What can SaaS learn from Swift? 6 lessons from marketing mastermind Taylor Swift

Kelsey Marks November 19, 2022 8 min read Tech
Colourful graphic with pictures of Taylor Swift

What can SaaS learn from Swift?

Songwriter, storyteller, best-seller. You don’t have to be a “Swiftie” to agree that Taylor Swift is a marketing mastermind – it’s in the data. With over one million records sold in its first three days, Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, serves as indisputable evidence that if Taylor Swift was a software startup, she’d have unicorn status.

So, what do SaaS and Swift have in common? More than you think. While the marketing tactics may differ, SaaS can take a page from Taylor’s playbook on how to cut through the noise and rise to success in a saturated market. Sound familiar, product marketers?

After an unprecedented cross-over from country to pop and 16 years on and off the Billboard 100, Taylor Swift’s long-lasting success is a rich marketing case study. Swift can teach SaaS a lot about attracting and retaining an audience of superfans.

From leaving cryptic clues to baking cookies, we’re unpacking six of Taylor’s most successful marketing strategies and how you can apply them to your SaaS company.

“I laid the groundwork and then just like clockwork
the dominoes cascaded in a line
what if I told you I’m a mastermind?”

1. Storytelling is the best sales strategy

Storytelling is an effective sales tactic because it helps people make sense of their emotions and experiences. Taylor’s songs tell vivid, multi-dimensional stories that resonate with her audience.

SaaS companies can use storytelling to agitate on how their product solves their customers’ pain. Case studies, metaphors, and information hierarchies are all powerful storytelling tactics that convince your customers of your value.

Conversationalize your copy

Through authentic and consistent branding, Swift has blurred the line between person and persona. If you’ve ever read her tweets or captions, it’s easy to forget that there’s a PR team on the other side of the screen. In other words, it’s easy to forget that the Taylor Swift we think we know is actually a curated brand.

Why it matters for SaaS

While B2B marketing is full of well-worn corporate jargon, buzzwords rarely communicate real value. Because B2B decisions are emotion-driven, it’s much more powerful to shed your corporate armor and conversationalize your copy. If you wouldn’t tell a client that your product will help them “unlock new opportunities with best-in-class, enterprise-grade capabilities,” then you shouldn’t plaster it on your website.

2. Inject creativity into your marketing strategy

Taylor credits her marketing mastery to“detail-obsessed planning.” She promotes her albums months, even years, in advance. One of her most creative strategies involves Easter eggs.

Definition of marketing easter eggs, where coloured letters spell out Taylor Swift

Taylor’s Easter eggs are what turn her fans into fanatics, and she lays her eggs in many ways. Her most famous Easter egg is the number 13, often making major announcements on the 13th of the month, and featuring 13 tracks on her albums.

Easter eggs incentivize dedicated Swifties to go into detective mode, scrubbing her music videos frame-by-frame and analyzing her songs lyric-by-lyric to decode the name of her next single or reveal double meanings.

Why it matters for SaaS

To pull your audience in, you must sway from the status quo. Think about how it’s always been done, then flip that idea on its head. If most SaaS websites position their product as an all-in-one software, position yours as a feature-specific software. If your competitors are playing to their strengths, play to your quirks. As Dr. Karen Nelson-Field describes in her book, Attention Economy, “If you ever want to truly and completely grab an individual’s attention, then you must break their prediction. When our predictions fail, our brains become primed to take in and hold onto new information.” By injecting creative thinking into your marketing strategy, you’ll break your audience’s prediction, and they’ll be more likely to remember your product and brand. And while this may sound like common sense, very few marketers know how to get off autopilot and into the deep work where novelty, freshness, and originality lie.

So, how can you start?

Find strategic ways to make selling your product feel more like playing a board game and less like pushing a business card. Send teaser email campaigns to get customers excited about an upcoming feature release. Add brand personality into your product copy. While you may lack the time or resources to build an elaborate Easter egg strategy into your marketing plan, there are always opportunities to surprise and delight your customers. And the brands that seize those opportunities are often the brands that come out on top.

