The practical case for less rational SaaS marketing
Chris Shadrick
Interim Managing Director

Why would anyone buy a SaaS product from Gordon Ramsay? Or, for that matter, who would place their company’s trust in a product advertised by a man afflicted to live his life as a snake?

These are some of the questions I grappled with while chairing a webinar with Dana Averbouch, head of EMEA marketing at NICE, and Yaroslav Stepanenko, the man behind Setapp’s absurdly entertaining new ad campaign (which stars the aforementioned snake-man).

Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that both of these seasoned SaaS marketers were disillusioned with the staid, corporate communications the industry so reliably churns out. You know the stuff. Or at least I hope you do, because I wouldn’t know where to begin searching for it.

And that’s precisely the problem. SaaS marketing simply isn’t distinctive or memorable. All too often, sterile lists of product features and stats are expected to inspire purchases. In reality, we know it’s emotions that do that – yes, even when we’re talking to business customers.

As Dana puts it, “we need to start treating B2B audiences in the same way we treat B2C audiences.” That means appealing to their human side by tapping into behavioural and emotional triggers – think humour, empathy, fear. All the stuff that distinguishes us from machines.

That’s why she enlisted foul-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsay to spice up NICE’s SaaS marketing. The result was the genuinely funny campaign ‘Don’t Settle for Anything Less Than the Real Thing.’

If you’ve got time, I’d recommend reading the YouTube comments on the Gordon Ramsay video to see how well SaaS marketing can be received when it makes an effort to connect on an emotional level.

Dana also brought in TV’s professional tinkerers, MythBusters, to “make NICE’s products more tangible to the user”, and wooed audiences at live events with guest speakers including Martha Stewart and Matthew McConaughey.

While the use of recognisable figures and humour may not be revolutionary in other sectors, in SaaS marketing it symbolises a long overdue recognition of the audience’s desire to be entertained in order to build trust and create affinity with a brand.

Yaroslav, too, has an aim to make SaaS marketing as ‘un-boring as possible’. But there’s a science to his brand of silliness.

In his office, Yaroslav has an ever-present reminder of who he’s marketing to – a cut-out of his single-minded customer, Tom.

Through hours of face-to-face interviews and desk-based research, Setapp has learnt what kind of TV shows ‘Tom’ likes; whether he’s a PlayStation or Xbox man, and even how many drinks he has when he goes to the pub.

This level of nuance provides a far more realistic view of what makes his customers tick than the strawman ‘bio-personas’ you find about a third of the way into most PowerPoint decks – the ones based on broad demographic categories like age, gender, marital status and job title.

“When we were building the campaign, our thinking was that if Tom likes it, everyone else will.” And that certainly seems to be the case, judging by the reaction to the campaign as it’s rolled out across his markets.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that getting the green light from stakeholders isn’t always a walk in the park. If we all felt that it was an option to get Gordon Ramsay in our ads, it wouldn’t have taken so long for someone to do it.

Both Dana and Yaroslav are fortunate to have established a good degree of trust within their businesses. But as SaaS moves in increments towards a more human-centric marketing model, the need for braver, more emotionally intelligent work is becoming an imperative, not an option.

Early adopters of a more human, less rational approach to SaaS marketing will benefit by standing out from their more conservative contemporaries, while late adopters may wish they had been braver, sooner.

“We need to start treating B2B audiences in the same way we treat B2C audiences.”