|By Joel York||
|April 5, 2012 02:44 PM EDT||
SaaS branding has some unique challenges that aren’t covered in the average MBA program. As a new communication channel, the Internet has altered the rules of branding for almost every category of product. However, cloud brands that owe their very existence to the Internet often find that the message, the medium and the merchandise are a confusing tangle of clicks, words, sounds, images and experiences that is difficult to describe.
I’m not going to re-hash branding 101, there are plenty resources available for that. I’m also not going to provide a fool proof recipe for creating killer cloud brands. Anyone who says they have that is lying. What I will do is provide some SaaS branding food for thought by exploring 6 key questions you need to ask before committing to your SaaS branding strategy. Because once you commit, it’s not easy to change. All brands, not just cloud brands, are ultimately owned by their buyers, not their sellers. Once you put yourself out there, the evolution and results of your SaaS branding strategy are no longer your own. Your first impression may also be your last, so you should strive to get it right.
Are You in A Category Unto Yourself?
With respect to cloud brands, everyone wants to own the category. It’s where the big, BIG money is. Moreover, the combination of network effects and switching costs common on the Internet often demand that you attempt to own the category as everyone else is destined to be an “also ran.” Consider the status of the direct competitors of Salesforce.com, Google, and Facebook.
I like Al and Laura Ries description of the relationship between categories and brands.
“The mind is like a sorting rack at the post office, which has a slot or ‘pigeonhole’ for every name on the letter carrier’s route. Every piece of mail is put into the hole corresponding to the name on the mail. If there’s no hole for a new piece of mail, it’s set aside in a pile called ‘undeliverables.’ So too with brands. The mind has a slot or pigeon hole for every category. If the pigeonhole is named ‘safe cars,’ this is the hole for a brand called Volvo.”
When you are creating a new brand, your challenge is to shove your way to the top of the slot by focusing on your unique and valued qualities over the competition. Building a new category is 3X more difficult, as you must first clarify and create a new pigeonhole where none currently exists, second promote the unique and valued qualities of the fuzzy new category relative to unclear alternatives, and hold on to the top of the slot by outpacing the competition (which will come eventually if the category is real).
If you find yourself in the enviable position of being a BIG category unto yourself and the nature of that category demands that you own it, then your SaaS branding strategy should focus on crystallizing that confusing tangle into a simple, easily describable position that is unlike any other. No easy task as we all have very big, complex post office racks. Fail and your brand becomes “undeliverable.” If you find yourself in crowded category where you must fight your way to the top, then focus on your unique differentiation to pull away from the crowd. In either case, realize that positioning alone will not win the battle of the cloud brands; you must also deliver.
Are You Experienced?
Cloud brands are the most experiential of service brands. What you see and hear isn’t always what you get. You can’t taste them. You can’t smell them. You can’t touch them. You can only do them. Cloud brands must be experienced to be truly understood. In addition, most cloud brands follow a recurring revenue subscription model which precludes any ongoing discrepancy between your message and your service. Your SaaS branding strategy must be tempered by reality, such that your service absolutely delivers on the promises made in the name of your brand.
The experiential nature of cloud brands is one of the myriad reasons behind the free trial imperative of SaaS. If you are tired of explaining and explaining and explaining your cool new category or you can’t quite come up with the perfect words to describe your difference, any car salesperson will tell you that there is no better way to seal the deal with an uncertain buyer than a test drive. With cloud brands, doing is believing.
The cloud brand experience does not begin or end with your product. Prospects begin to experience your brand based on what they hear and see online and off. A recommendation on LinkedIn may lead to a white paper posted to a community site which leads to a free trial and discussions with your sales and support teams and finally to a purchase that after time results in an upgrade and another online recommendation, and so forth. Where does your SaaS branding strategy begin and where does it end?
What’s in A Name?
Some folks will tell you that brand names simply don’t matter, particularly for B2B brands. Other’s will tell you that they matter a lot. I say, “it depends.” One reason brand names don’t always matter is their experiential nature, which we know is extreme for cloud brands. You can attach any name, acronym or icon you like to an experience after the fact. You just need a letter to stick in the mail slot. The main argument against the relevance of names in B2B brands is that the buying process is too rational, and good brand names are chosen to reinforce the emotional connection of the buyer to a brand’s essential quality, e.g., an iPad is mine, a Red Bull is full on energy, etc.
