So as growth decelerated rapidly for many in SaaS in 2022-2023, one of the first things cut was marketing.

It’s not always ideal, but I get it.  It’s a variable cost.  Cut marketing, you’re often cutting future growth.  But it’s a “simple” place to cut to at least stabilize the ship and survive to fight another day.  And it doesn’t require layoffs.

So be it.  If you cut your marketing budget too far, and now pipeline looks, well … light … that’s on you. What did you expect?

But if nothing else, don’t expect Zero Cost Marketing to bail you out.  It’s not that Zero Cost Marketing is worthless.  No done right (which is hard), it works.  It’s just rarely enough.

Examples of Zero Cost Marketing:

  • Implementing a brand new PLG strategy overnight.  First, if you were good at PLG, you’d already be doing it.  And second, why is PLG a marketing strategy?  How does it magically get you new users and leads?  By all means, add a truly great Free edition if you can.  But don’t expect it to deliver the sales teams all the leads it needs to hit plan this year.  At best, it takes significant time going from $0 to Material Revenue from a brand-new PLG strategy.  At worst, it’s a total distraction that doesn’t work.
  • Doing lots more content marketing.  Great content always works.  But it rarely works enough.  Yes, do this better.  But don’t expect it to replace an entire marketing budget.
  • Doing a podcast.  Hooray!  Do it.  But is the ROI really so epic here?  Make sure it doesn’t totally distract your CMO and marketing team.  And how are you going to get anyone to really listen, anyhow?  To book great guests?  To do it every week, like clockwork?  I see way too many marketers putting in tons of energy here, where it could be going instead into more direct efforts.
  • Not sponsoring events anymore, just going.  Go to the best events in your industry, from Shoptalk to Money2020 to Dreamforce to SaaStr Annual.  Because your customers and partners and prospects also show up.  But if you just come and don’t sponsor, you’ll generally miss most of the prospects going them to actively meet new vendors.  A classic booth and a classic party really do help.  As expensive and dated as they may seem at times.  They are a well-understood “third place” for prospects and customers to meet vendors they want to meet in person.  And often, to discover a second choice.
  • Cutting all / almost all paid advertising.  Sure, paid digital can be expensive.  But if it closes you customers at really almost any ROI, it’s often worth it in SaaS, especially if your NRR is 100%+.  Sure, cut paid advertising for now if it gets you zero customers.  But if it gets you even 10% of your base, be careful cutting this back too much.
  • Canceling your customer conference, and just doing a “digital event”.  This saves a few nickels, but getting your customers and prospects together IRL?  Few things are more magical.  A digital event only a handful of folks tune into accomplishes none of this.
  • Tons of effort and energy on “free” social media.  Some of this is good.  And yes, in theory it’s free.  But do you really have 50,000 potential buyers following your every Tweet and LinkedIn post?  I doubt it.  Yes, do some of this.  But it doesn’t replace a proper targeted marketing campaign, or 10.  Hanging out half the day on LinkedIn doesn’t get the flywheel going.  Even if it’s “free”.

My point isn’t to not do the Free stuff in marketing.  It all works, at least, if you do it really, really well.

No my point is just this: Don’t have “Free” Marketing be 100% of your strategy if you want to grow faster.   Or even just grow at all, really.

First, Free Marketing …  it’s not really free.  It takes a ton of time to do Free marketing that often has limited results.  And second, Paid stuff has reach. You need reach.  At least, do as much of it as you can afford, and believe in.  The best do both.  Not just the seemingly “Free” stuff.

I just don’t see folks with a 100% Free Marketing strategy growing all that fast.  If at all.  I see marketing teams putting a ton of energy into Low ROI things.  Kind of a shame, really.

A related post here:

Should You Get a Booth At a Top Industry Event — Or Just Hack The Event?

(zero cost image from here)


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