3. Play to your strengths AND your weaknesses

The media has villainized Taylor Swift for years, calling her calculated and narcissistic. Taylor responds the best way she knows how: through tongue-in-cheek anthems like Blank Space (2014) and Anti-Hero (2022). By beating the media to the punchline, Taylor steals her critics’ thunder and regains control of her narrative. Shining a spotlight on her insecurities is not only refreshing, it’s also a more sustainable brand image that her fans can relate to. By embracing her flaws, Taylor gives her fans permission to do the same.

“It’s me.
I’m the problem, it’s me.
At teatime everybody agrees.
I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero”

Why it matters for SaaS

One of the most significant challenges marketers face is getting their audience to trust them. To overcome distrust, the best policy might just be honesty. By being honest about a product or brand flaw your other claims become more believable. And while calling out your shortcomings may seem counterintuitive, when done well, it allows you to address any hesitation before getting into your sales pitch. SaaS company, MailChimp is good at this. In the below example, MailChimp plays to their strength as an “all-in-one platform” while calling out a skin-deep weakness (an ambiguous brand name).

Picture of MailChimp billboard

4. Show your clients you care

Buyers want to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. What pain can you relieve? What to-do list items does your software check off? Although a customer-first approach seems like a no-brainer, company-first “we do this” and “we strive for this” marketing is everywhere.

When our prospects don’t care, they don’t buy. And when our buyers don’t feel cared for, they don’t continue to buy. In the below examples, Taylor teaches us that when you show up for your clients, they’ll (likely) show up for you too.

Get to know your audience

Even with over 91 million followers on Twitter and 232 million followers on Instagram, Taylor Swift directly responds to and engages with her fanbase on social media. She speaks to her followers as if she really knows them, commenting on and responding to their stories, posts, videos, and tweets.

Why it matters for SaaS

G2 found that 82% of B2B buyers consider online reviews a key factor in their decision-making process. Do what few B2B companies do: be social and respond to online reviews. But don’t solely focus on the 5-star reviews. According to a study by Northwestern, online product ratings with 4.2 – 4.5 stars are most influential in driving purchase decisions, especially when companies publicly respond with a genuine desire to improve. The lesson? Showing up online, ready to listen and authentically respond will not only help you build brand trust, you’ll drive more leads to your website in the process.

Over-deliver to loyal clients

Taylor’s “best-friend-next-door” persona comes from a genuine love for her fans. And it shows. Swift holds “secret sessions” with her most loyal supporters, inviting them to her home to preview her new album, famously spending the evening with them and baking them cookies. She even handwrites letters to her fans to thank them for their support.

Why it matters for SaaS

While you don’t need to bake cookies every time someone hits your ‘book a demo’ button, you must close the gap between what your clients expect from you and the value you deliver. Follow exceptional software with exceptional service. Say thank you in new ways or reward loyalty with exclusive access to new product features; like Taylor, find ways to over-deliver that feel authentic to your brand. Your efforts will translate into more referrals and stronger social proof.

5. Refresh and repurpose content

Taylor loves to refresh and repurpose her art. After a decade-long legal battle over the rights to her music, Taylor re-recorded her albums Red and Fearless. But she didn’t just re-record, she refreshed. Always one to surprise her fans, Taylor added new bridges to her song, All Too Well, and included never-released tracks from her vault. The response from fans? Almost ten years after their initial release, both of Swift’s albums, Red (Taylor’s Version), and, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), broke new streaming records and topped the charts once again.

Why it matters for SaaS

As Taylor Swift has proven, refreshing and repurposing old content is not only efficient, it’s profitable. Dust off top-performing content from your archives and align it with how your product, offering, and market have changed. Expand on old ideas. Add fresh insight. Reformat. Ruthlessly edit. You don’t always have to reinvent the content wheel. Refreshing and repurposing content enables you to reach new audiences and drive up your SEO value without investing a significant amount of time, brainpower, or resources.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Graphic with tips on how to repurpose old content

6. Stay gritty to keep growing

Like many SaaS founders, Taylor began her career with a diary of ideas and a dream. Her long-established success is the result of her passion and perseverance (her grit).

