For SaaS, Content Isn’t King, Product-led Storytelling Is

for saas, content isn't king, product-led storytelling is

Where did this false notion that “content is king” most startups swallow hook, line, and sinker even originate from?

To find out, I did some digging. 

In 1996 (the year Google launched), Bill Gates began his essay published on Microsoft by saying: 

Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

In other words, Bill told the world “Content is King”–the title of his essay, by the way. 

But Bill wasn’t the first to proclaim this. 

Sumner Redstone, the late Chairman of ViacomCBS, got popular earlier in the 1990s for his “Content Is King” statements. 

Relevant to digital marketing, however, most people reference Google’s Matt Cutts’ 2008 talk.  

In that Google-hosted presentation also titled “Content Is King…” Matt encouraged businesses to create even more (and better) content. 

And all along, businesses obliged.

For example, in 2018, almost all B2B marketers (over 91% of them) said they were producing content in their effort to reach customers. 

Are you among them? 

Good.

But do tech conglomerates have your business or marketers’ interest when shouting “content is king” from the rooftops?

Not really. 

“Content is king” wasn’t for you, it was for them

What are tech giants after when they cajole you into believing that, in and of itself “content is king?”

To find out, let’s look deeper. 

In Bill’s essay referenced above, he said: 

…computer software is a form of content–an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.

He continued…

“One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create.”

So for Gates, people and companies producing more content on the internet meant more demand for software and devices, which Microsoft produced. 

As you can imagine, he wasn’t preaching “content is king” to enthrone you or your SaaS company, but to make Microsoft (and him) a king. 

Google is no different. 

The content your company creates joins the billions Google indexes, organizes, and makes available when people use its search engine. 

Ask yourself… 

How does Google manage to serve (and satisfy) its 3.5 billion search engine users per day?

Apparently, they need more (and better) content from you to do so. 

Imagine if all companies and bloggers stopped producing content today. 

Not only would that make Google lose its stream of fresh, relevant content to populate its SERPs.

But its revenue will nosedive because ads served via its search engine accounts for most of its revenue

To put things into context, in Q1 2020 alone, Google amassed a whopping $38.3 billion from its search property (and that was a decline). 

So, let’s say you were Google who needed other people’s content to power your business and make you the “king” of search it is today.

Wouldn’t you have encouraged more people to create more (and better) content by shouting “content is king” from the rooftops? 

I would. 

Consumerization of content makes things worse

We’ve seen how, in 2008, Google pushed us to create more (and better) content by saying it was “king,” but used it to fuel its business. 

Back then, companies followed that instruction and managed to rank on the SERPs, generate traffic, and drive business through SEO. 

And that was those who knew what they were doing.  

Today, even if you know what you’re doing, there are no guarantees you’ll succeed, creating SEO-optimized content. 

Add the rise and rise of social media as well as easy-to-get-started blogging platforms to the equation, and what do you get?

 Consumerization of content production!

In our today’s more-connected world, anyone with a smartphone and internet is a content producer in one form or another. 

The numbers don’t lie. 

Daily, over 4.6 billion new content pieces make their way into the internet. 

Blog, tweets, videos, emails, whitepapers, listicles, snaps, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, webinars, vines, podcasts, infographics, eBooks, memes, GIFs… 

You name them.  

It used to be that Google was the primary channel people went to research and discover content considered “quality” by its ranking bots. 

Today, billions of “quality” content sit nicely on multiple platforms, begging for people to notice them. 

As one trying to drive business with content, why should you care?

Care because the consumerization of content–the ease just about anyone can produce content, albeit called user-generated content–has created an infinite stream of new content fighting for the same attention as yours. 

Now content production is infinite. 

Yet, like you, the attention prospects can allow for the consumption of that content remains finite. 

Back in 2014, Mark Schaefer called this new reality Content Shock

According to Mark…

“[Content Shock] is a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat.” 

He went on to predict that it’ll get to a point when companies and even individual creators would “pay” consumers just to see their content.

His prediction is our reality today.

Companies now pay with more and more man-hours and dollars (through higher distribution budgets) just to get some eyeballs on their content:

content distribution
Source.

 So, as it was in 2008 when you could rank and drive traffic just by creating content, so it is with companies who know how to wield the power of content distribution.

Such companies still manage to rise above the noise by buying eyeballs on their content. 

But are they winning? 

Does distribution change the fact that content isn’t king?

Not really. 

First, let’s give the excellent distribution of content the credit it deserves. 

As we’ve established, each content piece you publish is just one out of 4.6 billion others published per day. 

And it joins the bazillions of others published before yours. 

So, as you can imagine, failure to distribute your content is like winking to a woman in the dark. 

You’ll know what you’re doing–you’ve created content.

But your target audience won’t–because they most likely don’t know you exist and always have a wide selection of content to choose from. 

Excellent content distribution solves this problem. 

It helps you rise above the noise, forcing your way into the frontline queue of your target audiences’ content selection options. 

Based on this hypothesis, Ross Simmonds rightly observed that content creation, in and of itself, doesn’t rule everything. 

