Marketing for SaaS startups: how to describe your product?

How do SaaS startups advertise their products?

Many list all of the features of their products or show an interactive demo. Nobody cares. The web3 startups are more clueless. They focus on telling everyone they “do crypto” and that they are the best. Nobody cares, either. How to make people care about your product?

You must tell the target audience what they will get by using your product. You have to talk about the benefits, not the features.

The problem with the “benefits over features” marketing technique is that almost nobody does it. When you want to learn about it, you will see only a few examples. Most likely, they will tell you about the Apple iPod marketing campaign: “1000 songs in your pocket” instead of “2GB of storage”.

If the “benefits over features” method is so effective, why don’t we have more examples? We do! We have at least one more. The old Rolls-Royce ad campaign states, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” That’s a benefit (silence and comfort) over a feature (soundproofing).

Ok… so we have two examples. We should see “benefits over features” used all over the place, yet we don’t. Why?

We don’t see it everywhere because it’s hard. It’s hard to turn features into benefits. You have to know your target audience and the things they value. Most SaaS startups start working on a product without doing any market research. They don’t know if anyone wants their product. How are they supposed to understand what’s important to the customers?

I have seen the “benefits over feature” in action at the beginning of my career in IT. I worked at a company producing phone call recorders and network sniffers. Phone call recorders were easy to sell. Clients understood the benefits of having them without our help. What about network sniffers?

Our sales page listed all supported network protocols — that’s a feature. We informed the potential clients about the kinds of data the sniffer can automatically detect. We told them we could detect personal data leaks, but we stated it as a feature (something we can do), not as a benefit: “know about stolen personal data before you see it on the news.”

One day, we encountered a client who sold the product to themselves without our help. Here is their thought process:

You track HTTP traffic. Does it mean I will see what websites the employees browse instead of working?

You track the traffic in both directions, right? Does it mean I will see who posts negative comments about my company while at work?

Or when they upload my email database to their personal webmail?

We could do all of that. At least when the client’s employee was using a website that didn’t support encryption. Ten years ago, HTTPS wasn’t the default protocol for the web, so those features still worked. (If you were willing to perform a man-in-the-middle attack on your own network, we could bypass the HTTPS encryption too.)

Instead of the technical details, we should have discussed exposing rogue sales representatives who steal the client’s database and sell it to competitors. We weren’t speaking the language of benefits. The client had to spot them. Most of the clients didn’t understand what we had to offer. Most didn’t understand the words we used in the offer.

I think we struggled because we didn’t know the customer. We thought we were selling a tool for archiving communication: phone calls, emails, web, etc. In reality, we were selling a tool ensuring you have proof that something happened when you need to sue someone or when someone sues you. We were selling legal protection, not a TCP archive. And we didn’t know it.

How to turn features into benefits?

  1. Know Your Audience.

    If we assumed that our customers wanted to have a copy of all emails for the sake of training customer support, we would be wrong. They worried about getting their data stolen by rogue employees.

  2. Accept The Reality.

    Sure, it’s more pleasant to talk about improving customer support, but when you produce security systems, you deal with nasty events. Pretending they never happen won’t help you sell anything.

  3. What does the audience want?

    From Alex Cattoni’s “Own The Inbox” course, I have learned about the 12 archetypes of clients. They all value different things and use different words to express themselves. You have to speak their language.

    In this case, I would choose the “Ruler” archetype. Therefore, I should highlight how our product helps them control the situation, get stability, and avoid chaos.

    You may think that the “archetypes” sound somewhat like Zodiac signs. You may be right. However, we use them only as a starting point and a general hint on how to write the content. You have to start somewhere. The “archetype method” doesn’t seem scientific, but it helps you when you get stuck.

  4. What problems do they have?

    Their employees sell data to the competition, and the company is accountable for the actions of rogue employees.

  5. What does the product do?

    We don’t write about tracking various TCP protocols and creating an archive of all network traffic. The client doesn’t care about it. Instead, we should say that our product helps to protect the company’s reputation by detecting data leaks and provides proof you can use in a court of law to get damages paid by the criminals. With our product, you stay in control even when someone tries to rob you.

  6. How does the product deliver the solution?

    Now, we talk about the features and why they should buy from us instead of someone else. Here we can talk about the plug-and-play setup, integration with other software, certification, protection against people who want to tamper with the recorded data, etc.

  7. Fight objections.

    They will have doubts. Is your product too expensive? What does happen with the data? You have to fight those objections using the language they can understand. We assume that our target audience values staying in control. Because of that, we may point out that their data never leaves their network because the product runs as an on-premises server instead of a cloud service.

Always say about what your client gets — the benefits. After that, you can explain how you will deliver those benefits — describe the features. But always start with the client and their point of view.

Let’s finish with three quotes from “The Wizard of Ads” by Roy H. Williams:

If you will write powerful advertising, you must point the movie camera of language to that place in the mind where you want the listener to go. The imagination can be a powerful thing, but only when the listener is a participant in your movie.

(…) In your ads, please, never point the camera at yourself. You’re just not that interesting.

Tell me a story that has me in it. Don’t tell me a story about you. What’s in it for me? Can you save me time, make me money, reduce stress in my life, or cause people to think more highly of me? If not, them leave me alone. You’re wasting my time.

The best ads are about the customer and how the product will change their life.

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Bartosz Mikulski

Bartosz Mikulski

  • Data/MLOps engineer by day
  • DevRel/copywriter by night
  • Python and data engineering trainer
  • Conference speaker
  • Contributed a chapter to the book "97 Things Every Data Engineer Should Know"
  • Twitter: @mikulskibartosz
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