• Toy commercials have refined simultaneous marketing to the user (the child) and the buyer (the parent) to a high art
  • Software-as- a-service (SaaS) and subscription software have very similar user and buyer marketing challenges
  • The key principles of marketing toys – simple, targeted and competitive – all apply to SaaS and subscription marketing

I have a four-year-old son who, despite my best efforts to limit his exposure to TV and screens in general, has developed an uncanny ability to retain the content from toy commercials and regurgitate their key points unprompted without error. In investigating this phenomenon, I discovered that it’s even worse than I thought – because he doesn’t even have to be exposed directly to the advertising for this effect to take hold. These messages get passed along to my son like some kind of “commercial mind virus” through simple interaction with friends. Fortunately, because he’s only four, his disposable income is approximately zero and he has to convince me to buy these toys for him. 

I had an epiphany that this situation is exactly like the one faced by many of you selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) and subscription products. In many cases, the users you target for marketing and sales efforts actually don’t have the authority or budget to purchase the products. Developers looking for better development tools, IT staff looking for more robust infrastructure monitoring, and marketing specialists looking for planning tools will respond enthusiastically to the success stories, business benefits, and free trials you provide because they understand the problems your products solve. In the end, however, this enthusiasm doesn’t always translate to sales because the purchase decision is often made one level above the users, and companies don’t always do a good job of reaching that critical audience. 

Children's toys

So what should SaaS and subscription marketers do – and what can you learn from TV commercials during Saturday morning children’s programming? 

  • Make the message simple. Watch any commercial for a product for children, and you’ll notice that it clearly (and repeatedly) articulates one or two key benefits of the product. This is the message that becomes ingrained in the minds of the audience (the children), passed along to peers (their friends), and repeated ad nauseam to the decisionmakers (their parents). For marketers, when the decisionmakers ask the target user why they should buy this product for him or her, the user must be able to answer with a clear, concise statement of value. 
  • Remember that you have two audiences. There’s a reason why so many toys are marketed as “educational” – because parents ultimately make the purchase, and they need to be convinced. Similarly, many SaaS and subscription companies have to convince the users and the buyers. Make sure your marketing and sales efforts reflect this by speaking to the tactical benefits of the solution for the user and the larger business benefits for the buyer. 
  • Your competition is everybody. When you’re marketing to users, getting their attention is just the first step. The more important – and more difficult – goal is to become the cause they champion to the decisionmakers. Like children who know intuitively that asking for everything is the best way to guarantee they’ll get nothing, users must pick and choose what to bring to the decisionmakers with the purchasing power. This means that your marketing and sales efforts must position your product and services not only above your competitors in your niche or category, but also above all other concerns and challenges your users might be facing. You must provide a clear message about why users should focus on your product or services, and how to communicate that priority to decisionmakers. 

Since I came to this realization, I’ve been watching toy commercials in a completely different light, and I marvel at the message discipline they exhibit and how well they adhere to these three guidelines. As one of many parents with young children who find themselves inexplicably at a toy store after being out-negotiated by a four-year-old, I suspect this is a huge part of their overall success. Apply these same principles and discipline to your SaaS and subscription marketing efforts, and you can start seeing similar results.

I’ll be presenting on demand creation strategy and execution in May at Summit 2016 in Nashville. Register today!