B2C marketing in SaaS is just as much about the product as it is about the actual marketing. If you can build a product worth marketing or even a product that has marketing built-in, then you're off to a great start. B2C marketing is easier said than done, though. The goods news? There are patterns you can copy.
The best founders and marketers? That's exactly what they do.
Know that B2C marketing success isn't given to those with the most talent. For example, Melanie Perkins was a teacher who focused on educating students on InDesign, Photoshop, and other design software programs.
She told bbc.com that “It could take a whole semester to learn the very basics. Even the simplest tasks, like exporting a high-quality PDF file, could take 22 clicks.”
Rather than keep complaining, she built a solution that almost marketed itself. A solution that's worth over a billion dollars today. You might've heard about it. It's called Canva.
If you want to build the next Canva or if you're looking for inspiration, then you need to start with a few examples.
B2C SaaS Company Examples
- Netflix is worth over a billion dollars today with 140 million paid subscribers. It's widely considered the leader in B2C marketing. It's also believed they have the best data scientists in the world working on its personalization engine to give you the right shows, episodes, and previews at the right time.
- Spotify has over 80 million paid subscribers and over 200 million users today. It's taking on the music industry by storm with its freemium model.
- Canva is one of Australia's unicorns. This design software is used by around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies across 190 countries, with more than 10 million users.
- Duolingo has over 300 million users and is valued at over 700 million dollars. However, they've yet to nail down down a sustainable monetization source as their mission is to provide free language education to the world.
- Slack a workplace communication software has over 8 million daily active users. It scaled within the workplace by people benefiting from more of your peers joining. The network effect has led to explosive growth.
B2C Marketing Examples & Parallels
Even though these examples aren't all SaaS specific, they are B2C marketing specific or work in parallel. In other words, they can all be applied to SaaS models. B2C marketing in SaaS is about being creative enough to pull from other similar marketing strategies even if it's not a 1:1 with the industry. To inspire you, here are five ways companies are marketing to consumers:
1. The Hustle's Ambassador Program
The Hustle's ambassador program is a unique addition to their renowned newsletter where if you refer enough people to join you get swag and other goodies. If you refer six hundred people, you can attend their events free for life.
2. Ample's Facebook Group to Engage their Core Users
Ample, a popular meal shake for athletes and techies has a Facebook Group to engage their core users. They operate on a subscription model as well. I'm a personal fan as I drink sixty of their bottles every month.
3. Corepower's Black Tag Membership
Corepower has a unique business model where you can attend in-person for their classes, but they offer an ambassador subscription model. Unlike The Hustle, you need to pay to be an ambassador and part of this "cool yogi club." By doing so, you get access to free workshops, unlimited yoga, 20% of teacher training, and more.
4. Airtable's Invite a Coworker
Airtable is the upgraded version of Google Sheets. It's widely considered to be one of the slickest collaborative SaaS companies next to Slack. Similar to Slack, it relies on a network effect to attract more users.
5. Webflow's YouTube Channel and Evangelism
The Webflow team creates numerous tutorials around thei product. They've hired an evangelist, Nelson Abalos also known by his YouTube username "pixelgeek to help create and distribute their content.
Canva's B2C SaaS Marketing Case Study in Personalization
To give you a little history of Canva. The software was launched in 2012. By 2014, it had over 150,000 users and opened to the public. Today, they've raised $86 million dollars and are continuing to expand exponentially.
Melanie noted in this article that in order for Canva to take off, it'd require a seamless onboarding process personalized to the individual user.
In order for Canva to take off — we had to get every person who came into our product to have a great experience in a couple of minutes.
Melanie further explained that because they were breaking the norm of the idea that design is difficult to learn, it meant she needed to change how people perceived their design abilities.
We needed to change their own self belief about their design abilities, we needed to give them design needs and we needed to make them feel happy and confident clicking around. We needed to get them to explore and play in Canva. No short order! So we spent months perfecting the onboarding experience paying particular attention to users’ emotional journey.
