A Decade in B2B Marketing – and What Have We Learned?
As another decade comes to an end and we stand on the verge of the ‘20’s we share with you our thoughts, and the thoughts of some of the great marketing folks that we have worked with over the years, about how B2B Marketing and Communications has evolved over the decade. We also look forward to what might be in store in the future. What were the big changes for you? Let us know in the comments…
In the “10’s” Content Became King – Andrew Moloney
For me, one of the greatest shifts I think we have seen in the last decade has been the shift to a content lead approach to B2B marketing. Many research reports agree that customers increasingly seek out quality information, advice and options online before ever getting in contact with a company to talk to them. Indeed, in an Edelman and LinkedIn survey of C level execs, 82% reported that thought leadership has increased their trust in an organisation and 45% said thought leadership content has directly led them to do business with a company. So, if content is indeed king, as we leave this decade are we doing a great job at providing what these prospects need?
In my view, results are mixed. The buying process in technology can be long and is always complex. Many influencers and decision criteria can be at play and ensuring that the sales cycle is supported at each stage, clearing roadblocks as they occur, or supporting differing viewpoints in building a compelling business case is key. How many businesses today are mapping out their sales cycle and ensuring the right content is first developed, and then second is easily accessible as the prospect progresses? Second, how often is content written with the organisation’s personal viewpoint in mind, rather than the needs of the would-be customer. Are we writing “propaganda”, “SEO fodder” or “clickbait” rather than tackling the thorny issues in an in-depth and appropriate manner? As we move into the next decade I think we will see the latter take prominence, with companies doing the former relegated by market forces.
Allied to the rise of content has been the rise of content syndication – placing your content across the Internet in the places where your prospects might visit. In the B2C world the rise of services like Buzzfeed are well known, but in B2B we now have services like NetLine, with access to tailored B2B network of sites, blogs etc. and targeting capabilities, offering real opportunities to use your own authored content to deliver sales leads.
A Decade of Social Media – From Nice to Have to Critical for B2B Marketing – Liz Kelly
In 2010, social media was something I only used in a limited way to keep up to date – Facebook for maintaining contact with far away friends and family, LinkedIn to connect with current and past colleagues, Twitter to check the sports scores. In 2019, it’s become an unavoidable way of life. Today, a business without a Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook presence may as well not be in business at all, such is social media’s importance in the marketing mix.
Social media has grown to the point where businesses are able to offer a more meaningful experience for their customers – tailored communications, the ability to give feedback and offer criticisms, and get updates on customer service concerns. It’s enabled many a large brand to seem more human and relatable.
From a marketing perspective, social media has changed the way marketeers communicate – empowering us to talk directly to customers and prospects instead of merely hoping to reach them with a scatter-gun approach. We’re often asked about the split between organic and paid social media – we believe you shouldn’t have one without the other. A solid organic strategy improves your online presence and reputation, and a paid strategy enables you to place the right content in front of the right targeted audience, increasing your brand’s reach and awareness to those people you want to reach most. Who knows what changes and strategies we can expect to see in 2020 and beyond but one thing is for certain – a solid social media strategy should be an integral part of any B2B marketing planning.
Tools of the Trade and the Clarity of Your Message – Dave Howell, VP Marketing, ZeroNorth
As I think about how marketing and communications have changed over the past 10 years, particularly in the B2B tech markets, there are two areas that immediately come to mind – and both relate to the skills and knowledge required of those that choose to build careers in the profession.
The first is the increasing depth and breadth of marketing technologies. There’s a great visual by MarTech Today that really brings this into context: roughly 150 marketing technologies existed in 2011; as of 2017, there were more than 5000. And, there are clearly more in play today.
While it would be impossible for a marketing leader to have intimate knowledge of every tool in use by his or her team, leading today does require both a working understanding of current and emerging technologies, and how these categories of capabilities might be brought to bear. Along these lines, marketing leaders need to understand how technologies might complement other programs that are central to the mix. In other words, make sure the technology decisions are well-aligned with other programs so you are gaining the greatest lift, overall. Most importantly, though, is that marketing leaders must be open, willing to learn, experiment and take some bets. Not every technology category belongs in every marketing strategy, but sitting by without testing some waters is a recipe for (quickly) falling behind.
