B2B marketing strategies are having to constantly change and adjust in the light of new trends driven by B2B buyers and technology. We have identified the key B2B marketing trends and how they may shape your future strategy. To keep this article short, as there is a lot to cover, we have put in links to more detailed articles as appropriate, should you want to read further.
Typically B2B marketing is segmented into outbound marketing such as email campaigns and inbound marketing such as SEO, social media and content marketing. The general shift has been towards inbound marketing as buyers increasingly manage the early stages of the buying process without contacting vendors by reviewing websites, talking to peers in the industry and reviewing resources. This allows them to often filter and shortlist without ever talking to a sales rep.
Outbound – The Growth of Marketing Automation
One of the biggest challenges with outbound marketing is the huge proliferation of digital channels making it increasingly difficult to accurately target prospects and customers with the right messages at the right times. To address these challenges there has been a shift in the technology used to manage outbound campaigns. The key growth has been in marketing automation platforms.
The proliferation of channels including earned and paid media has led to ‘dashboard overload’ where marketers struggle to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns, swamped by the sheer volume of data. The IBM 2012 report on the state of marketing identified the growth of channel and device choices as the biggest challenge facing marketers and specifically the difficulty in measuring effectiveness and managing multiple systems and data sources.
The response to this has been marketing automation software. Typically this software provides three core capabilities: email marketing, website visitor tracking, and a unified marketing database. The market for such software has been growing significantly. However, such software has not proved a panacea for an increasingly complex world with many users feeling they have not gained the benefits they anticipated.
Strategy Impact – Develop ways to automate outbound campaigns and track data and impact. Review developments in automation tools.
Inbound Marketing – 8 Key Trends
The nature of inbound B2B marketing is changing significantly and we have highlighted 8 key trends.
Buyer Behaviour and the Buying cycle
The tendency of buyers to carry out an increasing part of the buying process without contacting vendors has reinforced the need to understand buyers, where they hang out, understand the sources of information they use and value, and the buying process.
Recent B2B buyer research from Buyersphere suggests buyers start their research with search engines, corporate websites and industry forums including LinkedIn groups. Thus it is essential that B2B marketing strategies address these areas.
Strategy Impact – An effective SEO strategy driving buyers to your website remains key, as does ensuring your corporate website meets buyers needs and having a presence in industry forums.
Changes in SEO
Most buyers still find websites via search engines and hence SEO remains critical. The recent new Google algorithm (Hummingbird) and other changes around semantic search are reshaping the nature of SEO strategies. (Read more detailed Hummingbird SEO article). On-page SEO basics still matter such as URL, title, keywords, descriptions, and site speed. Off-page factors still apply and high quality backlinks still correlate with higher rankings. However, keywords and links are increasing less important relatively.
Google is attempting to answer user questions more effectively. It is therefore trying to understand the question in context. It is also increasingly using other factors such social signals and author authority. In simple terms:
- Good quality content remains the key driver for high SEO rankings, however, content that addresses customer questions is increasingly important.
- Content from high authority authors and social signals increasingly correlate with good SEO rankings. Read more on the social media optimisation of SEO.
Strategy impact – Focus on designing quality content that answers questions, and on building a strong, authoritative social presence including authorship and social sharing of content.
Changes in Corporate Websites
With buyers starting their research with corporate websites they must be accessible and provide credibility that meets the needs of buyers.
Over 20% of visits to corporate websites are now made on a smartphone. Thus it is essential that your website works well on all devices of any size. The best way to achieve this is through responsive web design. Responsive designs are also the preferred Google format and will help in your SEO. Read more on why responsive web design will deliver more traffic.
What is really fundamental is to address the needs of buyers. A recent McKinsey report found that what vendors value most is open and honest dialogue and yet corporate businesses put more emphasis on being market leaders, innovators and being global. The messages on your website need to address what matters to buyers.
Recent research suggests that the most used content by buyers is simple PDF documents. Credibility is also established through case studies and client recommendations, read more on why case studies are essential in B2B marketing.
Strategy impact – Ensure your website is responsive and design content for your buyers in multiple formats that they use and value, don’t neglect PDF downloads. Read more on ensuring your B2B website has credibility.
Growth in Content Marketing
The big growth recently has been in content marketing. In essence content marketing has developed as an inbound strategy to address the changes in buyer behaviour. The Content Marketing Institute define content marketing as
“a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
The latest figures and trends in content marketing can be seen in this content marketing trends infographic.
What is critical in content marketing is simply high quality, unique content in multiple forms that addresses the questions that your audience has. A big part of content marketing is storytelling, as people get engaged by stories and more importantly remember them. Read more on content marketing trends.
Strategy impact – Develop a clear content marketing strategy and plan to develop high quality content in multiple formats that tells your story and answers buyers questions.
Growth in Social Media
Social media continues to grow in importance as the number of the platforms grow and as the numbers of users grow.
Social signals such as the numbers of followers, interaction with high authority people, and the number of likes and shares are important in establishing the credibility of your content and developing good social signals.
The leading platforms for B2B marketers include LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus. They have various strengths.
LinkedIn is widely regarded as the best platform for B2B marketing. Recent research shows that more people visit corporate websites from LinkedIn than all other social platforms combined. Research from HubSpot shows that more companies have acquired a customer from LinkedIn than all other platforms. The 2014 B2B Marketing Trends report showed that B2B marketers had more confidence in LinkedIn than any other social platform. Read more on LinkedIn marketing strategies.
Twitter remains a great way of distributing news and updates to a wide audience. It is being used more by B2B marketers and is the second largest platform that drives visits to corporate websites. Read more on Twitter marketing strategies.
Google Plus is relatively new but growing fast. It is important not just as a social platform but because it is the spine of Google and links you to your content through Google authorship. Google Plus provides by far the best SEO benefits than any other social platform as the content has its own url, is quickly indexed by Google and does well in search engine page results.Read more on why Google Plus will improve your SEO.
Strategy impact – You will need to be active on all core social media platforms but particularly LinkedIn for networking and driving leads, Twitter for distribution and reach and Google Plus for SEO benefits.
Development of Influencers
The growth of social media has led to the development of what Chris Brogan recognised early as Trust Agents. People that have authority and influence on a wide scale. These individuals can move the dial by recommending or sharing content.
These individuals are likely to have a high authority in the eyes of Google and influence rankings and SERPs. There is also evidence from recent research that buyers trust information from individuals, more so than corporate businesses.
Strategy impact – Identify the key influencers in your area using tools such as Topsy, BuzzSumo and Google Plus. Read how to track influencers on Google Plus. Develop an engagement strategy with these key influencers.
The huge growth in platforms and digital spaces has led to data overload. The biggest challenge marketers face is in assessing the effectiveness of their work. Marketing automation may help but there needs to be a clear focus on metrics and what needs measuring. In a complex world and dashboard overload you need to determine what matters to you and how you might measure a campaign such as:
- number of followers
- number of people joining your communities
- how often your posts/content is shared
- level of engagement through comments or discussions
- click throughs to your website
- signs ups for content/downloads
- number of leads generated
- leads qualified
- conversions achieved
Strategy impact – Define the metrics that matter in a complex world and ensure you measure what matters.
By Steve Rayson