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As 2016 draws to a close, it's time to look forward and see what B2B marketing trends will shape the road into 2017. The B2B industry is constantly shifting, and is projected to grow at an annual compounded growth rate of 12.9%. New opportunities, challenges and technologies are emerging every day, making it harder than ever for companies to keep up.
While account based marketing, interactive content, personalization, native advertising, and automation are just some of the hot trends that look set to continue into the new year, there are some new kids on the block.
What trends should B2B marketers be leveraging to break through the noise and create more compelling experiences for their audiences? Last week we reached out to 73 B2B experts and asked the following question:
List 3 trends B2B marketers can leverage to break through the noise in 2017?
We wanted to dive into the trenches and see what some of the best B2B marketers on the planet would be focusing on in 2017. While many familiar trends were mentioned, some new ones surfaced. Things like lifestyle marketing, bots and artificial intelligence, advocate activation and episodic content to name a few.
Here is a quick snapshot of the most common trends mentioned:
Read on to discover which B2B marketing trends you should be leveraging in 2017 to achieve success for your company and customers. You can use the links below to jump straight to your favorite expert, or just dive straight in!
Do your research, find out what your competitors are doing and what they’re not doing. Stand out by doing what others aren’t or won’t. I do exactly that at my agency, Web Profits by creating content & videos about our core values, beliefs, process and inner workings which helps us show our human side and potential clients feel like they know us. I learned this by studying B2C publications/companies such as The Husle, Buzzfeed & Movoto.
Account-based marketing is a trend of 2016 that will continue to pervade in 2017. Marketers can be smart about the content they create and distribute to break through the noise for the accounts that matter most.
Marketers should consider new forms of personalization (think video, interactive, and web) to cut through the clutter and engage prospects. Whether they think that you created something unique and targeted just for them, or are simply wondering how you did it, it may be enough to get you in the door.
Advocacy will round out the top trends for 2017. If marketers aren't already thinking about employee and customer advocacy they will be behind. Both groups can help share new content and company news to increase awareness and generate buzz within their networks.
I'd pick original research, personalization and interactivity.
Not sure it's exactly a trend, but there's nothing quite like original research. That's especially true if the results of it discover something new or contrary to popular belief. It is a proven way to get above the noise of the 5634th blog post about how to get more results from social media, or any of the other topics that have been written about to death. B2Bers, especially, seem to like stats and research and numbers. You can see how we value this stuff if you look at what people pay for. Some of us will cough up $500 for highly respected research studies. Nobody gonna do that for a listicle.
Personalization works because "relevancy is the secret sauce". This is such a huge trend that it's created smaller trends and tactics, like account based marketing. Personalization is also the next logical evolution of content as struggle to get past content shock. Pair it with marketing automation and you could be downright dangerous.
Interactivity works because... it's kinda fun. Some interactive tools almost feel like toys - they're a fun (funnish?) way of discovering information. And in a sense, interactivity is another version of personalization. It gives us information personalized based on how we used the tool. Interactivity also works because it's not text; our reptilian brains would often just prefer to not read. Interactivity gives us the information we want without having to do so much work - even if that work is just reading a blog post. Finally, for marketers, interactivity is even more interesting because you can also take the info from those tools and create personalized content. Oooh... it's a continuous loop!
- Promotion is really more tactic than trend, but it's so chronically neglected I'm going to mention it anyway. It's the tactic that is literally about getting above the noise. We're still in a world where 50% of articles published get 8 shares or less (per BuzzSumo and Moz). So what's the best way to promote? Email. Neil Patel has a fab little table in his post "The 8 Most Important Skills for Content Promotion (and How to Learn Them)" that ends the argument about how effective email is for promoting content.
- Video. We've all heard how it's taking over the interwebs.
- Facebook. We've all heard how it's eating the internet. It's time B2Bers embraced this platform. (Including me.)
- Mobile. Got app? AMP?
Quizzes and interactive content. Interactive content is increasingly key for engaging audiences and coming up with a foolproof way to capture leads, as they become more inundated with passive content. Look for opportunities to develop fun quizzes that can either test prospects’ knowledge, or provide a multiple choice quiz that helps a prospect define their “group” (i.e. Rock Stars of Marketing: Are You Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen?)
