beginning of this year, I predicted several business-to-business (B2B)
marketing trends for 2019; as we wrap up the year, I wanted to share where I
see the biggest opportunities for B2B marketers in 2020. Clairvoyance aside,
the following covers seven trends to guide and inform your 2020 demand
Demystifying Intent Data
believe the hype around intent data will reach an all-time high in 2020. I
called intent data out in my 2019 B2B marketing trends article, but I believe
marketers are just starting to scratch the surface on how to best
operationalize these insights. For years, B2B marketers have obsessed about
leveraging technology to deliver the right message to the right person at the
right time, but delivering a truly personalized message, in terms of content,
timing and concern, is exceptionally difficult without intent insights.
data refers to signals about a person or an account’s intention to do
something. These intent insights are gleaned from digital footprints and can help
you make your marketing experiences more relevant and personalized. From
account prioritization to guiding your content marketing efforts, I predict the
use cases and wins for B2B marketers leveraging intent will skyrocket next
When marketing to larger companies, entrepreneurs know they need to stand out. While many of them execute engaging, belly-busting B2C campaigns, however, they rarely break the mold with their B2B marketing. Why not? Often, it’s because they take “professional” to mean “boring.” But the fact is that B2B buyers are people, too. The same tactics that resonate with everyday consumers — humor, color and playfulness — catch the eye of procurement professionals. Serious, trustworthy, compelling and fun can co-exist in B2B campaigns. Here’s how to do it.
Let your corny side shine.
Paper isn’t a product that requires a lot of explaining. Yet until recently, Case Paper’s marketing strategy focused on its product rather than what made the company special. Beyond its strong customer service, which many companies can claim, what distinguishes the family owned paper company is its quirky sense of humor. Seeing those things in your own company can be tough. It wasn’t until Case brought in B2B marketing agency Renegade that it embraced wordplay like “gives a sheet.” “On the case,” a play on its name, forms the basis of its new story statement. From Case Paper’s “About” page to the decals on its delivery trucks, Case Paper uses surprising visuals, fun asides and likable language.
Bad puns. Dad jokes. Wacky photos. Quirky, authentic content cuts through because it reminds us to laugh at the small things. Forget your filter, and embrace that low-lying comedic fruit.
Whether it’s for a B2B or B2C business, marketing is all about generating, securing, and converting leads. However, if you’re a B2B marketer, you’ll need to utilize a different assortment of marketing strategies than those employed by B2Cs. And the B2B purchasing landscape isn’t just distinct from B2C—it has evolved from the traditional B2B buying process, which the seller initiated and controlled.
Today’s B2B buying is increasingly digital; buyers are more prepared when they first talk to salespeople; there are more people involved in a single decision; and these stakeholders have high demands for the customer experience. In a nutshell, the buyer is now initiating the process, and they hold much more power.
The Modern B2B Landscape
You’ll need to make sure the strategies you utilize reflect these key elements of the modern B2B purchasing landscape:
Substantial Preliminary Research
Thanks to the power of the internet, B2B buyers usually perform extensive research prior to having their first conversation with one of your representatives. They use multiple channels and multiple forms of media, including websites, social media, online videos, and peer reviews and recommendations.
Think about the last time you met someone new. You probably shook their hand and immediately took note of their body language or facial expressions. Typically in these situations, your conversation starts with small talk — perhaps what they do for work, where they’re from or acquaintances you both may know. If you find the relationship mutually beneficial, you may begin to follow each other on social media, or exchange emails or text messages to plan when you’ll get together again to further the relationship. I’d like to argue that it’s time to start thinking about your business to business (B2B) marketing strategy the same way you think about building relationships.
We expect to gain something from our friendships or relationships. Potential customers have the same expectations. You need to prove your value. Tactics like targeted media exposure contributed content, influencer relations, social media, speaking engagements and website downloads invite potential customers into your company story as friends versus onlookers. A strategic B2B marketing approach builds a relationship with the customer by providing valuable, relevant and consistent content.
A few days ago, Mantis Research and BuzzSumo published the results of their latest survey regarding the use of original research in marketing. The State of Original Research for Marketing 2019 survey was fielded in May and June of this year and produced 644 responses from global marketers. Forty-seven percent of the respondents were from the United States, and 70% were affiliated with B2B companies.
Both Michele Linn with Mantis Research and Chris McCormick with BuzzSumo have written excellent summaries of the research results. You can find Michele’s summary here and Chris’ summary here. If you’re a B2B marketer, I encourage you to read both of these articles, and even better, take the time to review the full survey report.
In the 2019 survey, 39% of the respondents said they had published the results of original research within the 12 months preceding the survey. The comparable percentage in the 2018 version of the survey was 47%. Chris McCormick believes this drop is primarily due to a shift in the demographics of the survey pool rather than a decline in research use, and I tend to agree with his view.
