Welp, it’s that time of year again. 2017 has flown by, and just like clockwork, B2B companies are planning for next year’s marketing strategy again. This is when marketing teams have their “what worked and what didn’t work” discussions, which makes this the perfect opportunity to reflect on emerging trends from 2017 that will continue to pick up steam in 2018.
The plain truth is that B2B marketing is getting harder. Marketing SaaS has literally exploded. Every time a new SaaS company emerges, the marketing landscape will feel the impact:
- More content will be produced (a lot of it will be absolutely awful)…
- …and there will be even more noise on social media channels.
- The ad blindness effect will rise on channels like Facebook & LinkedIn.
- More competitors will be bidding on the same keywords as you…
- …and they will be targeting the same organic keywords as you.
- More outbound emails and cold calls being made to similar target customers.
- More leverage for review sites like G2Crowd & Capterra.
- Less differentiation in product features.
What’s the point?
CAC (Customer Acquisition Costs) are getting higher on a yearly basis. That means less room for error on strategy and execution. Data driven companies who master the science of analytics, and the art of building personalized customer experiences will win.
Mistakes in 2018 will be extremely costly. Competitors are lurking around every corner, waiting to capitalize on your failures.
That’s why we’re summarizing the top B2B marketing trends that you need to know for next year. Hopefully, this article gives you everything you need to stay ahead of the curve and win big in 2018.
Key 2017 Marketing Trends That Will Get Stronger in 2018
Here are the key B2B digital marketing trends that will only continue to pick up steam in 2018:
Artificial Intelligence, automation and machine learning
Technology continues to transform the marketing world, with email automation, higher quality data analytics and AI-driven solutions (example – chatbots enhancing the sales process ). These technologies are bridging efficiency gaps and improving performance across the board. Marketing automation can help assess and nurture customers across the entire buying process more accurately and effectively.
Text based content is still important, but interactive formats like video are the future and the now. Consumers are demanding richer content formats, with online video now accounting for half of all mobile traffic.
Content marketing – it’s here to stay and only getting bigger
Inbound sales have become a formidable revenue-generating component in many B2B organizations. To succeed in this arena however, companies not only need to establish a healthy pipeline of high quality content but also need to build a healthy search engine optimization (SEO) framework. Measuring the ROI of content marketing will continue to be a top challenge faced among B2B organizations that are heavily investing in content.
Personalization via Marketing Automation
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, this should be it. You better start segmenting your email list in 2018, (not just by name and job title) and you better start layering those segments with demographic data, customer lifecycle positioning, lead nurturing, and trigger based / nudge based messaging. In short, serving the right content to the right people at the right time. The graphic below reveals a study from Smart Insights that reveals 50% of companies use no segmentation whatsoever. Absolutely horrifying.
Account-based marketing moves to the forefront
To provide more authentic and responsive customer engagement, many B2B organizations now adopt account-based marketing approaches. In this graphic via Intercom, the shift to ABM highlights an inverse funnel. Traditionally, B2B marketers would cast a wide net and try to build broad awareness. With ABM, it’s the opposite. You target high value accounts with highly personalized and relevant messaging. This is what it takes to cut through the noise in 2018, especially for high value targets.
Old school tactics like exact match keyword targeting and low quality guest post link building are LONG gone. With the increasing cost of customer acquisition, brands will be turning to more reliable channels like SEO to be an everlasting source of lead generation, especially in SaaS. With the rise of content marketing continuing to be a major factor, B2B brands will be seeking to pair that up with SEO for a mean 1-2 punch.
Let’s get real – Facebook ads are ON FIRE right now. With their ridiculous targeting capabilities and very affordable costs, you can get the attention of any audience segment down to the most insanely grittiest detail. I’ll let Gary V do the talking on this one.
After the Microsoft acquisition, LinkedIn has literally exploded. Every B2B professional wants in on the action. The new algorithm allows for incredible engagement with the right content. SaaS companies with influential leadership or a well known company founder with a strong network will benefit the most from this.
You’re gonna see a lot more of them in 2018… unfortunately.
Integrating Data Sources to Unify The Marketing Tech Stack
We wrote about this in our 2018 sales predictions, and the parallel here is uncanny. There are over 5,000 marketing SaaS vendors. How many technologies do you think your company is using right now? Our marketing tech stack probably consists of 25 tools right now, all made up of marketing automation, SEO, content management, social media, communication and project management, CRM, and more. We use Google Data Studio to create unified dashboards to see all your data in one place.
There are plenty of integration capabilities to consolidate all your data sources into one dashboard – one of my personal favorites is Supermetrics, but there are many other good ones. Data and analytics in general can feel overwhelming, but don’t let the fact that you use all these different platforms create data silos. Unify your stack for 2018 and get all your data on the same page.
Knowing the challenges and trends in digital marketing is one thing. Acting on them is another. Here are some applicable B2B digital marketing best practices that may help you regain lost ground and still win in 2018.
Where To Double Down in 2018
Ramp up your content marketing and inbound campaigns
Don’t just ramp it up aimlessly. Align all your content efforts back to the user journey, and make sure you’re tracking what actually matters!
