As B2B marketing professionals, we function in a constantly shifting environment. Technology is an ever-moving target, customer expectations are evolving continuously, and there’s not a single industry that’s not facing change on some level.
Take a look back at some of those “B2B marketing trends to watch in 2018” posts from the beginning of the year, and you might find that many of those predictions are already out of date. Since a few months are more than enough time for the B2B marketer’s world to change significantly, we’re taking this opportunity to look at some of the major trends that have been reshaping our B2B marketing world since the beginning of the year.
1. Marketing Automation Gets Focused
When it comes to marketing automation, and B2B marketers tend to fall into one of two groups. On one side are those who embrace automation and have made it a permanent part of their marketing strategy … and then there are those who still blanch at the idea of entrusting their marketing communications to an automated system.
In the minds of the latter group, marketing automation represents a tradeoff — convenience and scalability for personalization. But given the combination of advanced data analytics and today’s sophisticated automation tools, you can have both. By leveraging internal and external data sources (including intent data; see below) and integrating them with your automation platform, you can easily design, execute and track hyper-targeted campaigns that auto-trigger based on specific actions.
So if you’ve been holding back from pursuing marketing automation because it seemed just too impersonal, this is the perfect time to give it another look.
2. Content Marketing Gets Strategic
Content marketing is nothing new to the B2B world — in fact, B2B marketing teams were leveraging content long before their consumer-focused colleagues hopped on the bandwagon.
But while marketers on the B2B side are well versed on the “what” of content marketing, many brands are falling short when it comes to how they go about it. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s report B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, 89 percent of B2B brands are using content marketing. However, only 37 percent have a documented content marketing strategy. As the adage goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail,” and that lack of strategy is the main reason why content marketing fails to live up to its potential in many organizations.
The good news is that it’s never too late to build a strategy and set it in motion. Decide on the goals you want to achieve, then put a plan in place for reaching them and decide how you will measure your progress. If you create a well-thought-out strategy and stick to it through the end of the year, the results may surprise you.
3. Intent Data Marketing Comes of Age
In 2017, intent data took its place in the spotlight … and in the B2B marketing mainstream. Frustrated by disappointing results from traditional “batch and blast” approaches to lead generation and nurturing, B2B marketers looked for a new solution, and intent data gives it to them.
Intent monitoring lets you “listen in” on the web for organizations who are researching topics related to your product or service. By integrating your intent data platform with your CRM system, you can automatically pull those leads into your funnel and begin nurturing them immediately. Then you can continue monitoring those leads for spikes in activity that indicate a buying decision may be approaching, which is your sales team’s cue to do some outreach and capitalize on those opportunities.
As intent data technology becomes more sophisticated, more B2B brands are jumping on board and making intent monitoring a permanent part of their marketing strategy.
4. Website Content Gets Personal
Content personalization is another concept that’s hardly new, but B2B marketers have lagged behind their B2C colleagues in adopting it. Why? According to a study by Seismic and Demand Metric, B2B brands who are not personalizing content cite lack of technology, lack of bandwidth, and lack of data as their primary reasons.
However, consumer expectations have evolved, and presenting your website visitors with a one-size-fits-all experience is no longer acceptable.
Fortunately, today’s advanced tools are making it easier (and more cost-effective) than ever for marketing teams to enjoy the benefits of customized website content. By incorporating data from your CRM, you can personalize each visitor’s experience according to whether they visited the site before, which pages they’ve viewed, which products they’ve purchased, which resources they’ve downloaded, and other key variables.
5. Storytelling Rules
No matter how clever and creative your marketing copy may be, it’s still marketing copy, and business buyers are over it. In today’s environment, just telling your prospects over and over again how amazing your product is will buy you a one-way ticket to the virtual trash bin.
If copy doesn’t resonate with these buyers, what does? Storytelling. One of the biggest mistakes B2B marketers can make is talking to their prospects as if they’re machines, programmed to process a series of data points until they reach a buying decision. But behind every business decision are real people with real emotions — and storytelling is the key to tapping into those emotions.
One thread that all stories have in common is that they’re all about people — not data, not “best practices,” not product features. Smart B2B marketing teams are resonating with buyers by sharing stories about flesh-and-blood people … and buyers are responding.
In the B2B marketing world, one constant you can always rely on is change. In an environment where nothing stays the same for long, it’s important to stay on top of the developments that affect your brand, your customers, and your marketing technology stack. The approaches that served you well just a few months ago may already be outdated — and, conversely, tactics that were previously out of your reach may now be more accessible and cost-effective. As you look toward the second half of 2018, keep these transformative trends in mind … and keep your eyes open for the next big game changers.