies on your website at the time of the launch. This is vital since testimonies, particularly those that are based on personal experience using a product or service, account for 20-50% of all buying decisions made by consumers regardless of the industry.

Step 2: Post an invitation for people to preview your product

The initial request Slack made to its contacts to try out their product got their contacts to start sharing this with others. To fuel the awareness they were able to generate, Slack created a landing page on their website where people who heard about their product can go and request an invite to try this out as well.

Applying this step to your SaaS startup will not only help you get more feedback to enhance your product further, but it also helps you generate qualified leads that you can easily now nurture and convert into paying customers once you officially launch your product.

Step 3: Capitalize on an interesting “hook” to generate buzz about your product

Another way to get the word out is to create an eye-catching phrase, or hook, to highlight the main benefit of your product or service. The best way to do this is to revisit your buyer persona’s pain points.

Slack discovered that one pain point of their market is the frustration and annoyance they experience using email. They capitalized on this pain point by creating content focusing on the hook that they are out to kill email. The verbiage of their hook quickly peaked the interest of many, and people started talking about it and publishing content about this.

Once you find your hook, create content about it and have this published in as many places as possible. Social media is one of your best avenues for this. Aside from the fact that this is where you’ll find your target audience, people turn to social media channels to find interesting ideas and news.

Make sure that you don’t forget to tap into traditional media as well. They still can play a significant role in helping you spread the word to your target audience.

Lesson 2: Revisit your buyer persona

Creating a buyer persona is one of the pillars of any marketing strategy. That’s because your buyer persona represents your ideal customer. In today’s world where the most effective marketing strategies are customer-focused, it’s vital to make sure that you have a clear understanding of not only who they are, but also what they need.

Part of understanding your buyer persona is understanding their behavior patterns, particularly on how they make buying decisions. These patterns evolve over time, and if you aren’t able to stay updated with these changes, it can significantly affect your ability to create brand awareness for your startup.

This is exactly what happened with Applango. In 2012, this SaaS startup provided a service that will allow its Salesforce users to further improve their success rate by identifying inefficiencies and areas for improvement within sales teams.

Initially, Applango was very successful in promoting their brand. Their efforts allowed them to close deals with many companies included in the Fortune 500 list. However, in 2016, they experience a massive decline in terms of brand awareness and sales revenue.

One of the things that they did was to revisit and conduct some research to update their knowledge about their buyer persona. Based on this data, they created a new offer and fresh content on their blog. Within three months, Applango increased its web traffic and was able to generate over 1,100 new leads.

Here are some of the steps that Applango did that you can replicate for your startup.

Step 1: Conduct a survey on your target market

Applango created an online survey that they disseminated to their target audience. While the primary goal of the survey was to educate them about the risks of low adoption, the survey served another purpose. That is, to provide Applango with updated information about their target market, specifically what are their current pain points.

When creating a survey, make sure to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple). In other words, it should be exhaustive enough to provide you with all the information you want, yet still concise enough that they don’t feel burdened to complete it.

Also, use open-ended questions that will give those answering your survey the opportunity to share their thoughts, opinions and feedback. This will provide you with more in-depth information rather than merely focusing on using radio buttons.

Step 2: Reach out to influencers in your niche

Do some research to determine the key influencers in your niche. They can provide you with more insights about the pain points and goals of your target market. This, in turn, can further help you position yourself and your product to serve them better.

Of course, don’t just stop with gathering information from these key influencers. Take the initiative to establish and build a strong relationship with them. Since they have a loyal following that’s primarily made of your target audience, they can play an integral part in helping you promote your brand, increase your web traffic, and generate leads.

Also to speed up gaining traction with your influencer outreach strategy seek to build a few initial relationships with micro influencers. Eden Mogese is a micro influencer who’s partnered with Influenster. Here’s her insights:

“When working with micro-influencers, a brand can benefit from a higher conversion rate on sales because most of the time micro-influencers specialize in a specific niche and a highly relevant audience. I had multiple chances to work with Influenster which is an amazing company which offers micro-influencers in so many categories for exchange for their honest opinion based on their social media influence. when brands work with Influenster, they get a high interaction for an exchange of their product. which is a very inexpensive way to create awareness. and as a micro-influencer, I was able to get my hands on the most exclusive and brands new products to review for my audience.”