Compelling longform content. Well-written, longform content never goes out of style. Take a journalistic approach to your subject and dive in, interviewing subject-matter experts to get to the heart of your subject and backing up your claims with hard data. I’ve always advocated for strong journalism skills in content marketing, and now that there are so many players in the field, quality control is more important than ever.
A year ago, research indicated the top three strategies B2B marketers would be focusing on in 2016 would be content quality, training, and metrics. All of those are still important, but for 2017 these will be added to the list:
Events: as important as online and social have become, live interaction is still best for getting immediate feedback and building trust. Smart B2B marketers will strategically target event marketing--of course, backing up those efforts with content and social media.
Direct mail: in a time where email is ubiquitous (and quite frankly, overdone) the power of being different stands out. Send your prospects actual mail. It doesn't have to be crazy expensive, but it does need to make an impact. Postcards and self-promotional letters won't do it; be creative and original.
Call your best customers. Ask them what three information sources they rely on most. "Information sources" can be defined broadly: email, Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Forbes online, industry-specific print publications...have an open mind. Collect the data, then act on it.
B2b-marketing is full of crap content. Great content, that helps clients to do better, builds trust, and trust is, in the end, the most important thing in the b2b-business.
When the world turns more and more visual, also b2b-brands need visual content to tell their stories and the meaning of business.
Influencer marketing is hot, hot, hot. Who can you hand your brand to in 2017? Check out how to use micro-influencers to build brand engagement.
Silos get busted in 2017. Up springs a collaboration chorus featuring HR, marketing, sales, PR, customer service - and community - together to broadcast the B2B brand experience in 360 surround sound in 3D: digital, direct and dynamic.
B2B event budgets will expand beyond the display costs into funding live engagement opportunities to introduce a spectrum of opportunities before, during and after the event. Influential speakers become corporate spokespersons.
Extra resource: https://www.contentchampion.com/podcasting-authority
Create detailed training content for every repeatable action you take. Now you're ready to become MUCH more productive. Interview and hire a virtual assistant to do all of these tasks. You may suddenly discover that you have 10 more hours every month. Use that time to do the things that only you can do. Use that time to make something amazing.
Marketing platforms are adding optimization algorithms that make improvements as simple as a single click. Look for new features in Unbounce and Contently that do the analysis and make the recommendation for you. The marketer will just wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee and click approve.
The artificial intelligence trend is converging with the delegation trend. I use a robot named Amy to set up meetings for me. It's costs around $50/month and she sets up 6-9 meetings per week for me. I estimate a time savings of up to 4 hours per month!
We've been recommending research as a format for content this year, and this may become an actual trend in 2017. I've taken three surveys in the last two days. They were each designed to produce statistics that would be effective content. I predict more publishing of more studies in 2017. It's hard work to be original, but the results can be huge.
It took more than 100 hours to create a promote our 3rd annual survey of 1000 bloggers, but it's been mentioned by dozens of websites in the last few weeks, winning 10x the links and shares of a typical blog post.
The visuals of original research partly explain why they're an effective format. It's an engaging, insightful, sharable citation. Here's an example from the blogger survey.
Any serious business leaders wanting to honestly evaluate marketing past, present and future, needs to gather around the C-Suite whiteboard and ask yourselves the following questions and answer them. These questions can be asked for all departments and not just marketing since each department affects each other to help you reach your goals and objectives for 2017.
Marketing to B2B is no different than marketing to B2C when it comes to basic understanding traditional and semi-traditional methods are waning and some are dead. Are you marketing to the past, present or future? If you can’t answer that then you’re already behind and in trouble. You must adapt and be brave enough to let go of the “the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Put a fork in the past, give notice the present and get moving towards the future.
B2B marketers will start to invest more heavily in native advertising next year, both social and non-social. All the studies point to it and I see no signs of that changing. I also foresee B2B folks pulling back or maintaining the same amount of content production next year. Why? Glad you asked. With native advertising becoming more prominent, resources will have to come from somewhere for distribution. Look for influencer marketing to play a more prominent role in many B2B brands next year, too.
