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Is Software Marketing Any Different Than Traditional Marketing?

Lately, I’ve been questioning the line of thought employed by many hiring managers and recruiters when it comes to software product marketing.

By Sheldon De Sousa , in Brand Management , at September 25, 2019 Tags: , , , ,

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Software Marketing Is Shaking Things Up


This may go down as a rant, but, having conducted sufficient research, I am more frustrated now with Software marketing than ever before.

Lately, I’ve been questioning the line of thought employed by many hiring managers and recruiters when it comes to software product marketing. Having had a few lengthy and non-conclusive discussions with recruiters over the subject, I’m inclined to think that no one has really studied this discipline in totality. This of course compelled me to conduct an investigation myself.

Ever since software products began to dominate the market, companies have been keen to pursue product marketers with a history in that specific domain. We are led to believe that software product marketing requires a unique blend of skills that are rare and surprisingly unique. I have yet to discover evidence to support those claims.

Articles and videos by industry members and pundits highlight the customer funnel or buying journey as a pivotal point of contention when compared to traditional practices.

Let’s talk Funnels

So let’s talk about funnels and buying journeys for a moment to understand if and where a difference actually exists.  One of the simplest and oldest hierarchical models, fondly referred to as AIDA formed the base of many a marketing plan.

AIDA Hierarchical Model

AIDA- Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action

The model assumed a linear stimulus-response effect. Marketing would need to create the necessary ad content (stimulus) to induce a customer to make a purchase decision  (response).

Of course, the AIDA model had limitations because of its linear approach and that it didn’t address what came next. What happens after a purchase has been completed? Several variants of the model were floated since to offer some answers.

The crux of all these models assumed that customers moved through a funnel with less and less of them making it through sequential stages. Marketing messages would then be altered to reflect the stage the potential customer was in.

In more recent times, Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, put forward the AARRR framework. A metric-based funnel to help startups identify what was most important to their business health.

AARRR Model – Dave McClure

AARRR-Framework-Acquisition-Activation-Retention-Revenue-Referral

The model is widely used by digital & software companies as a way to track and tap customers as they move through the funnel. The framework provides quantitative information through performance metrics while allowing marketing strategy to be deployed at every stage.

If anything, it is an adaptation of the AIDA model and its variants. It does however, answer to some extent, the question that AIDA didn’t – What next?

To be fair, the AIDA model didn’t see the digital revolution nor analytical softwares in its foreseeable future when it was first presented in 1898.

What about Software Buying Journeys?

It’s safe to say that buying journeys typically reflect the product and market in question. They can range from the very simple to the incredibly complex. And while they may not be linear, they ultimately follow a similar path.

Below is a journey model I developed while working with a few automotive and service clients to help drive conversions. I won’t go into detail, but, at a basic level, a buyer’s journey flows as illustrated.

customer-buying-journey

Buying journeys also involve certain entities in the decision-making process. Traditional marketing spoke of three such roles – the User, the Influencer and the Decision maker. They may or may not be the same person. These roles are still applicable to the world of software.

Although, based on scale, complexity, costs and number of stakeholders we may need to factor in additional entities involved in the buying process like gatekeepers, approvers, evaluators, campions and so on.

Marketing campaigns will adapt to these entities by including  additional target-specific messaging and channels to usher their decisions towards a positive outcome.

I will concede to the fact that when things get highly technical and warrant the need for deep domain knowledge, there is genuine need to be rigid.

What About The Marketing Playbook?

I’ve even read bizarre claims that some aspects of the marketing toolkit as exclusive to software marketing (some of which are listed further below).

Being a product and marketing professional, I understand the nuances of different product categories. We have to appreciate the fact that every product or service out there has its own peculiarities to account for.

Shopping for a car is vividly different than shopping for a pair of socks. Yet, the marketing toolkit is large and inclusive to anyone from any industry willing to use it appropriately.

Hence, I was shocked to see prominent sources profess a shift in marketing practices when working on SaaS and other software products. Half-hoping to be enlightened and also to uncover the fallacy of my argument, I was instead presented with what pundits consider unique to software marketing:

  1. High Quality Website Content
  2. Onsite & Offsite SEO
  3. Customer Reviews
  4. Lead Nurturing
  5. PPC and Comparison Sites
  6. Quality Product
  7. Customer Service

The last I checked, the elements mentioned are pretty much expected of all companies whether they are trying to sell a pizza, home insurance or a box of detergent.

My Take On This?

What I have concluded however, is that software marketing has become a turf worth defending against from outside traditional marketers in order to preserve some sort of affluence, proprietary experience, job security or monetary benefit.

While we can accomodate for instances that demand technical domain expertise, there is really no magic formula exclusive to SaaS or any other industry. The marketing tools and channels employed will always reflect the product and customer we are catering to.

In fact, SaaS being a newer business category, draws from traditional marketing practices. And yes, as with every other industry, technology and digital innovation enhance the marketing landscape. So what gives?

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