Cross-Channel Planning and Personalization Will Shape the Conversation with B2B Prospects

Terry Arnold True Influence

With Terry Arnold, Vice President of Marketing, True Influence

Every dollar spent on B2B marketing needs to build true connections with your best prospects. This is always the case, but it’s going to be absolutely critical this year when marketing budgets are predicted to be extremely tight. Every display ad, social post, and whitepaper offer has to speak in a clear, consistent, and personal voice to the individuals who research and make purchase decisions.

So, you need to really know these people.

In my last post, I discussed how smartly targeted, personalized programmatic display campaigns can help lay the groundwork for more traditional lead gen and sales efforts in Q2 and Q3 of 2022, when I believe B2B marketers will be focusing on getting their pipelines ready for a reignited sales cycle. Of course, programmatic is just one channel.

In this post, I’ll look at the insights, skills, and tools B2B marketers will need to make the most of tight budgets and ensure that all their efforts are integrated to move prospects toward a buying decision later in the year.

The Rise of Digital and its Multiple Contact Points

Digital channels claimed 72 percent of CMOs budgets last year, according to Gartner. And that’s a trend most observers expect to continue.

Among the big winners were:

  • Earned Social Media: 11.3 percent
  • Digital Ads: 11.2 percent
  • Own website (included SEO content): 10.1 percent
  • Search ads: 9.7 percent

Building and exercising marketers’ own lists (9.7 percent) came in slightly ahead of partner and affiliate spending (9.4 percent). Events came in dead last, at 8.4 percent. (You can download an interesting summary report here.)

That’s a lot of channels to coordinate. Fostering conversations with prospects has always been a challenge, and the immediacy and pure scale of digital adds complexity and more chances to go off-message. More on that in a bit.

How 2022 B2B Marketing Will Take Shape

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe 2022 will be a year of transition, with B2B marketers looking to stabilize revenue pipelines as uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and economy begins to recede. So I don’t put a lot of stock in Gartner’s findings that classic demand gen (8.4 percent) will be at the bottom of CMO’s spending priorities for 2022 – I see lead generation and nurturing picking up quite a bit in Q2 and Q3. (The Gartner study covers both B2C and B2B, so lead gen is going to skew down a bit.)

I also have to take issue with Gartner’s findings of the priorities that CMOs cited digital as the primary motivation behind shifting money between channels. Slightly more said that they were primarily looking to grow brand awareness (40 percent) than to gather data-driven insights from digital channels (39 percent).

Let me be clear: As a B2B marketer, literally every dollar you spend on digital should add to your data about customer attributes and behavior. Even the most general of brand campaigns can augment your understanding of customer personas and help expand your view of your total market. When spending is tight, that data helps you allocate your B2B marketing dollars to channels that ultimately drive revenue.

So no matter where you spend next year on digital channels, be sure to gather and analyze data from those activities. Data is a baseline, not an option.

Other Trends to Watch This Year

These are the other trends I see as being critical to success with tighter budgets and a changing B2B landscape.

Keep the Conversation Consistent

As CMOs pump the bulk of the budgets into multiple, real-time digital channels, the risk of your message losing focus increases. A snappy Tweet is not worth deflecting attention away from a value proposition you are pushing front-and-center for this quarter.

I think the importance to maintain consistency across all channels is a main driver for CMOs to bring strategic marketing functions in-house. In fact, 29 percent of strategic agency work has shifted in-house in the last 12 months, according to the Gartner survey. Outsourcing for content is still a cost-effective approach, in my opinion, as long as the message and execution is carefully managed.

Of course, agencies are expensive, so cost savings are likely to be at least part of the equation here. I’ll note that a Delotte survey found that CMOs say their spending shifts in 2021 were more strategic than cost-driven. (Then again, nobody wants to say they are pinching pennies.)

In either case, having in-house strategists and managers to ensure your messaging stays on point across all channels, digital or otherwise, will be essential in building true connections this year.

Keeping the Conversation Going

The challenges of the past year have led several B2B marketers to start thinking of their programs in terms of “conversations.” You’ve probably noticed that I’ve used the term a few times in this post. How long did we stay in contact with the prospect? When did interest increase or decline? And even if the prospect didn’t buy in this purchase cycle, will they come back next year, or spend on another product or service under your brand? (You’ll find an interesting interview on this trend at CMSWire.)

I am the first one to say that it all comes back to revenue. But I do think there’s quite a bit of merit in thinking about the impact of marketing efforts beyond a specific funnel or quarterly goal. The conversation you start today can result in a major win three years from now.

Of course, realizing this vision will require cross-channel and full life-cycle attribution, plus a huge amount of strategic coordination. And, candidly, most marketing organizations aren’t there quite yet. 

Staff for Analysis and Insights

The hot hiring categories in B2B marketing will be for candidates with data analysis and planning skills. These team members will be tasked with refining customer journey models and tracking the success of different messages and tactics across all those channels you are managing.

A lot of this will boil down to revenue attribution, but I also think long-term engagement, beyond the current quarter or campaign, will also become an increasingly visible way for B2B marketing to prove its value. And you’ll need skilled team members to track and optimize your processes.

Talk to the Person, Not the Topic

Successful content personalization relies on understanding three key factors:

  • What topic is the person interested in?
  • What problem are they looking to solve?
  • Where are they in their learning curve?

A CFO who is researching a supply chain solution wants to know about efficiency and cost savings; a floor manager just wants to know the shelves are going to be stocked. And as prospects advance toward a purchase decision, their research and content consumption becomes more granular.

This post from a SEO consultancy calls the combination of these three elements “searcher intent,” and notes that it’s key for inbound content marketing. I’ll add that it’s also vital for audience segmentation and personalization across all channels, including programmatic display.

This is not news, but marketers have been slow to genuinely optimize their content and workflows around this level of personalization. With tight budgets this year, the pressure will be on to lift the performance of every campaign, so I am expecting smart content personalization to gain traction, at least in beta projects.

At True Influence, we’ve built buying group modeling into our True Influence Marketing Cloud. You can customize and track responses to your messaging across all your key personas to ensure that you are building true connections with all your key audience members. And our extensible intent monitoring taxonomy allows you to add nuanced research terms that tell you a lot about the motivations and purchase journey of an in-market contact.

MarTech Stack Continues to be Refined

The trend toward simplification/consolidation in the MarTech industry will continue this year. In fact, many of our customers at True Influence tell us that they are ripping out some “best-of-breed” technologies in favor of integrated systems that cover entire segments of revenue operations.

Deloitte found that investment in new tech and platforms lagged well below other spending categories in 2021. B2B product was the vertical most likely to make such investments, at 67 percent, but that lagged about 20 percentage points behind investments in other categories such as digital channels and, of course, data analytics.

Our Ken Lordy recently wrote about this trend, noting that ease of use remains at the top of the wish list – marketers just don’t want to have to log into 10 systems to do their jobs.

I expect most of the movement in MarTech this year to be driven by vendor consolidation, or by marketers adopting a purpose-driven platform (such as the True Influence Marketing Cloud for cross-channel demand generation) that seamlessly integrates with their existing in-house marketing and sales automation tools.

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