|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.
Connected devices and the industrial internet are growing exponentially every year with Cisco expecting 50 billion devices to be in operation by 2020. In this period of growth, location-based insights are becoming invaluable to many businesses as they adopt new connected technologies. Knowing when and where these devices connect from is critical for a number of scenarios in supply chain management, disaster management, emergency response, M2M, location marketing and more. In his session at @Th...
Dec. 3, 2016 09:30 AM EST Reads: 3,918
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 3, 2016 09:30 AM EST Reads: 821
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
Dec. 3, 2016 09:00 AM EST Reads: 443
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 3, 2016 08:30 AM EST Reads: 483
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Dec. 3, 2016 06:30 AM EST Reads: 6,003
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
Dec. 3, 2016 05:45 AM EST Reads: 6,920
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web ...
Dec. 3, 2016 05:30 AM EST Reads: 1,200
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Dec. 3, 2016 04:15 AM EST Reads: 1,718
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will share examples from a wide range of industries – includin...
Dec. 3, 2016 02:30 AM EST Reads: 1,523
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Dec. 3, 2016 02:15 AM EST Reads: 1,501
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 3, 2016 01:45 AM EST Reads: 788
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Dec. 3, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 1,524
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 2, 2016 11:15 PM EST Reads: 916
IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effici...
Dec. 2, 2016 08:30 PM EST Reads: 4,984
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...
Dec. 2, 2016 08:15 PM EST Reads: 1,574
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 2, 2016 06:45 PM EST Reads: 4,001
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
Dec. 2, 2016 06:30 PM EST Reads: 1,489
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, provided an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data professionals...
Dec. 2, 2016 05:00 PM EST Reads: 4,089
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Dec. 2, 2016 04:45 PM EST Reads: 2,119
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Onalytica. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
Dec. 2, 2016 04:45 PM EST Reads: 1,985