What Should SaaS Companies Learn from Media Companies?

What Should SaaS Companies Learn from Media Companies?


What is it about media companies that makes them such good models for SaaS marketing? In an earlier post, Anthony Kennada explained why every company is becoming a media company.

The gist? New publishing formats and new technologies have made it possible to go beyond the traditional “performance” view of content marketing. And taking a “media company” approach to that content engenders trust.

In my work for retail and D2C brands, I’ve had a first-row seat to some leading consumer media brands. I’ve watched and learned. And I’ve seen what marketing has connected with customers—and what’s left brands still guessing.

Over time, I noticed a pattern.

Marketing trends that start in consumer marketing eventually make their way to D2C. Then, after a few years of collecting dust on the shelf, these trends find B2B SaaS. We’re in that moment now. It’s a new opportunity to learn.

Let’s dive into why all eyes are on the “media company” approach.


Four Lessons from Media Companies

Why model yourself after media companies? Let’s focus on what they’re good at:

  1. Leveraging emerging content formats. Media companies understand the evolving nature of content. They constantly adapt to stay in front of their audience, and have embraced editorial formats such as long and short form video, podcasts, livestreams, and others in order to educate and inspire their audiences. In the competition for consumer’s attention, they’ve developed creative expertise internally and through partners to produce content that goes well beyond driving subscriptions – but authentically delivers value.

  2. Owning content distribution. Own your own platform, and you control every aspect of messaging. Beyond that, media companies collect subscriptions on property that transfers the relationship with their audience from rented to owned (more on that below). They understand the role that social media and third-party content networks play to amplify content and stay top-of-mind. But media companies appreciate the importance of capturing an email address and distributing content directly to their audience.

  3. Using engagement data. Media companies are great at identifying data that helps them understand the impact of their content on revenue. After all, for media companies, the content is the product. This is a huge shift in thinking SaaS companies need. Analyzing engagement data from your audience helps companies make better content production decisions (ex. does our ICP engage more with videos or podcast, long-form or short-form, and on what topics?). Beyond that, true engagement data helps connect the value of content on business outcomes, which takes me to lesson number four.

  4. Monetizing subscribers. The top of the funnel for most media companies is a free subscription to their content. Beyond that however, companies produce “premium content” that is offered at a cost – exclusive content, courses, live events and experiences, etc. These offerings are great because they are double-clicks on the same promise that drove the initial subscription – education, entertainment, and connection. While many (if not most) SaaS companies produce similar programs, it’s possible that they haven’t conceptualized these offerings as media companies do. Of course the end intention for SaaS companies is to sell licenses of their product – which is the intended outcome for the right subset of engaged subscribers.

It may be helpful to understand how media companies conceptualize their funnel – not necessarily to replace the traditional SaaS marketing funnel, but from which we can draw some inspiration.

Alex Liebermann, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Morning Brew, explained the audience funnel, as media companies understand them, in three steps:

At the top, you have “rented” media. This is the content that exists on third-party platforms, like social media. This content brings in fresh eyes and exposes your content to the market—but it’s still just an attractor for attention.

Then there’s “owned” media. This is the audience with whom you engage directly. Think of subscribers and newsletters, for example.

Finally, you have “monetized” media. As discussed earlier, monetized content could be premium offerings like events and certifications. Ultimately, you will think of product buying leads as “monetized media.” But you may consider these alternative premium offerings true “media” when your customer is there to learn rather than buy—at least initially.


Why This Matters: Learning from Media Companies

SaaS companies are ultimately in the business of selling licenses of software. There’s no question about that. But the future of SaaS marketing looks a lot more like running a media company. That’s how consumers (in our lives outside of work) are engaging with brands, building affinity and buying products.

Companies who are embracing this change now will be well positioned to benefit.

If you run a successful SaaS company, you have thousands (or possibly hundreds of thousands, if not millions) of visitors to your website. Not all of them buy products, of course. According to LocalIQ, across industries, the average landing page conversion rate was 2.35%. What is your company doing to nurture the other 97.65%?

That shift in understanding traffic is where media companies shine.

Media companies are in the business of building content. And that’s why they engender trust. They know that content is their product. For a SaaS company, content is a means to an end. It can help you build trust, sure. But ultimately, it’s there to get more eyes on your product. And it’s there to convince someone that you’re a good company to buy from.

A SaaS company should take on this “content is my product” mindset more often. Think about your customers. Are they going through the motions of a demo request if they don’t trust you yet? Or if they don’t know enough about your company yet? Of course not. Even if it’s free, it will feel like a waste of their time (and yours).

The trick as a SaaS company is to put that unsold traffic to work for you. Consider the following:

  • Your traffic has a pain point. Your target demographics and audience locations might be all over the place. But they all have something in common: a pain point. Give them a place to commiserate with the pain you’ve observed in the market.

  • Your traffic wants to learn. If your traffic has a pain point, they don’t have to trust you. They just have to find value in what you can teach them. Talk about solutions they might not have heard of. And don’t be afraid to occasionally separate your solutions from the context of buying something from you. Be immediately useful. That’s what media companies do. Again—for media, the information is the product.

  • Your traffic wants to hear new perspectives. Opinion pieces, blog articles, videos, roundtable discussions, webinars, forums—there’s no limit to how you can introduce new perspectives.

In the old world, uncertain traffic might have bounced off your site, never to be heard from again. And without third-party cookies to chase that traffic back across the Internet, chances are that they’re gone forever.

Traditionally, you would capture a small percentage of them into a “demo request” flow, or capture their email for a newsletter, and start the automated email nurturing process. And that’s great. Entire SaaS empires have sprung up from this strategy.

It’s just not great enough.

Media companies have figured out how to build trust with an audience like this—the masses of traffic who come across their digital presence. And they know that they have to think about a “sales funnel” differently. They have to create value for readers and viewers at every step of the funnel. Every piece of content is an audition with their audience, a chance to show what they provide.

A SaaS company that approaches content like a media company will try to do the same. It will build a real relationship based on actual value to its audience of potential customers. They trust the customers will come one day—but know that in the meantime, they’re building trust and lasting brand value. They’re becoming a go-to source in their audience’s mind.

Ideally, the audience may even forget you have something to sell.

When you take on the media company approach, you’ll capture more enthusiasm from your traffic. Eventually, you may find that this cohort will represent your best customers.


Kaleigh Moore | About the Author

Writer and Contributing Author

Kaleigh is a subject matter expert on DTC businesses and the SaaS tools that integrate with them. Her clients include well-known brands like Shopify, Stripe, and Klaviyo. She’s also a contributing author for Forbes, Vogue Business, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and more. You can follow her here.


What Should SaaS Companies Learn from Media Companies?

Marketing trends that start in consumer marketing eventually make their way to D2C. Then, after a few years of collecting dust on the shelf, these trends find B2B SaaS. We're in that moment now. It's a new opportunity to learn.

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