Even when times are great, you’ll find it challenging and thankless if you try to predict marketing trends for the coming year. Add in a global pandemic, and that gets even tougher.
Now that the pandemic is nearly behind us, we still see a very unpredictable year in its aftermath. All of this might make it seem futile to even try.
While that is a real issue, we are seeing some trends start to take shape that should be around for the duration of 2021. Read on to learn what I see as this year’s do’s, don’ts, and need-to-knows for marketers.
Keep Your Strategy Agile
You don’t have to try hard to find economic predictions for 2021 (Morgan Stanley, The Washington Post, The World Bank, International Monetary Fund). While these are mostly optimistic in nature, they take a Big Picture-type of overview, predicting an uptick in overall economic activity following a disastrous 2020.
We can’t know how individual industries and companies around the world will fare, including SaaS companies. These companies, by definition, cater to a wide range of different industries, all with their own set of challenges.
Because of this disparity, marketers should aim to adopt an agile approach to their 2021 marketing strategy. This will enable them to scale their marketing efforts up or down, or even to overhaul it as quickly as possible.
For example, while it may make sense for your SaaS company to simply protect its market share in January and February, you might discover that your competitors are mostly passive during that same period.
You might also find March-June to be a perfect time to get more aggressive with your marketing, resulting in a better spend-to-share ratio than usual.
This does not mean that you should ignore set long-term goals. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that even the best of plans can fall through despite all due diligence.
The key takeaway here: short-term strategies may be the best idea for 2021. This will remain true at least until the worldwide vaccination efforts gather steam and the world is on an irreversible path back toward normality.
Redo Market Research
Market research is a key step in formulating a winning marketing strategy. Is your market research up-to-date, or is there a chance that it is now obsolete?
Regardless of whether you’re still using your pre-pandemic or pandemic research, chances are that your target market’s outlook has changed.
If you have been using pre-pandemic market research, you are losing sight of how 2020 has changed the ways consumers think about SaaS products, and the way they spend money on them. Depending on your target industry, you will discover which aspects of your offer have become more or less important.
If you have been using market research that you somehow conducted during 2020, this can be equally misleading. For one, things are definitely looking up in 2021. You might find that the previous year’s consumer outlook and habits are too pessimistic in comparison.
Before you even start formulating a strategy for 2021, you simply have to do new market research.
For a start, sit down with your existing customers and have long, frank discussions about how your product has served them during the crisis.
Let them tell you how they feel you can be better in the year ahead. Listen to how they view 2021. Then, think about how your product can best serve them in the days to come.
Often, marketers and product people build a bubble where they have their own view of their product. But that view can often be completely different from what their (potential) customers see. Don’t be one of those people.
From there on, look at how your competitors are doing and what changes they have made. You’ll also want to do some target audience research to find out how they feel about 2021 in regard to what you offer.
Don’t Forget about Repricing
Repricing is one of the most commonly neglected aspects of marketing.
Of course, you should always strive to improve your pricing strategy. 2020 has emphasized that repricing is a necessity in times of crisis, as people and companies find new ways to work and add new software to their technology stacks.
The year in front of us is most likely to be as fluid for SaaS companies and their customers as 2020 was. Remember, we will have a shift back to where we were pre-pandemic, and businesses will need to adjust yet again.
As you might expect, this will also force you to take stock of your pricing and make any necessary changes.
The key here is to reprice smartly, using data you get from both internal stats on marketing, as well as actual sales data and feedback from customers. You never want to make erratic pricing changes just to see what happens.
If you are unfamiliar with repricing SaaS products, a good place to start would be this article from the ProfitWell blog.
Build an Online Community
Don’t be fooled – you will have to take on some very hard work if you want to build an online community around a SaaS product. This will take both long-term commitment and resources to achieve success.
Even kicking off the program will require buy-in from as many parts of your SaaS company as possible. It will also require a structured approach that includes:
- Clearly defined goals
- Key performance metrics
- People/teams that will take on this responsibility
Shopify also realized early on that the community of people who sell on their platform is their key to success. They’ve done everything they can to nurture this community.
Just take a look at Shopify’s calendar of their upcoming online events for the next few months. This is how you build a community.
In 2020, online communities played an even bigger role than they had in the past. They’ve contributed to marketing more than ever before, providing additional insight into tools for customers who have never considered products like that before. In many cases, these insights came from the users themselves, which is worth so much more than company-produced copy.
But even community-facing content that the companies produced themselves (e.g. webinars) shifted in 2020, expanding beyond simple customer experience stories. Growing communities provided another way for companies to show off their tools in practice to a wider audience.
inFlow Inventory. is a great example of a company that embraced this approach during the early days of the pandemic. They started putting out regular Facebook webinars in March, adding to their already very active Facebook community.
Based on your SaaS company’s priorities and its team, you will be able to determine what the focus should be for your online community. It’s important to keep in mind that every online community holds great marketing potential, especially as people become more careful about what they buy.
However, you’ll want to be careful not to be too heavy-handed with marketing messages. That is not what online communities are about.
Go Heavy on Testimonials
It’s no secret that testimonials play a huge role in SaaS marketing. They are invaluable social proof that shows potential customers how customers that resemble them use your product. They also illustrate how they can benefit from your product themselves.
And it’s more valuable to your success, because you as the brand is not the entity saying it. Third party testimonials like this can be like pots of gold to your bottom line.
With the current market environment, testimonials are worth even more. People are now being particularly careful about their purchasing decisions. Every little thing can influence their choice.
There’s also a subconscious impact. We have all been more isolated than ever before, and testimonials can give people the feeling of interpersonal interaction. This is something we have all felt missing from our lives for many months.
There are a number of things you will have to do to get the most out of your testimonials:
- Be proactive: Use any possible channel to find and procure testimonials (social, customer support, emails, promotions, etc.)
- Get page-specific testimonials: Target specific parts of the purchasing funnel with specific testimonials.
- Put up a testimonials page: Think about designing a specific page for testimonials, complete with images of users and specific pain points your product solved for them. You can find a great example from TimeTackle.
- Use video: Video testimonials have an even greater impact than written ones. Here’s a good example from ShowMojo that features 4 video testimonials at the top of the page. Another great example is FreshBooks, which does them particularly well.
- Be playful: find a way to add more color to your customer testimonials. Here’s a great example from ZenMaid.
- Don’t fake them: Don’t invent people and their testimonials. Somehow, you can always smell those out.
If you do everything right, your potential customers will hear and read feedback from people with whom they identify. This will in turn strengthen their conviction that your product is the right choice for them.
Conclusion: 2021 and SaaS Marketing Strategies
No one knows how 2021 will turn out, how well the vaccination efforts will go around the world, and how well companies will bounce from a largely disastrous 2020.
Keep your SaaS marketing strategy agile, rethink your pricing strategy, keep your finger on the market’s pulse, and focus on personal stories and communities. If you stay focused, you’ll be on the right path well before 2022 arrives.
All images provided by the author under his or her own license.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions stated in this post are that of the author, and Return On Now may or may not agree with any or all of the commentary.
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