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Content as a Service to Improve Product Experience
Never let customers start with a blank sheet of paper.
Imagine Miro just as a blank canvas — without its templates, libraries, or other apps.
Imagine Notion just as a writing app — without all its blocks, boards, and embeddable content.
Imagine Canva just as a plain white sheet of paper — without its templates, styles, and apps.
Any of these tools would be half as useful, probably even less so. I believe the same is true for any software company.
Let’s explore why:
Content Reduces Time-to-Value
A major benefit of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for customers (among several others) is improved time-to-value because there is no more need to buy and install hardware, then administrate software, then configure it, before it can eventually be used.
Instead, many SaaS services today provide instant access, either via free trials or after the tool has been licensed. In more complex B2B setups, a certain amount of configuration will still be needed — but to a much lesser extent than with classic on-premise software.
But great SaaS providers go even further. Not only do they provide the toolbox, so to speak, but also prefill that toolbox: They provide ready-to-use content as part of their offering, such as templates, guides, tutorials, or pre-built configurations, in addition to the core software solution.
For customers, such content provides several benefits:
Faster time-to-value: With ready-to-use content, customer onboarding is accelerated which enables them to start using the software efficiently and deriving value more quickly.
Best practice: Assuming the content has been created by domain experts, customers will find it helpful to trust those experts rather than having to create content from scratch and risk errors or omissions.
Improved User Adoption: Even beyond the software itself, comprehensive content can help to better understand the software's capabilities, features, and best practices, leading to higher user adoption rates and better utilization of the solution.
Increased productivity: By way of leveraging pre-built templates and other content assets, customers can get their jobs done more efficiently and, thus, achieve higher levels of productivity.
Faster learning: If the content is well-structured, it supports learning on the job thus making it easier for customers to get to know the software. Also, time and effort for dedicated tool training will be reduced significantly.
Continuous learning: When the content is not only provided as-is but also updated and extended in combination with the underlying software, then customers will be supported in their learning journey.
That sounds like a promising approach, right? But how can a classic SaaS software provider start that journey toward Content-as-a-Service (CaaS)?
Content Shall Be Part of the Product Strategy
We suggest the following 10 steps for implementing a content strategy:
As always, understand customer needs. See where they struggle most, what blocks their adoption, and what slows them down during the implementation. By engaging with customers and gathering feedback, identify the specific content requirements that would add value to their experience with the software.
Align on internal goals. Agree on what you want to achieve with your CaaS strategy, and which business objective you are aiming for: faster onboarding, increased adoption, more reliable configuration, or what else?
Develop a content strategy: Handle content as a product line on its own. Based on customer needs and company vision, determine the most relevant types of content, such as configuration presets, onboarding guides, tutorials, document templates, case studies, or best practice guides.
Think of a North Star Metric: Specifically for the content part inside the overall product, what would be a good product metric to aim for that indicates a changed behavior of customers and that you can track directly in the product? Will they create more content, use the product more often, be quicker in completing their tasks, or what else?
Plan content initiatives: Regard content as strategic intent, consider potential initiatives in these and tie them back to business metrics so that you consciously drive financial KPIs.
Consider a CMS: Very much like software teams use highly specialized software, implement a robust content management system to organize, store, and distribute the content effectively. Even more so when you are dealing with a large variety — say in the case of multilingual content.
Create content: Invest in creating high-quality, valuable, engaging, and user-friendly content that addresses the identified customer needs. When relevant, involve subject matter experts or external partners to create comprehensive content.
Ship and promote: Actively communicate the availability of the content-as-a-service offering through Marketing channels, Customer Success, and any other customer touchpoint. Consider implementing ideas from Product-led Growth, such as free trials around content usage,
Collect feedback: As with the software itself, encourage customers to provide feedback on the content and its effectiveness. Try to measure the effectiveness of the content directly in the product but even beyond that offer channels for users to report issues, suggest improvements, or request additional resources.
Update and expand: Regularly update the pieces of content so that they are always up-to-date. Stay informed about industry trends, new regulations, and customer feedback so that the content is always fresh, relevant, and engaging.
When you are an experienced Product Manager, the above should look very familiar because it shares a lot of commonalities with PM-ing a classic software product and developing a proper strategy for it. Even frameworks such as Pirate Metrics are applicable.
Consider a Content Ecosystem
Sure, the big players, like Apple, Google, Salesforce, and several others, also allow software tools (or apps) to be built by partners and then incorporated into their platforms. But let’s be honest, that requires massive investment and is challenging in so many dimensions: For example, when you allow 3rd party contributors to add or modify the actual software, then you have to think about usage quota, load balancing, IT security, or anti-virus protection. This is mostly for the giants in the industry. E.g. Salesforce operates a large team to conduct safety assessments before any new app gets submitted on their AppExchange platform.
While your organization might not be at that stage, think of a content ecosystem: What if tutorials, templates, standard configurations, onboarding guides, and all that would be provided by a community, not just the original software vendor? Key players here can be partners who even specialize inside the domain and, for example, provide ready-to-use content for certain industries or regions. Likewise, a collaboration with external consultants, trainers, or auditors could be promising. Establishing such an ecosystem will bring several benefits:
Subject matter expertise and trust: In a vast network of specialized partners, there will be one or more who are specialized in a certain topic, industry segment, jurisdiction, or such. Specifically, StartUp and ScaleUp companies will not be able to organically provide that coverage.
Faster delivery and better scalability: On a new topic, or on topics that change rapidly (just think of regulations around ESG), an extended partner network can respond much quicker and toward a broader community of customers.
Expanded reach and increase stickiness: Partners can help to promote not only the content in their networks but by doing so will also facilitate the adoption of the software itself. When customers always find relevant content in a specific tool, they are likely to stick to that tool.
Co-creation with partners: SaaS companies can collaborate with specialized partners to co-create content, thus joining forces in delivering comprehensive and valuable content. By partners providing feedback and their insights, the effectiveness of the content can be increased.
Depending on the industry, customers might even be willing to share and exchange information about their setups, configurations, templates, and guides — less so on highly competitive information but potentially around secondary business processes.
To summarize, content-as-a-service is a promising strategy using which SaaS companies can not only extend their offering but also enhance the customer experience. Using a partner ecosystem, their reach and expertise can be extended significantly.