Grit is an essential ingredient in the fast paced-sphere of tech and SaaS.
As HubSpot co-founders, Dharmesh Shah and Braina Halligan put it, “it often takes ten years of hard work before you really love your product.” So behind every “overnight success” and G2 award, there are gritty teams.

Start small to grow big

From country sweetheart to megawatt pop star, Taylor Swift’s genre jump was career-defining.

Taylor’s success began early in her singer-songwriter career. Through writing about her girlhood and the complexities of middle school life, Taylor grew an audience of young, wide-eyed fans. At just 16 years old, Taylor released her self-titled country debut, earning platinum status for five of her singles. At 20, Swift’s country album, Fearless, swept the Grammys with four awards and album of the year. Taylor’s unprecedented success in the country music genre inspired her first foray into the pop genre. With an army of Swifties behind her, Taylor Swift broke into pop with the release of her album, Red, becoming one of the world’s top-grossing artists shortly thereafter.

Why it matters for SaaS

Taylor “niched down” into the country genre before “niching up” into mainstream pop. By first playing in a less competitive space, Taylor focused on building her brand for her ideal target audience. The lyrics, the storytelling, the look. And while “niching down” isn’t for everyone, the main takeaway is this: while you’re trying to grow your SaaS brand, focus your marketing efforts on solving specific problems for a specific audience before opening up your funnel.

Never stop evolving your brand

While fellow teen sensations have begun to fade, in 2022, Taylor Swift’s stardom shines brighter than ever. How? She reinvents herself to stay relevant. And no, we’re not just talking about her genre pivot. From high-school heartbreaks to gender inequality, Taylor’s music has matured in lockstep with her audience. Dubbed ‘eras’, Taylor rebrands her color palette, storytelling style, and sound with every new album. From Reputation’s metallic anthems and dark imagery to Lover’s dreamy ballads and high-gloss synths, Taylor’s capacity to evolve and segment her brand has helped her to grow and keep her audience.

Graphic that contrasts Taylor Swift's brand from 2017 to 2019Why it matters for SaaS

Whether it’s evolving her songwriting and sound (product) or her promotion tactics (marketing strategy), Taylor finds new ways to compete with herself.

Just like Taylor, to stay and get ahead in SaaS, you must continually evolve your marketing strategy, even if you own the majority of your market share. And don’t leave innovation to your product team. Regularly optimizing your software’s features, user experience, and back-end is important, but it’s not enough to stay competitive in SaaS.  As marketers, it’s your job to persuasively communicate the new and improved value of your product to your target market.

Every year, sit down with your team to consider whether or not you need to make changes to your brand. Ask questions like:

  • Do our value propositions actually speak to our customer’s problems?
  • Has our ideal target audience changed?
  • Have our competitors changed? Are we still competitive in our market?
  • Do our mission and vision still align with our values?
  • Is our website copy resonating with our audience? Are our CTAs driving qualified leads?

Social media scheduling software, Hootsuite recently rebranded to better answer these questions. Hootsuite’s new brand seeks to, “break free from a sea of sameness” with bold new messaging and colors.

Screenshot of Hootsuite's latest rebrand

Keep searching for marketing inspiration in unexpected places

To attract and engage your audience in new ways, you must search for inspiration in new places. Whether or not you’re a fan of Taylor Swift, it’s clear that her marketing tactics and strategies could inspire even the most experienced CMO.

SaaS and Swift know firsthand that it takes more than talent to survive in an overcrowded market. Even with award-winning software or a Grammy-winning voice, your time in the spotlight will be short-lived if you don’t build and execute a sustainable marketing strategy. Think like Swift; instead of selling a song or software, sell a story. And keep finding new and better ways to retell it.

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