As a result, after they perfected the onboarding, many people would take note and even Tweet about it. To that end, the Canva onboarding served as their primary marketing channel.
If you go to Canva's homepage, you'll notice that they ask you to define your role whether you're a small business, student, or even a teacher. From there, they provide you relevant content to what you select.
Depending on what you select, you'll then see a list of the most common templates for that persona.
If you selected the "Large company" persona, you'll be prompted to share your designs with your team before you see the templates. This is an example of well-executed personalization to your user persona.
Once you're in, you'll see the most common templates used for the persona that you chose. For some personas, it will take you right into the design editor.
They'll even cater the copy to the chosen persona as well. Often, you'll see on SaaS pricing pages, it says "Most Popular Choice" when you're looking to choose between several different prices. In this case, they have the same copy except for in their web app to make you take action. Notice the text below "Popular for small businesses."
Since Canva's perfected this onboarding, many companies have taken note, including the AI website builder, B12. We even set up a similar onboarding for our software company, Squibler.
Duolingo's B2C SaaS Marketing Case Study in Personalization
When Duolingo's founders realized that there was a huge market interested in learning English based outside of the United States, they took action. The founder noted the problem they were solving:
“The majority of these people [who want to learn another language], like 800 million of them, are learning English, and don’t have very much money…The majority are not learning French because they want to get ready for a trip to Paris over the summer. They’re learning a language to get a job at a call center.” – Luis von Ahn
Today, Duolingo offers over thirty languages, which has resulted in a number of B2C marketing changes for personalization. And, even though they do provide software as a service, they're still trying to understand their monetization paths.
One of my favorite parts about Duolingo is they have you select attributes to help better personalize your experience with their software. As a result, you're likelier to stay and finish learning a language.
Not only do they know what language you want to learn, but they know how committed you are to doing so. This way they can send you reminders in parallel to help increase retention. I'm sure the selected daily goal has a correlation to power users as well.
Because Duolingo now has you invested by a couple of steps, you'll feel more inclined to give them your login info. When people commit to a goal, psychology says they don't like changing their mind. To stay consistent, they'll have an additional incentive to log in.
Next, they want to see whether you're an experienced user. Notice how the commitment hasn't escalated either. Because this is a softer ask then the previous, people will continue forward in the onboarding journey.
Once you're through, the app is ready to give you an incredible experience. One worth marketing the product without spending the dollars on marketing to do so.
The real magic comes in word-of-mouth marketing. People are likelier to recommend a product their friends will have a great first experience with, especially if that experience happens in only ten seconds.
To add to that experience, Duolingo uses a number of nifty ways to increase retention through its first few days and beyond.
One of these ideas that moved the needle was the concept of the “streak." The word was taken from the gaming industry, which happens to be a popular origin for many other marketing strategies and tactics.
How it works is if you come back to use Duolingo the following day, they'll reward you with experience to access new levels and add another +1 to your streak. The best part: the higher your streak, the harder it is to break. Just like any habit. It works when you work it.
As Jeroen from Salesflare notes, the team also introduced “weekend amulets”, “streak repair”, “streak freeze." These features helped people believe they can make up for their failures. Introducing the amulet alone was responsible for a 4% increase in 14 day retention.
They continued to find ways to increase retention with the introduction of the in-app coach called “Duo." Duo is Duolingo's owl mascot. Not everyone fell in love, but it moved the needle.
To be exact, it improved 14-day retention by 7.2%. Part of this can be attributed to the idea that people perform more consistently with social pressure. "Duo" as the mascot that's always there provides that pressure.
Squibler's SaaS B2C Marketing Case Study in Personalization
As the founder of Squibler, a writing software, I went ahead and took note of both the onboarding flows from Duolingo and Canva. As a result, we implemented this flow after they click "Start Outlining" on our homepage.
By the time a user starts writing in our product, we know their level of commitment and what type of book they want to write. As a result, we can provide them personalized content to succeed.
