Guest Column | November 7, 2019

Branding A SaaS Business With Humans At The Center

By Adrian Cohn, Smartling

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In our industry, we’re so focused on technology that we often ignore what really matters--the people behind it. Recently, I flew to Boston to meet with the team at Drift to discuss a new product integration. The running joke around the office was that I was flying up the coast just to meet with a chatbot. While I appreciate the SaaS industry humor, the sentiment got me thinking about how often we forget that software is built by, used by and wouldn’t exist without people.

Tech’s ubiquity makes it impossible to have it as your brand’s only differentiator. The world’s best SaaS brands are built with humans at the center, and this is done in three key ways.

1. Build Trust Through Authenticity

Building trust with your audience isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. However, if done right, it can have a significant and lasting effect on your bottom line. You can project authenticity by employing the following strategies.

  • Less jargon - So much of SaaS marketing says nothing. Using buzzwords and overhyped terms like revolutionary, disruptive and turnkey dilute your message so much that your words lose all meaning. Overloading your content with jargon also prevents you from making a deep connection with your audience. When you remove clichés and catchphrases from your branding, your messages become more authentic and more evergreen, resonating with your audiences for years to come. Write great copy. And, you’ll know when you have something great if someone who doesn’t know anything about your company is willing to read on.
  • Use real stuff - The most valuable resources in a company are the people sitting next to your left and right. Each of them has a smartphone, and all of the smartphones have great cameras for photography and video. So there’s really no reason to use stock footage anymore. There’s also something endearing about imperfections.
  • Showcase stakeholders - Brands obsessed with manufacturing a “voice” or “vibe” should do so with caution. Instead, interview founders, board members, customer success reps and customers to get a true sense of the heart of the organization. Let the personality that authentically exists within your company shine through. Feature all of your people - not just leaders - in your content. With our campaign, Move the World with Words, Smartling spotlights the personal, professional, beautiful, and messy sides of our translators through their stories in words and photos. We recognize that we’re a technology company, but without humans, we wouldn’t exist.
  • Be vulnerable - Brené Brown’s now-infamous TED talk on the subject of vulnerability started a meaningful conversation, not only about how people feel vulnerable, but how we express it to others, and how it’s perceived when we do. It’s nearly impossible to hide vulnerability while also crafting an authentic story that people will want to invest in (and thereby invest in your product or service). Don’t just talk about how great your offering is. And avoid only highlighting your company’s wins. To truly connect with your audience, be transparent both internally and externally about missteps. Offer deep insight into lessons learned and how your failures positively contributed to the growth of your brand and the people that power it.

2. Speak To A Person, Not Just A Persona

Brands can end up watered down by catering to “personas” rather than the people.

Take Gainsight, for example. The customer success category-creating company didn’t build its brand around the persona of a customer success manager, but the individuals themselves. While building the brand and technology, Gainsight sought the council of individual customer success managers about their struggles and pain points. Before the company even had enough customers for a customer event, they started Pulse, an event built specifically for 300 customer success managers to come together and share successes and challenges. Pulse now brings together 6,000 success professionals each year, and the Gainsight name is synonymous with the customer success position.

Savvy marketers must move beyond generalized customer personas and find new ways to talk to each person one-on-one.

3. Deliver On Brand Promise With Product And Experience

Customer experience is the key competitive differentiator in the digital age. Website front ends and sales decks can be beautifully designed, but if the product UI falls short, customer confidence will be lost, and your brand will suffer. Marketing and product teams must break through organizational silos and work together to ensure the brand experience is holistic, syncing on every update.

Our user interface badly needed a refresh, so we completely re-wrote the underlying architecture of our platform and introduced a standardized look and feel. We kept the main functions up-front and tucked away features users don’t need to avoid unnecessary clicks and visual clutter. We put in the work to make sure our product delivered on our brand promise.

Also, strategically highlight the humans that work with your customers every day through the product. We recently rolled out weekly live (yes, live, not pre-recorded) webinars with our own team members. It gives prospects a sense of who we are and allows them to get acquainted with our product at the same time. Putting the spotlight on our people is what brings our brand to life. Although automation is one of the hallmarks of our offering, we never want our customers to feel like we’re run by robots. We’re real people with real stories and a real passion for what we do.

Driving Growth Via Human-Centered Branding

Most purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, with buyers opting to work with people they know, like, and trust. Consider whether you are opening up and letting your audience take a peek behind the curtain. How can you offer more opportunities for them to get to know not only the product but the people that put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating it?

Software customers, just like consumers of any product, want authentic and personalized brand experiences. With new software companies flooding the market every day, true brand differentiation is the core of survival. Circling back to Drift, it’s true: I went up the coast to meet a bot. A bot that’s been programmed by some of the smartest data scientists and developers. Without these people, the bot wouldn’t be possible. Shifting your focus from your products to your people provides customers with a more authentic connection with your brand, organically driving organizational growth.

About The Author

Adrian Cohn is a brand and communications strategist with experience conceptualizing and implementing worldwide, omni-channel campaigns. Cohn currently serves as director of brand strategy and communications at Smartling, a translation technology and services company, and serves on the board of the New Orleans area hospital foundation.