Content Goes Niche – Content marketing is still an effective strategy but things have changed since I wrote my book in 2013. Right now, over 2 million blog posts are created EVERY DAY on the web. This is just an avalanche of content, most of it is low quality but they completion is intense. The best way to break through the noise is doing research, going niche and producing the highest quality content. Don’t affair to go long format, add value to people’s lives.
Artificial Intelligence – I’m working on developing artificial intelligence for companies every day in the healthcare space at HealthJoy.com but it’s slowly creeping on the scene within marketing. Companies like Narrativa are doing cool things like making product descriptions from specifications automatically. Salesforce released Einstein which uses AI to make their CRM smarter. X.ai is an amazing personal assistant that can help you schedule meetings. I’m very excited to see what new tools 2017 brings in the marketing space.
Personalization & Account-Based Marketing – Some really cool tools were released in 2016 to customize everything about your site and message. I think adoption will continue to grow, more tools will be released and pricing for these tools will come down so more companies can use them.
Employee Social Media Advocacy
The employee is the most trusted resource to the B2B buyer. Employees want to participate in brand advocacy, but they need help. They need the know-how, training and technology to help them engage in social media in a relevant way that's good for their personal brand and good for the corporate brand.
Cognitive Marketing / Predictive Analytics
Marketing technology keeps getting smarter. Vendors are increasingly delivering more ability for marketers to predict buyer behavior through cognitive marketing technology.
Video - Live or Pre-recorded or both
Our Facebook Instagram, Twitter stream and even our LinkedIn stream is being dominated by video. If you employ millennials, they're on Snapchat, which is mostly video. Marketers should include video content to meet the needs of their audience in their mix. Live video is exploding in popularity. Even pre-recorded video is still an effective way to engage the digitally minded person.
Even though we all know the facts about the sheer amount of content created today (and the fact that it’s not seen or shared), marketers show no signs of slowing down on quantity of content created. In order to stand out and truly connect in 2017, B2B marketers will have to focus on quality over quantity, and understand where their biggest opportunities lie. This can be accomplished through:
Influencer Driven Content: Many companies say that they “do” influencer marketing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re building and leveraging influencer relationships appropriately. There are very few instances where some sort of influencer contribution to your content doesn’t make sense. Influencers can be included in everything from blog posts to eBooks and infographics. Marketers also need to ensure that the relationship is a two way street. One way we’ve tried to give back to influential marketers that we work with is to feature their expertise in long-form interviews as well as lists of influential people within a particular field. As our CEO Lee Odden says, “Everyone is influential about something.”, it’s just a matter of finding the right influencer match for your brand.
Video: Long gone are the times when marketers could choose whether they wanted to incorporate video into their digital marketing strategy. Today it’s a matter of elevating the quality level of video content, even if you don’t have a large team or big budget. The recent popularity of live video has also opened the door for marketers that want to break into video. To execute on video in a meaningful way you have to have a story, POV and offer valuable content to your audience.
Email is Still Very Relevant: The number of marketers that aren’t focusing heavily on email is proof that many simply aren’t looking at the data. Email still offers significant ROI for B2B marketers and should not be ignored. One capability that marketers will have to hone in 2017 is their ability to offer personalized email content that meets the needs of their subscribers and people within email nurture programs.
Focus on strategy! - In the most recent CMI survey only 37% of companies said they had a defined content strategy (what are the others doing?) There is already too much content on the web and the only way to be heard above the noise is to define a strategy that maps content on to the needs of the prospective buyer at every stage of their buyers journey. The beginning of 2017 will see a greater focus on buyer-centric content and a move away from 'random acts of content'.
Alignment with sales - for successful companies content will become increasingly aligned with the messages and conversations salespeople are having with customers and prospects. Any company not including sales in their content planning is missing a trick and I think we'll see more of this style of content over the next twelve months.
A fall in the amount of gated content - content that converts is vital, but audiences are tired of giving up personal information in exchange for mediocre content that doesn't help them. Savvy marketers will start to remove email gateways in favour of building in conversion points after the reader has had a chance to appreciate the value of a piece of content.
Strategy is everything
The best thing you can do for your audience is to stay on message. You can’t do that unless you’ve invested time in developing your messaging and developed a clear strategy on how you’re going to service this audience. We’ve seen a lot of brand damage on social media in the past year, nearly all of it as a result of marketers abandoning their strategy or not having one in the first place.