The second big change in B2B tech is the increased scepticism of vendors with respect to messaging put forth. In the cybersecurity market, in particular, skepticism has at times made way to abject cynicism. Similar to the martech landscape, the number of cybersecurity vendors has exploded over the last decade, as have the various markets and sub-markets that exist. As a result, messaging is often ill-conceived, oriented towards stoking fear and/or so vanilla it says nothing unique. As an example, a year or so ago, I worked with an endpoint security company to build its narrative. As part of that project, I looked at about 20 different vendors in the space. With the exception of one or two, the messaging from one could have easily applied to any other. There was nothing unique, differentiated or compelling. It all felt quite lazy. But, more importantly, no one was really saying anything.
What does this mean for marketing and communications professionals today? In short, work harder. Be ruthless in considering whether your messaging hits all the key notes: resonates with prospects, differentiates the company and/or product, doesn’t go the route of fear mongering/ambulance chasing, and is beautifully simple and clear. If it doesn’t, keep going. And, be flexible. These markets change quickly; competitors come and go; new capabilities are launched. Your story today may not hold water in a year. While knee-jerk reactions are rarely a good idea, messaging needs to be built with enough elbow room that it can evolve over time, while still maintaining the core positioning.
Get to the Point – Rachel Present Schreter, Director of Sentinel Content Marketing, Thales
Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a real shortening of attention spans. That has huge implications for marketers; we have to get our messages across faster and more effectively than ever before. We’re also witnessing a shifting understanding of truth and expertise. While once people trusted someone because of a title or experience, they now need to be convinced that a person or organization can offer them value before being open to what they have to say or hear. All of this boils down to one common fact: we are overwhelmed by information and new inputs all the time.
In the coming years, I expect that the winners will be those who can help people to shift through the tremendous amount of discourse happening all the time, to distil value. That will mean establishing your brand as a trusted source of information, and then working to maintain and grow that trust through your audience. That will be done less by the marketing that used to determine whose voice was heard, (listen to this podcast to hear the founder of OtterBox discussing the way trade shows used to drive his business) and more and more through digital channels, social channels, and building the trust that is so invaluable and hard to achieve.
A Dramatically Changed Media & PR Landscape – Sian Aherne
In the last 10 years, newspapers and magazine numbers have dwindled and audiences are now spread thinly across a massively fragmented media landscape of blogs, digital outlets and channels and social media. Ad revenues are diverted to big tech platforms like Facebook. Journalist numbers are down, but the pressure is on for newsrooms to produce more high quality content.
Journos receive hundreds of emails a day – unsurprising when PRs outnumber reporters 6:1 – getting noticed is a tough gig. Earned coverage competes with paid content that drives much needed revenues, while headlines about big name brands or sensational news command clicks. Social media platforms deliver ‘news’ around the clock to 44% of UK adults (2018), and help journalists research stories and find spokespeople. The often viral nature of social can be extremely good, or extremely bad for organisations. The careless way Ryanair handled the racism row Twitter storm in late 2018 horrified many and further damaged the brand.
Social media has meant comms teams have had to rethink their crisis strategies so they are ready to react rapidly if (or when) reputational or damaging threats play out online with the world watching. Organisations must even be prepared to respond to false stories fed by misinformation, because these can have irreversible damage to reputation or share prices. But it’s not all doom and gloom – these changes present new opportunities, too. Brands can be much more targeted in their approach and better engage audiences to build more meaningful, positive relationships. Some work with bloggers, social media influencers or build their own content platforms to drive message delivery.
From Lead to Deal – the Emergence of B2ALL – Elana Marom, Director of Marketing, Setoo.
Do you deliver the experience your buyers expect? is a question that applies to any type of business. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C, ALL buyers are unanimous when it comes to the customer experience. Enter B2ALL – a trend that has emerged over the last decade.
Unless you’ve been hibernating, you know that buying habits have evolved and will only change more as millennials become the world’s largest buying force; alongside their potential to comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025. This means marketers will meet people, both as B2B and B2C, with the same expectations – a great customer experience across the entire customer journey.
Whether purchasing something personal or for work, the buying process is the same. Everyone has access to endless amounts of data and can learn practically everything about a product/service before even talking to a seller. With such knowledgeable prospects, won’t the lead to deal process become super simple? No…but it will become super exciting. Marketers will need to address businesses and consumers as one, bearing in mind that while they entail different messaging, content and tools, they require the same outstanding buying experience. The challenge will be to build personalised, attractive brands that leave an impression on ALL, and motivate them to stay engaged in the future.
So there are six points of view for you to consider. What about you? What have been the big shifts in B2B marketing and communications in this decade for you? Let us know!