Also, when the user is going through this onboarding experience, it doesn’t change page URLs so there’s no additional loading time. After they select their daily writing goal, we ask them to log in to create their account just like how Duolingo did it. The next step we need to do (still in development) is implement another onboarding question that separates writers by aspirational authors and people who've already written a book.
The reason we follow Duolingo's flow closer than Canva's is that the effort in learning a new language is more similar to writing a book.
Running Ads to Acquire New Customers
Many B2C companies spend thousands of dollars on ads to scale their customer acquisition. The reason is B2C markets can often be huge. For example, think about Canva. Imagine how many designers and social media marketers you can target with ads. For subscription SaaS, there's often a payback period, though, which makes the ad buying process a bit more complicated.
What is a payback period?
The payback period is the period required to recoup the cost of an investment. Often, the longer the payback periods are, the harder it is to scale your SaaS product without funding.
To understand how long it will take you to recoup your cost, you must know how much each user and customer is worth to you on average. That means having a deep understanding of your product's retention. If you don't have strong retention on your SaaS product, it will be hard to achieve a positive ROI ad campaign. In fact, if you have poor retention, then you need better product marketing before you spend ad dollars.
One major hurdle with paid acquisition campaigns is understanding them to their full effect. If you run a lot of ads, people may be more likely to convert through other channels whether Google or email because they saw your ad earlier. For example, even though your cost per customer from Facebook ads is $30, the influence on other channels actually brings that number down to $24. You often can't see this number because it'd require you to know the exact influence your ads have on other channels.
That's why there's a separation between blended CAC (cost of acquiring a customer) which is the CAC combining all your channels vs channel CAC, which is the CAC of one channel like Facebook ads. You want to keep the two in mind as you look to scale your marketing ad spend. For example, when I worked as the head of growth for UpOut, an event subscription platform, we noticed, at least, a 10 percent lift in organic visitors when we spent $50,000/month on Facebook ads.
To keep track of each of your channels, I recommend tagging every campaign you create in your Facebook ad account using the Google Campaign URL Builder and creating Custom Conversions. This will help you measure each marketing channel independently.
Using Mixpanel to Personalize Your User's Experience
Mixpanel provides a strong analytics understanding of your users from a retention standpoint and helps identify hurdles they go through by giving you the data underlining your funnel. Moreover, it has the ability to provide your users and customers a more personalized experience so they continue to refer your product.
You can segment users for messaging whether that's email, SMS, or in-app notifications. You can even use a Webhook, which will allow you to connect to Zapier to enable voicemails, automated Tweets to new users, and much more. You can A/B test these messages in Mixpanel as well to understand their effectiveness.
For example, if you want to send a certain segment of users who are struggling with a product feature a how-to tutorial on using it, then you can do that. There's unlimited creativity when it comes to what you can do with Mixpanel.
How to Rank Content Faster
Did you know that B2C products can rank their content faster by tying their support to their content? For example, in Canva, they have a section where you can access their "Design School," which is a fancy name referring to a blog that's highly personalized. By sending people to their blog from in their app, they can rank all their blog post content faster because Google now has more visitor data points to analyze.
Canva doesn't just do this with their Design School, but with their support chat. If you have an issue, you may find your problem solved on a blog post. If the user reads it, then Google will once again have more data points to rank that content.
B2C Marketing Starts with the Product Marketer
Because B2C marketing relies on the product quality, it's important to not go all-in on hiring for SEO, paid marketing, and content marketing before you hire a product marketer.
What is product marketing?
Product marketing involves finding the best product-market fit with not only the entire product but each feature for each user and customer persona. To do this effectively, it means surveying your customer base, researching the industry as a whole, understanding onboarding flows, personalization, and seeing a pathway of least resistance to getting customers their first win.
By a natural extension, product marketing also includes positioning. A top-notch product marketer should have a strong growth background, ideally, in copywriting, data ("Mixpaneling" and using Google Analytics), and knowing what triggers increase retention.