Writing is a competitive advantage
If B2B marketers want to break through the noise, the first thing they need to do is to quit contributing to the cacophony. Good writing skills are in short supply. Make sure everyone on your team can write in a way that attracts the modern reader.
Master the executive summary
You know that irritating stat about modern attention spans being shorter than that of a goldfish? I believe people have longer attention spans than ever - binge watching is a good indicator. We’re getting good at is filtering through useless information and moving on to the next thing. A short summary at the beginning of your content lets your readers know what they can expect. It’s a trick newspapers and magazines discovered long ago.
1) Consumer Experience (CX) Mapping:
By far the most important thing to do to break through the clutter in 2017 is organize your teams, tactics and data through the use of Consumer Experience (CX) mapping. A basic overview can be read here: http://www.wakabayashi.us/wakabayashi-blog/2016/3/4/5-simple-steps-to-confident-digital-marketing-in-2016 .
2) Use new kinds of tools to quickly find the audiences with the most qualified leads:
Another thing you'll want to do is manage the vast number of audiences and personas using a tool like Http://www.pointillist.com or http://www.thunderhead.com . These tools learn the behavior of your key audiences so that you can invest your time and resources into the most rewarding experiences - for both you and your audiences. Protip: This is how you find the most qualified leads, the fastest way possible.
3) Improve your reputation online before activating leadgen campaigns. Smart marketers will leverage social media, ratings and reviews management and content that drives share of voice to prime the pump before launching paid media to drive lead gen. Those that do this will drastically improve paid media spend and capture significantly more qualified leads.
I believe the key for B2B marketers is, and always will be, focusing on the audience. You need to deliver what the audience wants to hear, not what your internal people have an urge to say. To that end, three trends that I believe B2B marketers should focus on this coming year:
Quality. Contrary to what a lot of "digital marketers" will tell you, quality is not determined by a word count. I may punch the next person who tells me a quality blog post is one that's 1,000 words. Quality is determined by scarcity; in other words, if you have a well-researched, well-thought out piece that is truly unique and really doesn't exist anywhere else on the Internet, that's quality.
Personalization. This is really hard. But the B2C influence will infiltrate the B2B world, and marketers that can deliver a better, more personalized experience will have an edge.
Listening. Particularly on social channels. It's imperative for B2B marketers to understand the industry conversation. This doesn't mean they should react to everything they hear; they need to have the ability to discern what's important from what's just more noise.
I think that B2B marketers need to understand lead generation and the roles that email marketing and marketing automation can, and should, play in their success, and lobby for the budget that will help them put those things in place. Marketing teams will benefit, sales teams will benefit, and customers and prospects will benefit. But you can't do email marketing and marketing automation without content, so understanding the right kind of content to create for each stage of the customer journey, having the ability to do (or outsource) that, and also making a commitment to creating video content are the three key thing that I think it's imperative that B2B marketers embrace in the coming year.
If I could encourage B2B marketers to pay attention to one trend in 2017, it would be the increasingly powerful ability to personalize communications and achieve 1:1 marketing at scale. The ability to leverage data to truly understand individuals, rather than broad segments, is incredibly powerful and we've only just begun to see the potential benefits from this kind of marketing.
1.) Influencer Marketing, 2.) Employee advocacy, and 3.) Brand Ambassadors.
Influencer marketing is one of the smartest marketing strategies a business can implement, first and foremost, it is often a more cost efficient method of publicity and brand recognition. Secondly, when it is done correctly, it drives sales and increases overall profit more than many marketing strategies combined. Looking at how influencer marketing works, makes it a pretty common sense business practice. The result of getting someone of high influence in your line of business to promote your service or product shifts their already huge following to your business through the already established trust they have with fans.
Employee advocacy is underutilized because so many brands are reaching out to their target market, without looking at the value they have right at home, or in this case, at the office. Consider your employees as immediate family, you see them regularly, they know the ins and outs of your business, and they can make or break the image you have. Going into 2017 almost all your employees have around 5 social media profiles on the internet. Imagine the reach they have if they are enthusiastic about their work, and your brand.
