How SaaS providers can use the internet intelligently to stand out from the cloud

SaaS is an area that has seen substantial growth recently. One report suggests that over 75 per cent of businesses use a SaaS solution of one kind or another. As the growth in cloud technology continues, the demand for SaaS providers increases exponentially. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the sector is forecast to be worth £106 billion in 2016.

This potential reflects an equally high number of businesses offering SaaS specialisms, in a variety of areas and sectors. Type ‘SaaS services’ into Google and over 38 million responses come back, led by ‘what is SaaS?’. Clearly it’s an area lacking differentiation despite its phenomenal growth and uptake among businesses from the very small to the huge.

So how can the small but ambitious in the SaaS arena stand out from the cloud, and how can the established sustain their growth internationally as SaaS goes from strength to strength?

For technology-driven businesses, the internet would seem to be the logical place to start. After all, the internet has the power and the reach to connect with billions of people. Somebody, somewhere, is looking for the SaaS solution your business is offering. Online marketing also delivers a vast amount of data and analytics that can be fed back into the business. Yet, there are those 37,999,999 other Google hits to contend with. Making one specific business stand out in that kind of cacophony takes a formalised online media strategy.

Some of the audiences for these products can seem niche, but this is the power of the internet – the base of users for business and personal information is so large, it is possible to pinpoint very specific and much smaller audience groups within it. Even better, these audiences are essentially self-selecting, identifying themselves by the search terms used on a daily basis. This was an approach taken by Intuit, which wanted to target a very specific prospect pool of financially literate people seeking more software-supported control over their finances, with a self-managed financial SaaS solution. Working with Intuit across eight different markets, Tug developed an integrated digital media strategy to gain competitive advantage. Activity started with SEO, ensuring optimal search authority and visibility via on and off page optimisation activity. The campaign also involved online display advertising and PPC, with daily optimisation delivering the right audiences with the right messages at the right time. This rigorous, test-and-learn approach, combined with a new digital media strategy, led to a 167 per cent increase in sales from natural search traffic, an 87 per cent increase in sales from pay-per-click advertising spend, and fuelled over 85 per cent of all the company’s online acquisitions.

Clearly, there is also a huge opportunity with Business-to-Business audiences for SaaS providers. Online advertising, pay-per-click and SEO can be equally impressive in identifying and engaging with business prospects, including those that may otherwise be difficult to reach thanks to gatekeepers within their own organisations. Programmatic display buying also means that sophisticated data enhanced targeting opportunities can be deployed. Opportunities such as real-time IP address lookup, based on geo-locational data insight, can deliver precise targeting opportunities ensuring display ads are seen at precisely the right time, by the right audience.

So, what about the established providers that have built customer bases and are now looking to expand? Combining insight from analytics and digital platforms can be powerful here too. By understanding existing customers, it is possible to look for similar demographics and user types overseas from the data, as well as pinpointing which emerging markets may be about to begin mass take-up of SaaS solutions. By rooting business expansion in this actionable and real-time insight, campaigns can then be developed and optimised to test messages into new markets, effectively scoping the potential for the product before full commitment to launch.

Citrix recently went through this process, when looking to expand its GoToMeeting service into new markets. This task was more complicated than simply looking for new maturing locations into which to launch the service. Some regions already had competing offerings, against which the company needed to match and measure existing share of voice. The strategy and approach to overcome this disparity in markets began with an audit of the different language versions of the websites, and creating an optimisation strategy to ensure optimal search performance.

To improve share of voice, Tug worked with Citrix and focused on a structured online advertising programme to improve their impression share against competitors. This strategic programme led to impressive results for GoToMeeting. Not only did we exceed quarterly year-on-year trial volumes by 65 per cent but also improved trial take-up across EMEA and Benelux, Asia Pacific, North America and Latin America. Even during a typical period of seasonal decline the campaign led to a 20 per cent increase in non-brand trials.

The role of the internet as the globe’s primary information source presents very real opportunities for SaaS operations large and small, to ensure their offerings continue to flourish. From identifying and testing the potential for services to support expansion plans and new market entry opportunities. Or developing strategies to encourage trial to purchase. An effective and hardworking digital media strategy is a powerful ally in driving and delivering SaaS solution success.

Even in an increasingly crowded market, the particular audience for your service is out there. The insight which can be fed back into the company from effective digital communications could even prove transformative to driving business success now and in the future.

James Cragg, Commercial Director, Tug