These are strong arguments and it’s easy to come up with countless examples of brands where the names are simply arbitrary, not just in B2B but B2C as well, e.g., IBM, Oracle, Xerox, Louis Vuitton, BMW etc. Outside consumer packaged goods it’s difficult to make the case that brand names matter at all. See for yourself just how many descriptive, metaphorical and emotional names can you find in the top 100 corporate brands. Not many. Your agency is likely to tell you to play it safe either way. After all, it’s easy enough to come up with a decent name–for a price–so, why take the chance?
Let me tell you when and why I think names do matter for cloud brands. Most examples of successful brands with arbitrary names are exactly that, successful brands. They are not startups. They are not fuzzy, unknown categories. Cloud brands matter most when you are creating the category and you intend to own it. The reason for this is that category names cannot be arbitrary, they are descriptive, and cloud categories can be very hard to describe. If you’re signing up for 3X the work to create that mail slot, then you darn sure want to put your name on the address bar. The best way to do that is to co-opt the category name, e.g., Salesforce.com, Facebook, Box.net, etc. A descriptive, but not quite generic, trademark not only facilitates building a new category by reinforcing clarity of message, but as you capture the market it all but ensures your brand will be synonymous with it.
Can You Play Variations on Your Theme?
If SaaS branding is all about the experience and names only matter so much, then how do you guide the cloud brand experience? Craft a compelling story and publish it deep and wide. SaaS branding must adhere to the new paradigm of the new breed of B2B buyer. It is no longer sufficient to come up with a name, logo, positioning statement and core message and call it quits. Developing your cloud brand image requires telling your whole story by publishing tailored variations on these primary themes that increase their relevance for prospects and make them easier to find through search and social media.
The Internet is an organic, networked communication channel and your SaaS product sits right in the middle of it, merged with it, evolving with it, part of it. It is not a broadcast medium like television or radio. Prospects decide for themselves what they will see, hear and do. You can offer up experiences, but your prospects choose, which means you must consistently offer up new and varied experiences to cover their diverse range of interests and virtual locations in relation to your offering. One prospect may care about costs and find you on Google, whereas another may care about improving customer service and find you on an industry portal, and a third may not know what she cares about, but simply heard about you from a recommendation on LinkedIn. Killer cloud brands are everywhere their prospects are with every story they want to hear.
Are You Under The Influence?
I’m not asking if you’re smoking dope (although I’ve seen my share of business plans where the management team clearly was…hopefully you are not), I’m asking if your cloud brand is “under-influenced.” While your content strategy should cover all your buyer personas, problems, benefits, media, channels, keywords and the like by exploiting the myriad variations on your story, it’s important to keep in mind that not all listeners are created equal. Finding and leveraging influencers in your community accelerates online and offline word-of-mouth and increases the credibility of your cloud brand.
Influencers come in lots of shapes and sizes today from online friends, bloggers and recommenders to traditional mainstays like customers, press, analysts and old-school industry experts that like to sit on panels and publish white papers. Whoever they are, you want them backing your brand and your message. Your SaaS branding strategy should lay out your plan to win over the influencers in your space. My advice here is to go beyond telling them your story and make them part of your story. Don’t go it alone. Friend your brand’s friends, blog with influential bloggers, tell your customer’s stories, help the press dazzle their readers, analyze with the analysts, and organize panels for those old-school experts. In the end, they will own your brand more than you. Great cloud brands facilitate ownership.
Can You Be Trusted?
The underlying goal of all branding is trust. Trust so thorough that prospects and customers no longer need to think through a purchase, they just buy on trust. There are many elements that impact trust, but honesty, reliability, and risk are right at the top of the list. Cloud brands must live up to very stringent trust standards, because of the ongoing 24/7 relationship inherent in the SaaS model. There is no room for anything less than 100% honesty when your customers can always see for themselves. Any discrepancy between service expectations and delivery is immediately apparent. And, risk cannot be transferred when a customer can cancel anytime.
Great cloud brands say what they mean, and mean what they say. They don’t promise anything they can’t deliver. One of the great cloud ironies is that beyond the fear, uncertainty and doubt of putting systems and data online, cloud brands must by their very nature live up to greater standards of trust than their software equivalents. I can’t count the number of stories I’ve read about shelf-ware and failed enterprise software implementations. In comparison, major outages and security breaches at SaaS providers, while highly publicized, have been few and brief. Cloud brands that fail to engender and deliver on trust go out of business, fast, because they tend to fail for all their customers at once, not just one at a time.