Finally, brand ambassadors are a winning ticket. Nobody will know your brand and can promote your products as efficiently as someone you choose as a brand ambassador. Brand ambassadors are an efficient way to stay knowledgeable about what your target market wants, further saturate events and platforms where you want your brand, and spread empowering content.
Influencer marketing went mainstream for B2C in 2016 and I’m confident that it will be the turn of B2B in 2017. Twitter is the natural go-to social network for B2B influencer marketing so Twitter execs would be well-advised to make facilitation and promotion of this area a big strategic priority for the coming year.
LinkedIn Sponsored Updates will finally get the level of attention they merit
LI sponsored updated have been around for a few years now and they should be at the heart of every B2B marketer’s social media marketing strategy. Pin-point audience targeting, payment by results and direct access to the best-quality B2B audience by a country mile. What’s not to like?
Longer form content to make a comeback
The trend to bite-size content to appeal to ever-shorter attention spans and crowded schedules may seem unstoppable but my belief is that the pendulum has swung too far. There’s still a place for more in-depth, considered thought leadership content and this should be seen as a source of differentiation...especially when savvy B2B marketers know they can actually have the best of both worlds with a single, high-quality white paper spawning multiple blogs & articles and countless social media posts.
Machine learning: It's no longer good enough to analyze data after the fact. Enterprises need to anticipate needs ahead of time and act before problems arrive.
Snapchat: I love as a consumer being able to look at someone's vacation, or see a product advertised through a series of short videos. It's a platform B2B marketers should gamble on, considering the low-cost and maintenance needed. As a journalist, I see this as an even better tool to break news than Twitter.
Personalized video: Eventually, I see video almost entirely replacing the written word (scary to say as a journalist), but the "play me" button is just too appealing today for B2B marketers to miss out. Invest in video, but ensure the content is right for particular audiences.
B2B is in an interesting place right now. The days of hard sell are fast disappearing and being replaced instead with a requirement to add value and prove expertise. The best way of doing this is by putting content at the heart of your sales and marketing strategy and to use it to help collect information on those interacting with your brand.
We have put this very strategy front and centre at Zazzle and while it is hard work, requiring a lot of resource and expertise around content and data, the results can be extremely positive. If you can find a way of creating content that resonates with your audience, find enough email data on those you wish to contact it is possible to build a funnel as big, or small as you need to deliver your targets. It all comes down to the quality of your content ideas and whether your audience is willing to give up extra information to get hold of it.
If they do then all of a sudden you can begin building up a picture of your future customers and use this to create a relationship so that you are front of mind when it comes to purchase.
Some tried and true approaches that B2B marketers must pay attention to in 2017 include NOT jumping on the bandwagon of new trends unless they directly support overall vision and strategy. It’s important to first build the foundation of your message and your plan before adapting new technology.
There are two things that will never go out of style when it comes to marketing and advertising. 1) Your content ( having a clear, compelling message built on deep understanding and empathy of your ideal clients). 2) Your strategy to connect your message with your ideal clients (creating a content strategy plan to connect, build relationships and achieve your sales goals).
Many businesses fail to create a clear message that attracts ideal clients. These same businesses often do not have a consistent content strategy plan to get their message out and this is often where opportunities are lost.
Taking time to focus on your businesses most powerful solutions and then reverse engineering those solutions into profitable revenue streams is the first step. From there you can create marketing messages with integrity with a focus on passion points and not pain points.
A great first step is reviewing your current messaging and assessing effectiveness. Some tips to incorporate the “Challenge. Solution. Invitation.” framework to create marketing messages with integrity may help your business get clear on next steps and ways to course correct to amplify results.
Standing out online is always a challenge, and as the content volume increases, we all know it is only getting harder. So, what should you try in 2017 to break through the noise:
I don't think there are really any shortcuts for good content marketing - it's about doing the basics and getting them right. These things haven't and won't change anytime soon.
The #1 biggest thing B2B marketers need to leverage to break through the noise in 2017 is video. Both live streaming video and traditional video will be essential to B2B marketers in 2017.
Contrary to popular belief, the rumors of the death of email are highly exaggerated. People are still opening email. They may be opening it more on their smartphone or tablet than before, but they are opening. B2B marketers must harness the power of email marketing to break through the noise in 2017.
Visual content marketing will help B2B marketers break through the noise in 2017. Whether it's an image, a video or an infographic, content rules and the more QUALITY content the better in 2017.