The impact of online content on your customers’ purchasing behavior is very hard to ignore. Not all content is equal, however. High quality content is a competitive advantage you’d always want to include in your B2B digital marketing campaigns. An excellent inbound marketing strategy requires the following key elements:
- A well-designed and consistently updated website that provides timely and flawless user experiences on any device.
- A lively blog that differentiates and keeps your company relevant.
- Well-crafted gated content such as ebooks, research/reports, and white papers that lends authority to your brand.
- Frequent use of rich content formats such as videos, sound and graphics to tell your story in fresh, creative and impactful ways.
- Smart SEO implementations that drive healthy traffic to your site.
Reinforce email marketing with automation and analytics
The mailing list is among the oldest and most effective tools in a marketer’s arsenal. Transitioning from snail-mailed catalogs to email newsletters, this tool not only keeps customers aware of your brand but also allows you to assess how your customers respond to your message.
Advanced email marketing software such as MailChimp, Rapportive and Yesware can help your team manage subscribers better, analyze their behavior, schedule contextual or hierarchical content pushes, collect more customer information, and even build a new revenue stream via premium content.
While all your subscribers show interest in your product to some degree, you can still apply a more precise targeting/segmentation using email analytics. This will allow you to focus your B2B digital marketing campaigns on high-value subscribers who have the highest likelihood of making a purchase.
Go mobile and get social but aim for an omnichannel approach
The social selling craze wasn’t just a bunch of hype. Nearly all of the point persons in your prospect companies will be on social media, with decision makers likely to maintain active LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Indirectly engaging these point persons by following them and responding to their posts with relevant and high quality content can create opportunities to influence their buying decisions later on.
Meanwhile, mobile now serves as the primary mode of accessing the Internet, replacing desktop computers. Mobile advertising is also well-positioned to achieve a similar milestone in 2017, with ad spend for mobile projected to hit $99.3 billion globally compared to just 97.4 billion for desktop advertising.
With mobile accounting for nearly 70% of people’s daily online exposure, many smart B2C companies have already adopted a mobile-first policy. Smart Insights reported however that desktop-based communication will remain a key channel for both transactional commerce and B2B engagements.
Persuade influencers to articulate your value
Popular people in business, social media, entertainment, sports and other fields wield enormous social capital that can influence wide swaths of specific market segments. This influence demonstrably extend into the purchasing behavior of their fans/followers such that influencer marketing has become a reliable and frequently deployed selling tool. Partner with credible influencers who match your brand, establishing an environment where they can tell your story in authentic, fresh and compelling ways.
For B2B companies, influencers will likely be subject matter experts, industry luminaries, or ranking specialists and leaders in your prospect organizations.
Optimize your tech stack and leverage automation
It’s a no brainer – make processes easier to perform and free up time for other important tasks. Marketing automation, data analytics, and sales enablement are areas where thriving ecosystems of technology providers offer different solutions to specific marketing challenges.
For example, you can enhance your 2018 B2B digital marketing campaigns with customizable software that improve account-based marketing, email outreach, content management, market intelligence, and search engine optimization.
Build your ideal team and keep them sharp
Marketing talent remains the driving and creative force behind your team. Without the right talent, even a good strategy can flop during its implementation. Hiring, training, and retaining excellent digital marketers are HR priorities in many leading B2B organizations.
And don’t ignore millennials. Make sure you foster an environment millennials will thrive in.
Expertise is key to many lean but aggressive marketing teams. A viable roster should include:
- Marketing director to provide vision, set directions, and manage budget.
- Content manager to oversee all customer-facing communications.
- Social media coordinator to boost brand presence across key networks.
- An SEO specialist to keep site traffic healthy and primed for growth.
- UX/UI designer who can help optimize the user experience.
- An ROI/A-B testing specialist to monitor key metrics and make data-driven assessments/recommendations.
- Web/mobile developer to handle the technical components of the strategy.
User experience is still the most important thing, I don’t care what anyone says
Marketing and selling success ultimately hinge on customer decisions. That means B2B companies need to understand their customers’ goals and challenges, build meaningful relationships based on that understanding, and provide responsive customer service that directly addresses clients’ pain points. Authenticity and a genuine desire to solve customer problems always trump interactions that are solely motivated by a desire to to make a fast buck.
One way to improve the quality and outcome of your B2B digital marketing campaigns is to limit the scope of your client base. To do that, you can create a hierarchy of buyer personas. Sure, you want to help everyone but your product can only solve specific problems. Since transactions on the organizational level usually involve a group of decision makers, you may need to create custom content and rules of engagement for each of these different buyer personas.
Putting Things Into Action In 2018
With half the year already over, dwelling on setbacks and what-could-have-beens is never a good option, especially in the highly competitive B2B market. Quickly build and review your post-mortem documents then optimize the remaining weeks to turn the odds in your favor. Doing so is not impossible but will take a lot of work. Go beyond studying B2B marketing strategy examples. Test a few and discover which approaches actually move the needle.
B2B digital marketing campaigns have become more fluid and now need to provide buyer journeys that are similar to those in the B2C environment. Focus on providing memorable experiences to your ideal customers by upgrading content, improving process efficiencies, optimizing all engagement channels, and executing a unified strategy with the sales team.