By Angeley Mullins

B2B SaaS has historically taken a back-seat when it comes to brand building.

Traditional growth strategies have been focused on direct demand generation & customer acquisition levers including: performance marketing, email marketing, CRM marketing, webinars, and even ABM ( account-based marketing- if the ACVs and sales cycles are high enough). The focus in the past 10 years has been to acquire as many customers as quickly as possible in order to establish product-market fit as well as grow a scalable revenue engine. Since brand building has been historically viewed as expensive and not a direct ROI exercise, it has been very much overlooked in the earlier stages of scale-ups. However as the era of hyper growth subsides in favour of more “predictable and sustainable” revenue growth, SaaS leaders are now taking a much deeper look at brand. They are realising  that previous hyper growth strategies have left them with revenue growth graphs that look more like roller coasters of new customer acquisition and churned clients than the classic straight line “ up and to the right” of steady growth. Now that SaaS leaders are looking to brand as a longer term and more sustainable growth lever (and at earlier stages in their scale-up journey), the question remains: What are the best brand strategies as you scale? 


Brand Strategies for different stages of growth

Seed & Series A: Moving from Founder-led sales to establishing your company as a “force” within your vertical or niche

Seed/Series A Founders & CEOs have typically been focused on acquiring the first cohort of clients to prove out their business models. Many discussions with very early stage founders are very similar in that they acquire the first 20 clients by themselves using their own network. This is where value propositions can change quite frequently as founders are trying to prove out “product-market fit” and also the basic unit economics of their businesses. The challenge with overlooking brand building at this stage is that brand building forces a founder to think about how their products or services are perceived by consumers and how their consumers relate to their services. This is the key to brand/company loyalty as a company scales. Consumers are now buying from companies who share their values more than anytime in history. It is no longer about the lowest price or proving “value” for the offer. In the beginning, what founders usually focus on are the basics of their USPs, however forget to create a brand and also a brand identity for their companies. After the first 20 clients are acquired, founders try to use the information from those clients to scale customer acquisition further however have not handled the basics of:

  • Is the business forging the way in a new industry or space and needs to identify itself? 

    • This is the case with many early stage scale ups and especially ones in industries that have not yet been completely disrupted such as: cybersecurity, health-tech, ed-tech, and also industries that are more archaic or institutional where entire systems are being changed. This will become even more important as Artificial Intelligence disrupts industries over the next 10 years. 

  • Do our customers relate to the challenges that the business is solving? 

    • This is very different from identifying a basic need or challenge and where many early stage scale-ups make mistakes. Every company attempts to address a need, however many earlier stage scale ups do not assess if their customers can relate or identify with it. This is one of the major reasons that earlier stage scale ups tend to have a lot of initial customer growth followed by huge churn in the early days. Instead of thinking through brand identity and pairing it with product market fit, they proceed with any customer acquisition model to gain fast revenue traction and end up having to “ re-position” their products and services too many times. This method can be quite costly in time, human capital, and of course going in the wrong direction and constantly “ resetting”. The cost of resetting can be extraordinarily more expensive than if these same companies went through a formal brand identity strategy at the beginning. A recent article from AdWeek titled, “ Why B2B Companies are investing more in Brand Marketing” also explains the new approach to brand in B2B and is even calling it a “renaissance”. 

Brand Strategies at this stage: 

  1. Understand that brand is tied to longer term growth. It will be a slower return at the beginning however, like compounding interest, it will pay off in huge quantities in the long run and can actually decrease CAC over time. Many larger companies with famous brands all started with small steps and creating their brand identities at the beginning. Coming to terms with this in the beginning of your growth journey will save many pitfalls later on. The past 10 years of the “hyper-growth” era have taught SaaS leaders that short term strategies only generate short term results. A scalable and predictable revenue engine will require longer term investments into brand at the earlier stages. Couple your brand investments with your primary demand generation and customer acquisition strategies.  