Tie the top of the funnel to revenue
Social media and content marketing is under scrutiny because most B2B teams can't prove that it moves the needle. Tying top-of-funnel activities to ROI results is critical to protect the budget and resources that fuel your marketing department.
Embrace the extinction of "B2B social networks"
Long sales cycles. Complex purchasing decisions. A laser-focus on ROI. On its head, B2B marketing is "serious," so LinkedIn seems like the "serious" social channel of choice. But a commitment to staying "serious" is keeping too many organizations in the digital dark ages. B2B marketers need to experiment with new distribution channels; for example, our research at TrackMaven found that B2B brands get 20 times more engagement on Instagram than on LinkedIn.
Split team organization around funnel stages
Marketing owns more of the funnel than ever before. But few teams have stepped up to own the metrics at every conversion through to sale. To tackle this, I've seen more B2B teams organizing around funnel stage (awareness, considerations, conversion, loyalty, advocacy) rather than function (social media, email marketing, etc).
Trend #1 - We have finally reached content saturation and overload.
#2 - The battle is now all about getting access to the right target audience and domain-specific communities.
#3 Only truly credible, fact-based, actionable content gets consumed.
While the need for continued content creation and improvement remains, when it comes to the top three trends that B2B marketers can leverage in 2017, they are:
Video will clearly remain the most sought after form of content that businesses can create, particularly B2B who want to reach other brands and influencers.
Content (marketing) is king. Managing the content is the queen.
In 2017, marketers will need to address the growing consumer content fatigue. Rooted in increasingly poor content, consumers will continue to tune out as this problem reaches new heights in 2017. This will force marketers to reconsider the quality and quantity of the content they put out.
Smart marketers are diligently going the extra mile and building out a content marketing plan that includes the complete lifespan of each content including planning, execution and distribution. They are looking at sources for each content piece, determining the best channels to distribute it, and mapping each piece to the various stages of the B2B buying cycle for each persona.
Videos drive sales
Marketers must invest in video storytelling. In fact, MarketingProfs estimates that online videos lead to more sales conversions than other forms of communication. From company YouTube and Vimeo channels to Facebook Live and Snapchat, the options are seemingly endless. And with a plethora of options, it’s easier than ever to find the tools and talent within your budget.
Just like content, videos must be short and compelling enough to keep your viewers without boring them. In following suite of the short video formats on popular channels like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, your video doesn’t have to “do it all” in one sitting. Instead, break long product/service videos into shorter clips based on features and how it’s used or create a video series.
No school like old school
While marketing automation tools and new measurement technologies are helping streamline processes, human interaction is still important. From in-person sales meetings to media tours, many of the “old school” tactics are a great path to the buyer’s wallet. In an age of texting, Snapchatting and doing it for the “Gram,” some marketers are even turning to fax marketing as a way to ensure their message stands out.
Embracing and investing in sales enablement is job one for B2B marketers in 2017. The shift towards inbound, rather than outbound approaches—selling through education and genuine helpfulness—is an absolute necessity. As are the tools and processes that save time, increase effectiveness, and better align Sales and Marketing teams. The right tools deployed correctly around your organization's business logic will help to identify buying signals that help sales personnel understand how best to meet your prospective buyers after they've crossed the MQL threshold around contextual trigger points.
Content distribution remains a linchpin in the world of content marketing, which is why influencer marketing remains a top focus for B2B marketers in 2017. Deep audience analysis is the first step in getting this going. From there, it's an integrated communication process blending all aspects of modern public relations — media, influencer and analyst relations, social media, earned and paid media — that fuels influencer distribution paths that generate conversions.
Video content is arguably the most impactful marketing opportunity for businesses today. Especially because Facebook leadership predicts that the majority of content shared on the platform in five years will be video. For 2017, B2B marketers should be working to build out a robust video marketing library. The value of video is already apparent and its necessity inevitable.
Customer obsession: The focus has been on customers in B2C for years. B2B businesses must follow suit, publishing content that's relevant to their customers' needs, even if it doesn't directly mention the company's products.
