SaaS puts the CMO in the driver's seat

Software as a service has delivered powerful new capabilities to marketers, driving awareness, engagement, and sales in Australian and New Zealand companies.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

Australian active-wear company Lorna Jane has entered the US market and is competing with industry giants such as Lululemon Athletica. But in doing so, it has set its own strategy: Building "social market share" through the use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing tools.

SaaS is a cloud computing variant, delivered online as a service through a browser interface rather than through installed software. Generally, it is quick and easy to sign up and use, and implementation does not require any upfront capital expenditure for software or hardware. It does, however, require the same amount of effort in configuring, testing, and end-user training as traditional on-premises software.

Some users implement it without any IT assistance or involvement.

SaaS marketing tools: Hot right now

SaaS marketing tools offer a wide range of functionality, from social media monitoring and analysis, campaign management, budget management, content publishing, and targeting all the way to lead generation and sales integration — and users are responding fast.

The space has been a hotbed of acquisitions and amalgamations, with giants such as Oracle and Salesforce.com among others buying the innovative small companies that have charted these new social waters.

Lorna Jane's strategy is to retail through a network of privately owned stores, rather than department stores. It's one reason why social networking is important to the company. According to founder Lorna Jane Clarkson: "Customer loyalty is what makes your business sustainable."

To understand customers, marketers need to listen to the whole conversation. That's why the company adopted the Radian6 social media marketing tool, since bought by Salesforce.com and included in Salesforce's ExactTarget Marketing Cloud.

Lorna Jane is one of many companies that are now changing their thinking to use new technology to engage consumers with brands in ways that were never before possible.

The product gave Lorna Jane a platform to speak to customers about its brand and its philosophy. Social monitoring delivers customer intelligence by tracking public conversations and revealing customers' likes, dislikes, wishes, and wants, all of which might be lost through traditional channels.

"The good and the bad of social media is that every customer has a voice. Ignoring that voice can be a fundamental mistake, and listening to it [can be] the most valuable gift," Clarkson said.

Lorna Jane inspired by Gatorade

Sam Zivot, head of digital at Lorna Jane, has recently moved Stateside to lead the brand's US push. Lorna Jane adopted Radian6 about 18 months ago, he explained, after seeing an online video from sports drink maker Gatorade showcasing that company's "social media command centre".

Wanting to be a leader in its field in Australia, the company was inspired and emulated Gatorade. Radian6 helps Lorna Jane to monitor the buzz in the social space in real time, and allows the company to compare itself with direct competitors.

It also allows the company to respond and interact effectively.

Zivot said the cloud-based software is very easy to implement with no configuration required with existing systems. But customisation, such as introducing profiles and competitor profiles for monitoring, is also easy, he said.

"It's not like e-commerce integration," he said. "Getting up and running is easy."

Zivot said Saleforce.com's ExactTarget Marketing Cloud is now always on-screen at Lorna Jane.

"If it's not in your face, you are probably not going to get the full benefit of having a command centre," he said.

Extracting value is about extracting insights and acting on them. The tool, he said, provides all the information you need to take such action — but that still requires human intervention.

Zivot said ExactTarget provides all sorts of data about market share in social media against competitors. In Australia, Lorna Jane is number one on that measure against what the company considers direct competitors. In the US, it is number two behind Lululemon, which is backed by huge retailers, but ahead of Gap's active-wear products.

Zivot does not compare Lorna Jane against super brands Nike and Adidas, while there are also social platforms the product doesn't track, such as Instagram, Pinterest, and others. This is because those social platforms do not make their application programming interfaces available to products such as Salesforce.com, he said.

A few of those would play to Lorna Jane's strengths, he said.

Lorna Jane is always looking at how it can engage and use natural conversations to win social market share. In the US especially, social media is a key part of the company's strategy.

"Credibility comes from real people," Zivot said.

The product allows Lorna Jane to determine who the real influencers of social conversations are and engage them and "leverage their power". For that reason, "influencer relations" is a key part of the company's US strategy.

Zivot said Salesforce is continuing to evolve the ExactTarget product and make it user friendly, especially on tablets and mobile devices, most notably in shifting it to HTML5.

That's where one of the great advantages of SaaS emerges, when new updates and code are rolled out. Users are always automatically on the latest version of the product. There's no need to download and install software, and there is no need for extensive IT support.

Content marketing the VMob way

Kai Crow is head of marketing at New Zealand-based VMob, a company that develops systems for delivering personalised sales offers, coinciding messages with locations and individual consumer preferences.