  2. Establish your business as a thought leader in your space at the beginning. Becoming a thought leader is very different from differentiation which is communicated within your sales pitch decks or even on your website. Becoming a thought leader means that your business has established a reputation that precedes you. It means that you are growing your business to become a household name. This will require deep thought around how your business services relate to the consumer. Growing a content engine is one of the best ways to begin this journey however other methods such as webinars, partnerships, panel discussions, events, etc can be used. Be aware that at the early stages, large branding campaigns such as OOH, banner ads, etc are not recommended until there is enough awareness of your business for those channels to become effective. What is crucial though is that the information about your business is clear and highly visible with your vertical and especially amongst competitors. The worst thing that can happen at an early stage is a potential customer saying that they cannot find any information on your business. In a digital era this is an unforgivable offence that can be easily corrected as long as the business chooses to address it. 

Recommendations at this stage:

  • Focus on pairing product market fit with brand identity

  • Allocate some of your demand generation resources on establishing your brand as a thought leader in your vertical or niche. You can fit in many different mediums including product marketing, brand marketing, customer success content, etc into this approach, however the goal is to make sure that your company has a brand and that brand is being communicated in your space as you are establishing your business. 

  • Don’t over-rely on performance marketing for B2B SaaS too much in the beginning ( especially Google, Facebook, Instagram, & TikTok)  as these tools are very expensive and can lend themselves towards shorter term gains with the ever increasing need for budget to sustain growth. One of the exceptions is LinkedIn since it has become one of the leading B2B lead generation tools due to its unique targeting features for the B2B arena, however even so, be careful to not over rely on this channel. 

  • Do spend considerable amounts of time building a digital presence and ecosystem where you will work on becoming a thought leader. B2B SaaS is more of a content play than it is performance marketing, so this will be one of the first and most foundational tools you can use to build your business into a thought leader. 

Series B & Scaling: Taking a strong product market fit and scaling growth into a larger revenue engine. This is where it is critical to become well known in your vertical and brand becomes crucial. 

Series B Founders and CEOs are looking to scale and to scale quickly. They have usually taken on additional funding or capital to grow ( unless they are bootstrapped) and have already pre-committed larger growth targets based on valuation models. The idea at this stage is to take an existing product market fit that shows promise and to scale it quickly using that additional capital and learnings from the Series A growth stage. At this stage there has usually been a very small amount of branding done however traditionally, companies at this stage have over-relied on:

  1. A continuation of a founder-led sales approach

  2. An expensive AE-driven sales model ( hiring too many AEs too quickly)

  3. A costly performance marketing model to achieve their initial growth targets 

None of the above methods set the company up for sustainable and scalable growth, and SaaS leaders usually come to the following juxtaposition: “We need to scale 5X or 10X however it is clear that the market doesn’t know who we are and our clients are confused on our value proposition as we are differentiating ourselves from competitors”. This classic case is also explained in the article from Forrester titled, “High Growth B2B Businesses Invest in Brand When Facing Economic Uncertainty”.

Some Series B companies have a very strong product market fit and customer acquisition formula that is very solid and scalable, where they just need additional capital to add more resources to grow the business. Other Series B companies are still finalising their product-market fit and are still going through the process of “resetting”. This resetting can be anything from a higher level strategy to product features to the actual product itself which can mean huge changes to the Go to Market Strategy and impact the operational capacity and trajectory of the business. 

Most companies at a Series B stage have done some initial branding activities however have mostly relied on traditional demand generation and customer acquisition strategies. Traditionally they have focused on achieving hyper growth targets which lend themselves to shorter term “quick gain” channel plays which can prove out ROI in a single quarter or even a 6 month period, however can’t stand the test of time on a longer trajectory because they require too much continuous capital to sustain. This can become even more exacerbated with SaaS companies who focus on enterprise and begin costly and longer term ABM programs too soon without properly establishing their brand and brand identity to position themselves as a thought leader ( something even more crucial when selling to enterprise). Typical ABM programs for enterprise can take up to 1 year to prove out so this can be a costly experiment if not thought through. 