Intelligent agents: B2C companies are learning how to use bots and intelligent agents like Alexa and Siri to reach customers (to the exclusion of their competitors) at key moments. B2B businesses will start to explore this emerging technology in 2017. (This Forrester report on The Rise of Intelligent Agents is a good primer.)
Bots for customer support: In addition to the pre-sales opportunities mentioned above, intelligent agents will begin to offload repetitive support tasks for B2B firms, providing value in the loyalty & retention phase of the marketing cycle. This VentureBeat article provides more background.
We've seen it flourish in consumer, now's the time for B2B. Relevance is more important than reach.
Powered by Instagram Stories and Snapchat. Hopefully the quality will be sufficient that we will lament its disappearance!
As B2B brands become more sophisticated in storytelling, we'll see a rise in episodic content, largely driven by video.
Modern marketing is all about making a personal connection, and this is not limited to the B2C audience. In fact B2B marketers can find tremendous value in personalised touch points.
One easy way to do this is by utilizing all the tools and resources to make it possible. For example, HubSpot offers a Content Optimization System to deliver site visitors content that is intelligently personalized based on previously gathered data through forms and visits. Another example is with MailChimp's email marketing platform; options include the more commonly used merge tags, and also full integration that includes an email trigger based on a page visited.
Integrated Sales & Marketing Teams
Traditionally, the sales team and the marketing team have worked in silos, and not necessarily in conjunction with one another. To break through the noise, it's imperative that each team work in tandem for maximum results. This requires coordinating on brand and product positioning throughout the prospect's entire sales journey. It also means sharing data about leads, prospects, and customers, in a unified database.
More Sophisticated Attribution
My philosophy is "work smarter, not harder" by creating the most efficient digital marketing plan you can. By more correctly tying specific campaigns and initiatives to specific sales, companies will be able to provide analytical insights more accurately and can use this information in future efforts.
The Oxford word of the year is post-truth, and according to The Economist, and in a twist on "Orange is the Bew black", "lying is the new truth". In a B2B world, customers assume fake data is used for marketing because everyone's using it (perhaps even them). Marketers can leverage the post-truth environment by rising above the fray and presenting facts and data with scrupulous transparency.
Be less corporation, be more customer. It's not news that user experience is the biggest favour that an organisation can do for itself. UX personas for B2B can be very different from B2C personas, and it's important to understand them. The trend has been amping up for a number of years now, and according to CMO magazine, it continues to grow. If you're already deep into UX, consider Service Design. It's a service advantage, as well as a marketing advantage.
The last, but by no means least, trend is the recognition that it's important to publish good content. Harvard Business Review has written a number of articles in the last year that calculates the loss of confidence and lost revenue because corporations don't think of themselves as publishers, but movers of data. Content is the means by which customers understand your products or services, your brand, your story. Invest in good content, and set yourself apart from the masses of organisations that push out meh content that has no value to busy B2B customers.
With the rise and rise of snapchat, Marketers have huge opportunity to reach a young, creative audience through ephemeral content. While creating content native to Snapchat is a good start (think vertical!), the traditional methods of content creation and how to measure their efficacy has changed. The marketers who get their heads round these challenges are the ones who will cut through the noise in 2017.
Live video really took off in 2016, with Facebook Live and YouTube live streaming coming to be some of the main platforms that marketers saw success with. But to break through in 2017, those videos need to tell more of a story to capture audiences and engage with them on their favourite device: mobile. News organisations are already adopting the story-first video structure, as this is how they naturally structure their content. But other brands will have to tell more of a story in their videos if they want to engage.
Content marketing shows no signs of a slow down, with more brands jumping on the content creation bandwagon than ever before. That means in 2017 that marketers will need to create better content if they want to stand out. A 600 word blog post with one feature image no longer cuts it. You need to create the best content about that topic that is available on the internet, otherwise people will go elsewhere. A tall order, but a great challenge for 2017!
B2B marketers often focus on promotional social media and blog posts instead of focusing on problems their product or service solves. Speak to the outcomes that your customers/clients experience as a result of using your service.Useful Content
Content marketing isn't a new strategy by any means, but the majority of content being churned out is self-serving drivel. Creating content that serves the reader creates a pull strategy, giving value to the reader instead of "look at what we did this week."Client Retention
Perhaps not as sexy as chat bots or the latest acronym, but dollar for dollar, focusing on attending to current clients is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Be different. Instead of an impersonal mass email, like every other B2B firm does, send personally written email messages, interact with their social content, and send an occasional hand-written note to check in and thank them.