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at EMC, will introduce a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organizati...
Sep. 24, 2016 09:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,583
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
Sep. 24, 2016 09:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,316
I'm a lonely sensor. I spend all day telling the world how I'm feeling, but none of the other sensors seem to care. I want to be connected. I want to build relationships with other sensors to be more useful for my human. I want my human to understand that when my friends next door are too hot for a while, I'll soon be flaming. And when all my friends go outside without me, I may be left behind. Don't just log my data; use the relationship graph. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Boyd, Engi...
Sep. 24, 2016 09:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,186
The vision of a connected smart home is becoming reality with the application of integrated wireless technologies in devices and appliances. The use of standardized and TCP/IP networked wireless technologies in line-powered and battery operated sensors and controls has led to the adoption of radios in the 2.4GHz band, including Wi-Fi, BT/BLE and 802.15.4 applied ZigBee and Thread. This is driving the need for robust wireless coexistence for multiple radios to ensure throughput performance and th...
Sep. 24, 2016 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,430
The Internet of Things can drive efficiency for airlines and airports. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Sudip Majumder, senior director of development at Oracle, will discuss the technical details of the connected airline baggage and related social media solutions. These IoT applications will enhance travelers' journey experience and drive efficiency for the airlines and the airports. The session will include a working demo and a technical d...
Sep. 24, 2016 08:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,641
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
Sep. 24, 2016 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,769
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
Sep. 24, 2016 06:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,464
If you’re responsible for an application that depends on the data or functionality of various IoT endpoints – either sensors or devices – your brand reputation depends on the security, reliability, and compliance of its many integrated parts. If your application fails to deliver the expected business results, your customers and partners won't care if that failure stems from the code you developed or from a component that you integrated. What can you do to ensure that the endpoints work as expect...
Sep. 24, 2016 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,498
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
Sep. 24, 2016 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,019
SYS-CON Events announced today that China Unicom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. China United Network Communications Group Co. Ltd ("China Unicom") was officially established in 2009 on the basis of the merger of former China Netcom and former China Unicom. China Unicom mainly operates a full range of telecommunications services including mobile broadband (GSM, WCDMA, LTE F...
Sep. 24, 2016 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,671
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
Sep. 24, 2016 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,478
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
Sep. 24, 2016 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 742
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
Sep. 24, 2016 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 753
Digital innovation is the next big wave of business transformation based on digital technologies of which IoT and Big Data are key components, For example: Business boundary innovation is a challenge to excavate third-party business value using IoT and BigData, like Nest Business structure innovation may propose re-building business structure from scratch, as Uber does in the taxicab industry The social model innovation is also a big challenge to the new social architecture with the design fr...
Sep. 24, 2016 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,023
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
Sep. 24, 2016 10:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,719
IoT is fundamentally transforming the auto industry, turning the vehicle into a hub for connected services, including safety, infotainment and usage-based insurance. Auto manufacturers – and businesses across all verticals – have built an entire ecosystem around the Connected Car, creating new customer touch points and revenue streams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Macario Namie, Head of IoT Strategy at Cisco Jasper, will share real-world examples of how IoT transforms the car from a static p...
Sep. 24, 2016 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,470
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
Sep. 24, 2016 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 904
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the protocols that communicate data and the emerging data analy...
Sep. 24, 2016 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,521
Video experiences should be unique and exciting! But that doesn’t mean you need to patch all the pieces yourself. Users demand rich and engaging experiences and new ways to connect with you. But creating robust video applications at scale can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Zohar Babin, Vice President of Platform, Ecosystem and Community at Kaltura, will discuss how VPaaS enables you to move fast, creating scalable video experiences that reach your...
Sep. 24, 2016 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 758
WebRTC adoption has generated a wave of creative uses of communications and collaboration through websites, sales apps, customer care and business applications. As WebRTC has become more mainstream it has evolved to use cases beyond the original peer-to-peer case, which has led to a repeating requirement for interoperability with existing infrastructures. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Graham Holt, Executive Vice President of Daitan Group, will cover implementation examples that have enabled ea...
Sep. 24, 2016 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,470