Additionally at the Series B stage many companies have a plethora of webinars  that they use to diversify their customer acquisition strategy however these webinars in B2B tend to be very “product focused” and hyper targeted. Although at first glance this might seem like a good idea with the thought being: “ let’s make webinar content that is hyper focused on our product”, what ends up happening is that the company’s YouTube page or Website itself lends towards a list of boring videos that no one is searching for because it is too niche. The inherent problem with this approach is that it doesn’t lend itself towards larger brand awareness which is what a Series B company needs at this stage. Hyper focused “product-based” webinars just tend to recycle the same leads since the same profiles that are already known to the company keep coming back for more information. Although it is very helpful to have clients visit a company’s content on different mediums ( which contributes to a multi-channel attribution strategy), it does not solve for the main challenge for companies at a Series B stage which is : How can we increase the brand and awareness of the company to a broader range of ICPs and how do we uncover additional ICPs to target as we grow? The key to this question is broader educational content on a higher level that can appeal to a larger ICP base which is something that Series B Stage SaaS companies have not focused enough on ( instead focusing on shorter term acquisition strategies). 

Brand building is critical at this stage in order to begin to own the market as well as firmly establish the company as a leader in their space ( in addition to differentiation). Assuming that customer acquisition models are firmly established for scalability, then more focus needs to be paid to brand identity and brand building in order to broaden the ICP base; especially if the company is going to be adding additional products or looking at differentiation techniques if they are in a crowded industry. 

Brand Strategies & Recommendations at this Stage: 

  1. Review the brand identity and make sure that it aligns with the broader ICP-base if your company is looking to expand the ICP cohort profile. Many Series B companies expand their customer profiles in this stage however forget to reposition their brands to match. Now is the time to do this. 

  2. Begin a broader brand-based content strategy that includes alternative mediums such as user-generated content (UGC), podcasts, and partnerships. This is in addition to classic content such as blogs, webinars, videos, etc. If budgets are tight then consider testing out some of these mediums on a smaller scale. Remember to look at not only the direct effect and ROI to your sales funnels, but also at longer term visibility of your company’s profile. Specific KPIs such as brand awareness can be measured however don’t forget that these activities pay off over a longer term and need to be given time to prove themselves out. Don’t undervalue the benefit of a prospective client already knowing who your company is from these types of brand investments. This can create a huge benefit to reducing the length of the sales cycle or even becoming a “make or break” in a sales decision from a client. Prospective clients tend to purchase from companies who are seen as leaders in their space so even though this type of benefit is not immediate for a direct ROI calculation, it will pay off down the road with sales and revenue.  

  3. Focus on branding campaigns that your consumers can relate to. This is one of the most crucial pieces to branding and also where many scale-ups make mistakes. Large Corporates tend to spend huge amounts of money hiring celebrities for their branding campaigns and scale ups have over-relied on product marketing videos that tend to copy the same script of “ problem, product, solution” that don’t get a huge amount of traction. The consumer climate has changed and B2B consumers are behaving more like E-Commerce/D2C consumers in that they want to relate to the company and are now buying based from their values. The best performing brand campaigns are now using real consumer stories that everyone can relate to. Focus on storytelling and capturing consumer interest. Once they are interested then you can dive into product marketing. 

  4. Dedicate a consistent percentage of your overall customer acquisition spend to brand and start to create extended ROI & attribution models to those brand campaigns. Remember that brand is something that can be incorporated into everything from customer success, product marketing, and the product itself. It can also be critical for ABM campaigns as well as major industry events. Begin those attribution models now to make sure you can clearly identify how that spend is attributing to the rise in not only sales but the efficacy of the other levers of your marketing strategy. 

Series C & D: On the pathway to becoming a unicorn, setting the stage for an IPO, or even positioning for an acquisition

Founders and CEOs of Series C & D companies have gone through the product market fit journey and have also proven scalability in the ranges of 50M-100M+ ARR. At this stage they have established their companies in the market, however depending on their exit plans branding strategies can be quite different. However despite the difference in growth or exit plans, one thing remains the same: Brand is a critical factor at this stage and will only help propel the company further. 

Few companies who have reached the stage of 50M-100M ARR have done so without any brand investments. This is further explained in the recent AdWeek article titled: “Why B2B Companies are Investing More in Brand Marketing.  There are some exceptions, however at this stage ( and depending on how fast the growth journey has been), brand has usually been developed in one of two ways:

  1. Top down as a “brand ethos” that precedes the company itself. You will see heavy brand marketing as they look to create a “movement”. This is much more common if a company is positioning for an IPO and especially if they sell to enterprise clients. 