Product marketers are the fundamental piece to ensure you hit an MVP point without overbuilding. That you get the product to the perfect balance of users believing they can get their first win and achieving it without feeling that some features were added simply because the founders wanted them.
Research, Research, Research
A key to building out a successful B2C product that markets itself is focusing on product research and validation before building out the product.
For my writing software, Squibler, to know what features to promote on the homepage, I listened to our competitors. I read blog posts by their founders. For example, the founder of our largest competitor, Scrivener, wrote a Medium post detailing his thoughts on the product.
Here’s a piece of gold I found in the post:
With hundreds of features, this helped us narrow down our initial value proposition on the homepage. From there, I listened to podcasts that writing software founders had been featured on. I found a useful one with the Scrivener founder. It noted that he had surpassed 500,000 customers since founding his business. Even better was that that episode was several years old. This means they've probably have over 800,000 customers.
Knowing the size of the market was a huge benefit for us. Moreover, a little research into Scrivener on Amazon and I found what the market was missing - a product with less complexity based online.
I then looked for writing products that understood this advantage. I found Ulysses, but it’s only a desktop and mobile app.
As a result, we took a few of our learnings and made the homepage copy emphasize the ease-of-use of our product. Still, I knew there might be a reason most writing software was on desktop rather than online. So I did some more digging.
Turns out that most of these writing software companies were created pre-Wifi being everywhere. With that said, after many Googles searches, I did find a company called Novlr which is based online with a small customer base. They had put little effort into their B2C marketing strategies and product marketing, which has limited their scale.
Still, it was validation to creating an online web app. While learning more about the industry, I noticed Scrivener users were complaining that they couldn’t sync with tools like Grammarly or Google Docs. That’s when I was convinced on building the web app.
So I spun up a few AdWords campaigns to test landings pages with no product yet built. Instead, we had a few design mock-ups on the homepage and emphasized ease of use and the three features the Scrivener founder had mentioned.
Overall, it cost us $40/conversion.
After optimizing, we drove this number down to $20 by the end of the campaign. At that point, I figured we had something worthwhile because we had customers at - a possibly - profitable margin. Here's what our ad campaigns looked like:
Then we went more broad with our bidding on “writing software” phrases.
Now we needed feedback on the designs.
The initial step included automating an Instagram account with a tool called Jarvee that sent traffic to a Facebook Group for authors.
With automation, we averaged a little over 500 engagements a post.
I found most of these images on Pinterest and Google Images. Here's the resulting Facebook Group we sent people to.
Once we had authors in the group we could ask for feedback on the designs.
After we finalized the initial designs over the next two months, we built-out the product withholding any features we thought weren’t necessary. As a result, the MVP development took around six months to complete.
To understand what to build next for our product, we ran polls in relevant Facebook Groups. We did this until our personal group of authors and email list was large enough to facilitate surveys that would get enough feedback for statistical significance.
Here are a couple of polls I ran in relevant Facebook Groups to understand what features we should add to our roadmap:
For the next steps, we used surveys that focused on ranking features in groups of ten. We hypothesized ten features the audience will want, then we asked them which three they like the best. From there, we sent out another survey asking which one they’d paid for. This way, we’re always implementing the next best feature.
To get a good understanding of the product's design, we looked at similar guides like this one about B2C marketing and tested different software products in the space.
What I've realized -
A lot of people want to start fancy companies.
The best entrepreneurs realize that it's better to take a business model that already exists and just do it better. Because doing something better builds companies faster. Just like we did with Scrivener. Just like Canva did with Photoshop. Just like Duolingo did with Rosetta Stone.
The Best SaaS B2C Marketing is Product Marketing
By now, you've realized that the best B2C marketing is building a product worthy of marketing. It's understanding that word-of-mouth marketing is the strongest and most evergreen marketing channel and only scales when you give users the ideal experience the first time they use your product.
All other marketing comes after. If you think you have what it takes to build something that markets itself in the B2C space, then I wish you the best of luck.