Step 3: Create a game changing offer

Now that you have updated your information about your buyer persona is, you need to create a unique offer that you can use as a lead magnet to incorporate on your website to help you generate fresh new leads.

Applango created a whitepaper based on the insights from key influencers in their niche that addressed areas where sales teams need the most help.

Step 4: Provide fresh content consistently on your blog

Based on the current information you’ve gathered about your buyer persona, identify the new keywords to use when you create content for your startup’s blog. Doing this will help re-establish your startup as an authority and leader in your niche by providing relevant and useful content that will help your target audience.

When creating your content strategy plan, make sure that you are able to create content for every stage of both your buyer’s journey and sales funnel. That way, you can be sure that you’re able to fuel your prospects and guide them through the journey so that they ultimately become paying customers.

Consistency is the key for this to become effective. Aim to publish a blog post 2-3 times a week. By doing this, you’re providing useful content to your target audience on a regular basis. At the same time, you’re adding more pages to your site that search engines can index, which can help you rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs), further improving your brand awareness.

Lesson 3: Use the right tools

Even though you may have successfully carried out the takeaways from the first two companies, if you don’t have an optimized website with all the right tools in place, the results won’t be what you’re expecting.

This was the case with Golf Genius.

Although they managed to launch their first golf software product successfully, it was a tedious journey. They used a very limited CMS for their website that required them to still rely on their development team when they want to run a campaign or make changes on the site.

Unfortunately, this is the same team that’s responsible for developing their products. And because their development team already have their hands full creating the products for this SaaS company, they are not able to fully maximize their website.

The limitations of their website extended to their ability to track leads and understand the online behaviors of their target audience, further inhibiting them from experiencing the full extent of inbound marketing success.

All this changed when they switched to a more robust CMS that would allow them not only to publish educational content on their website regularly, but they were now also to create landing pages and develop workflows without having to get their development team on board.

If you find that the CMS your SaaS startup is currently using is limited, switching CMS will be your best option, just like with Golf Genius. However, if this option is something that’s beyond your current budget, here are some steps that can help you out in the meantime.

Step 1: Use a responsive theme

These days, more and more people are accessing the Internet through their mobile devices. Using a responsive theme will instantly make your site more mobile-friendly,  enhancing their user experience here and minimizing the potential for a high bounce rate, which can affect your search rankings.

Step 2: Check the speed of your website

Google and other search engines severely penalize sites that take a long time to load. The rule of thumb here is that your site should not take more than 3 seconds to load. You can use a tool like Google’s Speed Test to check how fast or slow your site is loading.

Step 3: Utilize HubSpot’s free marketing tools

HubSpot provides free marketing tools that you can incorporate into your website to help you generate leads, promote your brand through email marketing, and even provide you with analytics so that you can get insights about your visitors. Also if you’re a Saas startup located within an incubator you may be eligible for their HubSpot for startup’s program.

Summary

While the story of each of these SaaS companies is unique, they all shared the same common goal: to improve brand awareness.

While the immediate purpose of each of the companies we’ve looked at appear to gear towards the sale of their respective products, the underlying long-term goal here is to promote their own unique brand and voice to their target audience.

  • Slack wants to be the tool that will signal the death of email.
  • Applango wants to be known as the essential partner for Salesforce users to improve sales team performance.
  • Golf Genius wants to make every golf game have the feel of a professional tournament.

Your brand puts the “why” in your business. More than your products or service, it is your “why” that connects with your customers and clients, and what gives them a reason to buy.

brand monitoring

Kevin Payne is an inbound marketing consultant that has helped multiple Saas startups increase their online sales through the use of inbound marketing, growth hacking, and social selling. When he's not advising startups he often writes about the many lessons he has learned from the trenches.

Subscribe to Marketing + Monitoring Weekly

Get hot blog posts, insanely useful resources, and funny gifs every Friday.