  2. Ground-up type of brand marketing which relies on what I call “ user-generated advocacy”. A great example of this would be Notion. They are not super heavy on top down brand marketing however have created a “ cult- following” which has achieved the similar effect to larger brand initiatives. 

The key for Series C & D companies is not if you should be investing in brand ( this of course is an absolute must), it is more about the types of branding campaigns that should be deployed and the goals of the brand strategy. Companies that are looking to become a unicorn or IPO need to be heavily invested in brand marketing on multiple levels. Companies who are looking to be acquired or to even merge with another company and create a larger entity may want to carefully think about how they would like to position themselves in the future. Either way at this stage, the fundamentals of brand and brand marketing should already be established. The larger questions should be around brand strategy and brand growth. 

Brand Strategies & Recommendations at this Stage: 

  1. Strategies need to be hyper focused on relating to consumers as well as a much larger ICP base. At this stage sales funnels and customer acquisition strategies should be well modelled so strategies need to be more about “up-levelling” the company image into becoming a household name. This is best done with storytelling. 

  2. Unless you are a very large cap brand such as Nike, I would highly recommend that you steer clear of celebrity based brand campaigns. They might seem like a quick fix to gather more immediate views or position the company well preceding a major event however, they don’t tend to pay off in the long term. Consumers are turning away from relating to celebrity-based campaigns and are now relating more to emotionally-based brand campaigns that speak to them and everyday issues. 

  3. These are the stages where channels such as OOH, Physical Pop Ups, etc become very effective. For B2B these channels work more effectively when more brand awareness is already pre-existing. Do not confuse this for earlier stage e-commerce, quick commerce, and fashion companies who use these channels at earlier stages. It can work for those business at earlier stages, however for B2B SaaS companies that are selling services such as accounting/payroll, health tech, ed-tech, spend management, project management, etc, these channels are much more effective as far as increasing awareness and becoming evergreen once there is already enough awareness. 

  4. Investing in major advertising partnerships is key. This is one of the things that can really make or break the growth trajectory of your company’s brand. At this stage, the more major brand partnerships you can create, the better. Do not confuse this with API-integration announcements. Your product/service can integrate with 100+ other tools, however that is not a partnership. A true brand partnership means public recognition and dual-campaigns. You need to be thinking about larger events, panel discussions, and even mini- commercials together. 

  5. Invest in a heavy PR-based strategy. At this stage, your company has already had the fundraising announcements or even acquisition announcements, however now is the time to begin gearing up for the major leagues. It is about working with either your internal PR team or external PR agency to make sure your company is the top of mind and authority in your industry. This should take place with the Founders and CEOs, however also needs to take place with C-Level functional leaders and key experts throughout your organisation. The difference between a company who is still trying to carve out their market and those who are leading their markets is an effective PR machine. Make the headlines and own your market news! 

Regardless if you are a Seed/Series A company who is just looking to capture product market fit, or if you already have a growing company that is scaled past 100M ARR, the important thing to note is that the era of investing in Brand for B2B SaaS has arrived. It is one of the best levers that you can use to establish a longer term and more sustainable growth engine for your business. Not only will it end up being the gift that keeps on giving in the longer term, it will solidify your company as a leader in your vertical.

About Angeley Mullins

Angeley Mullins is a seasoned commercial executive with leadership roles across the US, EMEA, & APAC including: Amazon, Intuit, GoDaddy, and her most recent role as Chief Marketing Officer & Chief Growth Officer at Latana, an AI-Powered brand tracking & consumer insights solution. Her experience focuses on commercial growth: revenue, marketing, brand, sales, product, and international expansion in both technology scale-ups & larger corporations. In 2023 Crunchbase recognised her, along with other prominent technology leaders, as one of the most influential women in sales. Furthermore she also holds advisory roles with various technology and media companies. She has a special interest for advancing the conversation around women in leadership and diversity at the executive level.