SaaS Marketing Sucks in the Same Way

Many Software as a Service companies struggle with marketing. Awareness, conversion and retention are challenges. In the past two weeks, I have been exposed to over a dozen SaaS companies through talks delivered for an incubator. I know why they are struggling. 

SaaS marketing is highly templated, and everyone is using the same templates. What’s more, there is startling little differentiation regardless of the nature of the software. Finance SaaS solutions are marketed the same as Design SaaS or Procurement SaaS. There are tons of different flavors, but at the end of the day, it is the same ice cream cone. Once, I thought, law firms held the gold medal for parity marketing but SaaS now rules.

The root of this is clear, SaaS has a low barrier to entry. If you remember business theory, industries with low barrier to entry face greater competition. While competition should drive differentiation, in the SaaS universe, it has produced shocking (and boring) sameness.

SaaS companies like to say they are B2B companies, they are not. They are more like dry cleaners, locksmiths, massage therapists, florists, dentists, landscapers, and snow removal businesses (the last one is a nod to the fact I live in Quebec). To illustrate my point, here is a fun exercise. Imagine you are a locksmith or florist. 

SaaS companies say they are B2B companies, they are not. They are more like dry cleaners, locksmiths, massage therapists, florists, dentists, landscapers.

Now, further imagine how you would market that business. Except, you cannot discount your price or give anything away for free. How do you position versus the competition? How do you reach prospective customers? How do you become the #1 Locksmith in your area? 

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When Times Square Smoked and Steamed

I have spent a great amount of time in Manhattan. In the ’90’s, I was in the city for 5 months “reengineering” Price Waterhouse’s marketing in the five boroughs. Later, I commuted there twice a month from Canada for over eleven years, working for Interbrand and DDB Worldwide over that time. And there were many other visits too. In fact, I have probably “lived” in Manhattan for four or five years.

Times Square was gentrifying when I started taking in its sights, yet still plenty gritty. I often triple-checked that my wallet was still on my person but it was nothing like Midnight Cowboy. I do not think of it as a square. It more resembles a small valley framed by towering, brightly-lit odes to commercialism and capitalism. For over one hundred years this has been the case. The difference now is the volume of messages. Times Square is analogous to marketing and advertising overall, too much clutter, it is tough for messages to break through.

Three signs did an admirable job of standing out in Times Square.

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Counter Culture (mom & pop shops and the brands they carried)

Rich Saal is a commercial and editorial portrait photographer based in central Illinois (full website here). His work to present day captures humanity richly. Between 1979 and 1983, Rich took stark, subtlety revealing shots of mom & pop shops. These black & whites seem to represent an even earlier era. As we know, large chains sunk many mom & pops over the years so this is a treasure trove.

Enjoy them and hang in for a recent update collection of what has since happened to these stores. Rich provides the original black and white and a comparative colour shot taken in the original location.

What makes this collection even more valuable is the capture of brands. Many have survived to this day, albeit with some logo and packaging progressions. The above photo displays 2-litre bottles of pop that look fairly contemporary though the bottles themselves are history. Pixy Stix, Planters Peanuts, and Jack Daniels are quite recognizable. It must be summer given the screen patches readily available to help keep bugs out.

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And So It Goes

I happened to be surfing online for nothing in particular, five hours later, I came across a photo from The Boneyard located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base just outside of Tucson. It is a resting place for over 4,000 worn out or damaged planes. There is a strange symmetrical beauty to the arrangement.

There are different categories of storage for the aircraft. “Long-term storage” is for planes that will be used again in the future. The category for planes kept for spare parts is “parts reclamation.” “Flying hold” means aircraft are kept for a shorter time than the long-term category, and “excess of DoD needs” means the planes are sold off in parts or as a whole.

Meanwhile, further below, see what happens to decommissioned cruise ships.

Cruise ships are being scrapped at a Turkish dock after the multi-billion dollar industry was smashed by the Covid crisis. The cruise liner graveyard at the port in Aliaga, bustles with work.

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