Chatbots will gain increased exposure in B2B marketing during 2017, and we'll see breakthroughs where marketers take the time to craft authentic conversations Rather than limit writing to customer personas, B2B marketers will broaden their approach next year by writing to behaviors to engage their savviest prospects. For many, 2016 was yet another year of data overload, so B2B marketers must also get faster at asking the right questions to hit their goals for 2017. These questions will be critical to defining the real insights they’ll need to drive their businesses forward.
To turn more leads into opportunities by turning to Marketing Automation. When a lead reaches the desired score of a qualified lead, your sales team can lean on Marketing Automation to automatically do the essential task of outreach and follow up—without the need to pick up the phone or craft a 1-to-1 email. Think that might save some resources or time?
Forget the software. Start building relationships. Without seasoned, experienced and uniquely talented resources continually working on the never ending task of defining, refining and implementing a good content marketing strategy along with a consistent content creation and distribution plan, long term success becomes questionable.
Rocket customer, prospect research higher up your budget list.
All of the great MarTech, account based marketing, and content strategies in the world won’t work if you don’t understand your customers. And that includes potential customers. So many great B2B brands still use tribal assumptions to decide what to build and how to market. What’s needed is explicitresearch into prospect and customer needs, wants, and expectations. Don’t forget to tap your employees by capturing their tribal knowledge. Just do it on purpose and structure the feedback so you can act on it. When you really understand your customers, you’ll be in a position to demonstrate why you serve them best of all.
According to a new AI-driven study by Sales Hacker, “the average B2B sales rep spends between 65–75% of a call talking, leaving only 25–35% of the call for listening.” For 2017, we all need to practice Radical Listening. It starts with doing your homework and learning something meaningful about the customer or prospect you’re attempting to reach. Follow your targets in social - what are they talking about? What’s their company experiencing? Why are you in a position to add value? If it’s a current customer, isn’t it time that you really looked at how their service experience has been before you call them? Just do it. They expect you to know more than just the facts. They’ll expect that you know their emotions about it. If you know what their customer experience has been, you’ll be a position to be authentic about it, and build trust.
Break down the gates
Are you still gating low value content? In B2B, do you gate demos of your product? If you’ve done all of this work to attract your ideal buyers to your Web site, don’t waste their time and erode confidence with low value content. It’s inside-out thinking to believe your demo or digital brochure is high value to your prospect. They know you’re just trying to get their data to email or call them. That’s why Dilbert@Don’tCallMe.com just signed up for your demo. Instead, show them a taste of why your great solutions are a fit for their tough business challenges. You don’t have to show them everything. Just be engaging and edutaining. Make it easy for them to see how you’re a potential partner. Only then, will you truly earn an opportunity to engage person to person.
As peoples' attention spans get shorter and shorter, B2B marketers needs to embrace short videos as a key part of their content strategy. These can be used in social media advertising (remember captions!) and on your site to offer value, entertainment and more. Is it time to start using Snapchat and Instagram stories? If you can do them well, then yes! B2B doesn’t have to mean dull, after all, regardless of B2B or B2C, it’s people you’re speaking to.
The hype around Chatbots in 2016 was huge, mainly driven by Facebook Messenger and the roll out of a number of bots, some great, some terrible! 2017 will see further advances in this area and B2B marketers should be looking at the part bots could play in the funnel, perhaps at the middle ‘consideration’ stage as a way of answering questions regarding products etc. Another angle could be to create a bot that offers value in terms of helping with a problem that your target market faces in their job roles? This could add value and create trust.
Marketing Automation is nothing new, however, many B2B marketers are still failing to make the most of the technology. It’s often implemented, has some generic content added to it and left. Using Automation to deliver highly customised content and web experiences is key to standing out from your competitors.
There you have it! The top B2B marketing trends to watch in 2017, as voted by leading industry experts.
A big thanks to all the people who contributed to the post.
I know there was a lot of information shown above, so here are the top results one more time:
What trends are you going to leverage in 2017? Are there any new ones that weren't covered?
Let us know in the comments below!