He has brought Marketo, the tool he used at prior employer, Sonar6 — later acquired by Cornerstone OnDemand — to his new job.

Crow previously used Eloqua, now owned by Oracle and included in its marketing cloud, but he realised the product was not suitable for VMob and went with Marketo after evaluating a number of possible solutions.

Marketo has helped VMob, and earlier Sonar6, establish themselves as thought leaders through content development and publishing, Crow said. It also helped the company learn some valuable lessons along the way.

Crow said Marketo may not be for everyone. The user interface (UI) is not as user friendly as in some other systems. However, Marketo has not sacrificed "back-end grunt" in the cause of user friendliness.

Kai Crow, head of marketing at VMob, shares two insights from using Marketo's SaaS marketing software and sending material to different test groups:

*Email messages pointing to video content generated four times the level of social sharing as those pointing to written material.

*Emails with links to content created much higher levels of opt-out than emails which contained the content in full.

"If you are reasonably tech-savvy marketers, it's not a concern," he said. "It has a lot of flexibility."

That flexibility is evident, for instance, in the ability to create campaigns that can be scaled across a range of audiences with minimal work.

Crow was looking for features, not a slick UI, and working for technology-oriented companies meant he had resources available to get the most out of Marketo, even down to writing HTML when needed.

For Crow, it's all about winning audience buy-in. Contact details are collected from landing pages where users opt in to receive content. That is followed up with an integrated series of emails that don't aim to sell, but to keep reader/prospects engaged in the space or the brand.

Calls to action, such as free trials, are included in the content, and user behaviour is tracked. If the reader reacts favourably, that activity can be stepped up and the reader can be referred to sales through integration between Marketo and Salesforce.com.

"We are using Marketo reporting across all levels to see what is working and what is not working," he said. That has produced some interesting insights: Email messages pointing to video content generated four times the level of social sharing as those pointing to written material; and emails with links to content created much higher levels of opt-out than emails, which contained the content in full.

As with Lorna Jane, Crow said one of the great advantages of SaaS is the ready availability of updates without downloading and installing new software. Marketo develops at speed, he said, and SaaS delivers immediate access to those innovations.

That is particularly satisfying when what is being delivered are features Crow has asked for, seen being worked on, and seen gaining traction.

Another benefit is the ease of working globally with employees and contractors, SaaS makes marketing platforms much more accessible in those kinds of dispersed situations.

"We would really struggle to do it if those people needed access to [installed] software," Crow said.

Analytics and reporting are vital, he said. A content-focused approach to marketing requires a leap of faith from the board and an investment in content. Reporting allows marketers to constantly measure progress and prove the worth of the strategy against benchmarks.

"It's a much easier sell [internally] when you can give that level of accountability," Crow said.

NZ's Massey University learns from the social buzz

Massey University in New Zealand uses Oracle Social Relationship Management to integrate its view of social platforms.

Tracy Pleasants, marketing manager at Massey University.

"It's a great way to see who is talking about Massey, what the conversations are, and get involved," said Tracy Pleasants, the university's marketing manager.

The product is stand-alone, so the purchase decision and implementation did not require IT support. It was also relatively quick and painless, Pleasants said.

"Are IT going to find out about this?" she laughs. "They weren't involved at all.

"The nice thing about living in the cloud is there are no downloads."

Massey is still a new user, only using the cloud for listening in on social conversations, but Pleasants said she has found the system to be very good.

She appreciates a number of unique features, including the ability to narrow a search to be really specific and also the ability to measure sentiment. The platform also enables online competitions to be run in a much less labour-intensive way than before.

A calendar function allows online publishing to be scheduled when someone is away, rather than requiring someone else to step in.

Channels tracked are predominantly Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, Pleasants said, and sentiment is 90 percent positive. The product will be even better when it integrates with more platforms, which is coming, she said.

The analytics can include comparison with competitors and demographic breakdowns.

"It's kind of endless," Pleasants added.

Sentiment analysis is still a controversial area, and Pleasants conceded that it is not 100 percent, but it can highlight when the university has an issue and assist in making a quick response.

Pleasants said Oracle provided fantastic training and support, and the implementation has been a great way for the university to dip its toes into social waters.

Unprecedented levels of targeting and insights are now possible for smart organisations. Social media has changed the meaning of the term "campaign" and altered the way that marketers think. And SaaS platforms that are relatively easy to implement and use have changed the way they understand their markets and act.

Through the ability to constantly take the pulse of the market, SaaS-based tools enable experimental approaches to marketing, allowing activities to be refined to reap the fullest benefit from marketing investment at low cost.

It is delivering a bigger bang for the marketing buck.

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