The case for long-term thinking has been building since Les Binet and Peter Field’s highly influential IPA report, ‘The Long and the Short of It’. They showed that long-term strategies are more effective at moving the dials that really matter – market share, profit, revenue and so on.
Binet and Field’s evidence is largely based on business-to-consumer (B2C) examples. But a new survey of 600 business-to-business (B2B) marketers reinforces the findings. Those who have outperformed their competition over the last two years are twice as likely to think long-term.
The gap between knowing and doing
The business needs quick results. But it takes time to create lasting business impact.
When I talk to senior marketers today, this tension is right at the surface. There’s a curious gap between what we believe and what we can put into action.
Our new research conducted with Marketing Week shows that, in intent at least, the majority of B2B marketers are still ‘classicists’. When asked for the main drivers of effectiveness, audience targeting is comfortably marketers’ highest rated factor, followed by value proposition, then creative. We still believe, then, in the classic skills of segmenting, targeting and positioning.
Just as they have been with most things digital, B2C marketers are ahead of their B2B counterparts in adopting the latest social marketing trends. While our B2C friends have been leveraging social media stories since they originated on Snapchat several years ago, it’s taking the B2B world a little longer to figure out where they fit in the digital marketing mix.
Why should B2B Marketers Care?
Social stories are the newest way social platforms are trying to engage their users- and they’re working. Research shows that social media stories are growing at a faster pace than newsfeeds and offer a new way for marketers to advertise. As businesses try to personalize their brands, marketing via social channels is more important than ever. The new story formats allow the brand message to be told in a logical, linear pattern, rather than having it split across newsfeeds.
The Internet has certainly upended B2B marketing. Keep in mind that – when a customer visits your site or reaches out to you – he or she has probably done quite a bit of research. In other words, you need to find ways to become top-of-mind.
Yet marketing can be expensive – and far from perfect. The fact is that there is much noise in the market, which makes it tough to stand out.
Then what are some of the approaches to take to boost the results of your B2B marketing – especially when you do not have large amounts of resources? Well, to get help answering this question, I reached out to Shachar Radin-Shomrat, who is the Chief Commercial Officer at Voxbone. The company is a leading Communications as a Service (CaaS) provider of voice/messaging services and some of its customers include Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans and 8×8.
“When marketing on a budget, it is usually best to adopt a growth-hacking mindset,” said Shachar. “At Voxbone, we try to be adventurous to a degree but prepare to fail fast and correct course quickly. We are using data where we can to support our decision-making, but it’s often good old-fashioned creativity that makes the biggest difference.”
Interestingly enough, it’s a good idea to not even think and behave like a B2B brand. Instead, it’s better to approach things through the lens of a B2C brand. This will mean that you will be putting the experience of your potential clients front-and-center. Let’s face it, you are not dealing with a company; rather, it’s a person that will ultimately make the purchase decision. So emotion should be an important part of the messaging.
Now in terms of low-cost approaches, Shachar is a bit unconventional. She actually recommends looking at traditional channels. For example, out-of-home advertising (OOH) can be quite effective, such as remnant inventory for digital billboards. “In Voxbone’s case, we used OOH advertising to increase brand awareness among our prospects and the talent we are recruiting, as well as increasing brand searches and website traffic,” said Shachar.
Business-to-business (B2B) companies face unique challenges when it comes to sales and marketing, and it can be even more difficult for industries that have long lead times. For example, take the architecture, engineering and construction industry: The sales cycle can be anywhere from six months to a year (or more) and deals are worth millions of dollars. A lot is at stake and time is of the essence.
What role does a marketing department have in closing these high-value deals? How do you target those niche prospects? How can you set yourself apart in an industry where purchasing decisions are so often based upon the bottom line?
At my company, the key has been producing helpful, educational content tailored to our prospective clients’ needs, questions and pain points. But what exactly can quality content do to grow your business?
After last week’s Cannes Lions festival, you can bet that the next big thing is on every forward-thinking marketer’s mind. In the era of big data, artificial intelligence and rapid innovation, change is the only constant. While marketing has without a doubt gone digital, we are simultaneously seeing a revival in human-centric thinking — a shift toward catering to individuals with deeper empathy and care, though now at scale.
This evolution is especially pronounced in the business-to-business (B2B) industry. B2B technology has a reputation for being hard to use, and B2B branding efforts haven’t helped in changing this perception. However, in the past few years, a movement to democratize enterprise technology — and enterprise brands themselves — for the day-to-day consumer has emerged. In other words, consumer-grade enterprise tech is quickly becoming the norm.
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