SaaS platforms: Do your users want novelty? Or the absence of it?

For SaaS platforms, novelty features or add-ons look great at face value. They’re potentially a point of differentiation – a way to enable your users to do something they can’t do elsewhere.

But this doesn’t mean your users always want novelty, and chasing novelty can be a dangerous game to play.

Scanning handwriting to search for answers with Evernote, finding your car with Google Maps, creating AI generated images with Canva – now those examples sound pretty cool. Yet you don’t have to look far among productivity suites to find examples that are less charming. Maybe it’s due to the learning curve involved – “How do I use this new thing?” – or because it clutters the core experience – “I can’t see how to change the font any more?”

The thing is, a SaaS platform usually exists to make a task or workflow as simple as possible. And as we explored in The Zone of Suck and how your SaaS platform can avoid it, adding all sorts of novel features can be antithetical to creating a platform your users want. The same goes when you’re adding new products to your platform.

There’ll always be a tension between your vision for your platform and what your user base needs – so here are some principles to help you navigate it.

Developers aren’t like users

As a SaaS company, we’ve had to learn one lesson the hard way: we’re not like our users.

Developers typically love learning new things, whether it’s new code languages, frameworks or how to solve new challenges – most of us are lifelong fans of getting to grips with the novel and new.

The catch is, many of our users don’t share this love at all. They’re small business owners, and while they’re usually fans of running their core business, their time is also filled with a host of things they might not actually want to do: dealing with emails, calendar bookings, inventory management, and building a presence online.

By the time they get to use our software, they don’t have the time or energy to learn how to make a great website. They just want a website they love.

Since they’re in this frame of mind, most of them won’t be interested in a lot of what we consider novelty – and that’s because novelty usually means you have to learn something.

Your users don’t want to learn more than they have to – here’s why

We often talk with SaaS companies that are looking to integrate BaseKit’s site builder into their offering. Their platform might be facilitating transactions for local food retailers or helping lawyers to manage their business, but almost regardless of the end user, they’ll be a beginner when it comes to web design.

If our platform has an unwieldy learning curve, or if the user has to invest time thinking about website design, we’ve failed.

Learning curve theory suggests that the more time you put into a task, the more proficient you become at it. But if your users are time-poor, they’ll always be beginners. You can never acquire expertise in something you don’t use every day.

So when you’re thinking about expanding your offering – whether through feature development or white label partnerships – don’t just ask, “what does this add to our platform?” Ask, “what does this not require of our customers?” Does the addition simplify a task for a user, or is it giving them more to learn?

If a user is on your platform to make their workflow easier, you want to keep your core experience clean of anything that feels like hard work.

Speaking of how they were able to get investment behind Eventbrite, CEO Julia Hartz said,“If you think about stripping away 80 percent of the things that don’t matter and focusing on the the 20 percent that will actually make a difference, I think you’ll find great results even in the toughest of situations and the harshest of environments,”

Novelty is welcome when you don’t notice it

Whatever new novelty, features or integrations you offer, they shouldn’t interfere with the core experience your customer came to you for.

Shazam is a great example of this. The reason for the app’s existence is to simply answer the question “What’s the song I’m listening to?”. And it makes this experience as simple as possible – you just press a big button. This is the core user experience.

Since launch, the Shazam product has now been extended so you can see your library of past listens or search for nearby concerts with the same artist. Only a small percentage of users will take advantage of these features, but the app gets away with it because these options don’t interfere with the big Shazam button. It’s a novelty, but it’s not a distraction.

Ideally the same should be true of any new features, integrations or products you add to your platform’s ecosystem. Anything that looks like a value-add will only be a value-add if it doesn’t interfere with why your user is on the platform in the first place.

The best kind of novelty exists to simplify

Some of the most dramatic forms of novelty are actually a form of simplification. If you think of Amazon’s One-Click ordering, it didn’t give customers a new system to learn, it gave them a way to circumvent the system they were used to. It was a talking point – not because it was cool in and of itself, but because it further simplified the core experience of Amazon shopping.

You could say the same about Apple’s synchronisation between devices. If you copy text on one device, you can paste it in another. There’s no learning curve required, and it just goes to make the overall UX more seamless.

When the novelty is a simple, small change that makes something faster and easier to do, it’s almost always going to be welcome.

That’s the philosophy behind what we build at BaseKit – we have sophisticated, market-tested functionality, but all of it exists to create an experience that’s easy to use and hard to break.

If they want a website, they can get that outcome easily – and they can do it all from their phone. Once it’s live, they can make changes as and when – whether it’s popping up a new photograph of their yoga studio, or adding some new experiences to their bio.

The result is a white label website builder that SaaS companies can offer to their users without giving them more to learn. Instead it’ll make their overall journey a little more effortless, whether they’re looking to set up their business, grow a digital presence or build a regular client base. Often the reason companies choose BaseKit is because it’s so much simpler than the other systems they look at.

For more of our thinking on software development and partnerships, see our blogs on how our platform found simplicity and our guide to scaling: build vs. buy vs. white label.

We’re on a mission for tech democracy for small businesses. Request a demo of our software, or get in touch to discuss what a BaseKit partnership could look like.

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