According to Ross…

Distribution–getting content in front of your target audience, through any ethical means possible, now rules how brands get results from their content marketing investment. 

I don’t agree with this in its entirety. 

Why don’t I, you ask?

Because content distribution assumes that once you manage to get your content in front of the right audience, you’ll hit a jackpot. 

Unfortunately, content distribution isn’t the ultimate solution to the “content is king” fallacy. 

No doubt, an excellent distribution strategy may force the content you produce in front of your target audience’s queue. 

But getting them to open, actually consume that content, and take the action you desire (like enter your SaaS sales funnel or become a customer) is another ball game. 

Now back to the question…

Does distribution change the fact that content isn’t king?

To some extent, it does when leveraged to force your content in front of your target audience’s content selection queue. 

It doesn’t if…

That content doesn’t do the job of hitting a jackpot each time it manages to win your ideal customer’s attention. 

For example, when they don’t open, actually consume, and take your desirable business actions. 

So, if the content you produce, even when backed by an excellent distribution strategy, can’t enthrone content as “king,” what can? 

I don’t have an answer to just about every situation. 

But for subscription businesses (the companies I serve), I do…

Product-Led Storytelling Is the New “King”

You have (or work for) a SaaS company. 

Good. 

If you’re like most founders or executives, your product isn’t just there to collect people’s money.

It solves a real problem you’ve suffered or identified. 

Unfortunately, the easy SaaS era of “if you build it, they’ll come” is no more.

We’re no longer in 2003-2005 when NetSuite and Salesforce popularized the subscription business model. 

Back then, adopting the SaaS model was enough to make your product popular and flock prospects around it. 

Today, there’s a product for just about any business task.

And new ones are entering the market even daily:

This ever-increasing competition in the SaaS industry (over 15,529 products as of March 2020) is something to take seriously. 

So, what’s the kick, you ask?

You can’t sit back and expect people to flock around your SaaS product just because you solve a problem and operate a subscription business model. 

Dozens, if not hundreds, of others, are in that same boat as you. 

So, to force your way in front of competing products when prospects research the problem you solve… 

You still need SaaS content marketing backed with an excellent distribution strategy.

The only problem… 

Using distribution to get (or force) your content and product in front of ideal customers is only half the battle. 

As I’ve outlined already, a more critical hurdle is… 

Is it getting them to take the actions you desire (like signing up for a trial, requesting a demo, or becoming a customer)? 

More often than not, most SaaS content marketing doesn’t achieve this.

Why? 

Because many SaaS businesses still focus on creating content to generate MQLs or “leads.”

But data shows that’s not what people want:

Ninety-five percent (a whopping 95%) of website visitors never give an email address (to become “leads”). Out of just 5% who do, below 20% open the prospecting emails they get afterward.”

In other words, people want to:

  1. Solve their problems.
  2. They want to experience your product (through free trials).
  3. They want to demo your product to see if it actually works.
  4. And they want to see what others have to say about your product (user reviews).

Today, your content must address all these points for it to stand a chance of becoming a “king” that can convert readers into trial users/customers.

It can (and should) do more than acquire vanity traffic or generate email addresses disguised as “leads” or MQLs. 

It should attract, engage, and most importantly, compel ideal customers to sign up for your SaaS product or request a demo. 

Because, according to a study by TrustRadius, these are what influences B2B Tech Buyers the most:

content isn't king
Source.

Now the question is, how can each content piece you create achieve this? 

It’s simple…

By showing ideal customers who open your content how your product solves their problems in real-time, as they consume the content. 

This is what product-led storytelling does.

And it works. 

Take the SaaS company Ahrefs, for example. They drive growth by generating new product users directly from content:

product-led storytelling saas content

It’s also the way our B2B SaaS content marketing agency drives growth.

We attract our ideal customers and get qualified leads (and customers) directly from our SaaS content writing (no lead generation sales funnels). 

SaaS founders reach out, as they consume our content:

Sales/marketing executives do the same:

Final words…

If Product-Led Storytelling works for Ahrefs, other SaaS companies we outlined in this guide, and us…

It’ll work for you, too.

So, upgrade to this new SaaS content creation process, and you’ll feel more confident distributing it anywhere your ideal customers’ hangout.

What’s more?

Each content piece created with this formula brings you trial users and product-qualified leads (not email addresses disguised as “leads” or MQLs).

And that’s because product-led storytelling transforms each piece into a SaaS sales funnel of its own: 

Ultimately, you’ll be producing and distributing content that acquires and builds you a kingdom of users… 

Making you (and your product) a “king.” 

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4 thoughts on “For SaaS, Content Isn’t King, Product-led Storytelling Is”

  1. A unique point of view about the myth “Content is King”!

    I particularly loved how you, not only debunked the myth, but showed how engaging stories about a SaaS product can drive growth.

    That way, a SaaS company can generate new product users (not MQLs) directly from their content.

    This is an insightful and actionable read.

    Thanks for sharing, Victor!

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