5 Major Product Marketing Trends to Watch In 2021
When COVID-19 hit the U.S. almost exactly a year ago, nobody knew how exactly it’d affect the software industry. Though a few companies like Zoom experienced tremendous growth, most did all they could to prepare for the worst.
With last year in the rearview mirror, we can look at OpenView’s 2020 Expansion SaaS Benchmarks Report to tell us how exactly COVID-19 impacted SaaS companies. The answer: It wasn’t as bad as many feared it’d be.
What’s more is that despite falling nearly 50% from an all-time high in March, SaaS company valuations have rallied. It’s now time for companies to put their foot on the gas and get back to hyper-growth—and those who don’t risk being left in the dust.
The report’s authors already laid out how to get back to hyper-growth, and their article inspired me to share my predictions for 2021’s most important product marketing trends:
1. More SaaS companies will adopt product-led growth
Over the past eight years, product-led growth (PLG) has become a proven strategy used by the most successful SaaS companies in the world.
Here’s why: PLG is an end user-focused growth model that relies on the product itself as the primary driver of customer acquisition, retention, and expansion. In other words, customers get to experience the product first either as a trial or a free service before deciding if they want to pay.
Executives used to buy software for their employees, but now employees tell them what to buy. This is the end user era—and end users aren’t willing to make a buying decision until they know for sure that the software is going to truly work for them.
SaaS companies that adopt PLG are more likely to grow faster:
But having a great product and adopting the PLG model is one thing. People must discover your product before they can become trial or freemium users.
You can do this by either building your product with vitality buried in its core, just like Calendly, or you can get the word out using content marketing. And that takes us to the next marketing trend…
2. Content marketing will drive user acquisition
Content marketing may sound like old news but it will remain indispensable in acquiring new users even beyond 2021.
According to Alex Birkett, Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot: “Content marketing is clearly a powerful way to grow a business. That’s not in dispute.” But unlike the typical content creation process aimed at collecting emails (usually disguised as MQLs), more SaaS companies will use content marketing to acquire users directly.
Alex made this observation: “…I believe you can shortcut the commonly prescribed route of converting content readers to your email list. I think you can use content to directly acquire product users. It just takes a little effort and foresight.”
Content is central to product-led growth—it’s much more than just sending an email newsletter or publishing a new blog post. It’s a way to convince people to sign up for a free trial of your product.
In turn, people get to experience your product as they read or watch your content. When done well, product-led content demos your product in the content itself, allowing prospects to see exactly how it will solve their problems.
But it doesn’t end there. There’s also the need to engage prospects to actually consume that content and take action. This is where storytelling comes in.
Blend in user reviews to engage readers with relatable stories, and your content ticks the most influential info sources B2B buyers trust when purchasing software, according to TrustRadius’ 2020 study:
SaaS companies like Ahrefs have been using this approach to acquire new users directly from the content they create. Take this Tweet from a new user, for example:
This process is simple:
- Create excellent content around questions and problems your ideal customer personas (ICPs) face
- Subtly introduce your product as the solution they need to get rid of those problems
- Then use storytelling, user reviews, and copywriting to nudge them to sign up for a free trial or a freemium account by showing them that others have successfully threaded this part with your product
3. Video content will no longer be a nice-to-have
According to Cisco, videos will make up an estimated 82% of the world’s internet traffic in 2021.
Considering how short our attention span is, the use of videos to quickly inform, educate, entertain, and convert strangers to customers is pretty ideal.
In fact, a recent study found 59% of senior executives would rather watch a video than read an article. And a further 59% of executives indicated that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they’re more likely to choose video.
Videos can drastically improve your marketing, drive traffic, build trust, introduce your product, and increase ROI for your business.
And there are different types of videos you can use to achieve your marketing goals in each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Drew Beechler, Director of Marketing at High Alpha, echoed the same thoughts: “When it comes to videos, [you] see the best SaaS marketers using different styles of videos depending on the audience and purpose.”
These videos could be demos or explainer videos that show your product in action, or highlight benefits. A 2020 study from Product Marketing Alliance shows 56% of product marketers find product demos to be an effective sales enablement asset:
This trend shows that in 2021, you can also create testimonial videos to establish credibility, increase trust, and convert customers.
Company videos, social media videos, landing page videos, and FAQ videos are other examples of different types of videos you can include in your video marketing strategy.
4. More SaaS companies will move to usage-based pricing
COVID-19 forced lots of SaaS companies to revisit their pricing in the hopes of retaining existing users and acquiring new ones.
One way to achieve a balance in these uncertain times is to move to a usage-based pricing model, as suggested by Ibbaka CEO Steven Forth. According to Steven: “In a time where there’s a great deal of uncertainty, connecting price through use to value can be a winning play.”
In fact, seven of the nine recent software IPOs with the best net dollar retention have a usage-based pricing model. It’s a big reason OpenView’s Kyle Poyar just released The Usage-Based Pricing Playbook, a resource that helps companies scale to $100+ million ARR.
According to Kyle, this pricing model offers a few key advantages:
- It reflects the business value being unlocked by the product
- It allows customers to start small and try out a product
- It provides a seamless expansion path as customers get hooked on a product
Examples of SaaS companies that have adopted this pricing model: HubSpot, Zocdoc, Salesforce, and AWS. Is it right for your company? Take a closer look at the playbook to find out.
5. Customer experience will get prioritized
It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best product in the world. What matters is the number of users you have and how it translates to the amount of revenue your company generates. And that’s why prioritizing customer experience (CX) is a must in 2021 and beyond.
CX starts from the moment prospects come in contact with your product. It continues and must be prioritized until they’re satisfied customers (and hopefully become brand advocates).
SuperOffice conducted a survey asking 1,920 business professionals to share their biggest priority for the next five years.
This explains why SaaS companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to make, on average, an additional $1 billion in revenue within three years of investing in customer experience.
Any SaaS founder who knows how hard customer acquisition is will prioritize customer experience because:
- It leads to long-term customer retention
- It’s a key driver for the oldest form of marketing: word of mouth
- It increases brand awareness across all digital channels
- It improves customer upselling and cross-selling
- It improves customer satisfaction
The key takeaway here is if you have an average product but a top-notch customer experience, you might be able to keep customers. But if your product is great and the customer experience is terrible, people might jump to your competitor.
Growth in 2021 and beyond
2021 is going to be a huge year for SaaS growth. My advice is to lead with your product, use stories to make your product discoverable, answer questions, solve problems, and invest in providing an outstanding customer experience.
Hint: It’s not the same as product management.
We talked with MongoDB’s former Director of Growth Marketing, Francesca Krihely, about how she and her team built such an incredible community.