A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Business Marketing Association national conference in Chicago. Over the course of three days and 39 content sessions, I walked away with an energized view about where today’s innovative B2B marketing is trending. While the sheer amount of transformative ideas was, at times, overwhelming and daunting, I was able to capture seven of the most prominent trends from some of the brightest minds in today’s workforce:
- It’s time to refocus on the customer
Over the past few years, companies have been searching for the next “big thing” in marketing, and between strategy decks, editorial calendars and cross-platform advertising, it seems like the customer has lost its spot as the number one marketing driver. When starting a new campaign, don’t begin with data extraction and strategy planning, start by putting yourself in the customers’ shoes, or better yet, spending time with your customers to learn what keeps them up at night. While our metrics of success have traditionally focused on collecting followers and collateral views, we need to shift that frame of mind to collecting and engaging customers. And not just net new customers, but the attention of existing customers, too; 91% of new B2B business transactions are done by existing customers.
- The customer journey has changed
It’s time to abandon the traditional marketing “funnel.” You know, the one that takes you from awareness to advocacy? The modern customer experience is more than halfway complete by the time we even know they’re interested; 57% of a buyer’s journey is now done through online research. In fact, the average B2B purchaser performs 12 online searches before a next-step decision is made. Once the research phase is complete, it can go one of two ways: travel to the end of the maze, or hit a dead end and close their browser. As marketers, it’s up to us to meet them halfway through the maze, and walk them to the finish line. To do this, we need to spark a trigger, or a “moment of inspiration” (MOI). Think “peanut butter and…” We need to find our peanut butter and create the start of a customer experience. From there, a transaction does not mean you’ve built a relationship. As marketers, it’s our job to then begin the “loyalty loop” and keep them as advocates.
- Emotion trumps logic in marketing
B2B marketing is cutthroat, and it’s easy to forget there is a human face behind the logo of a customer organization, and that human has emotions. When it comes to major business decisions, 62% of executives make their decisions based on gut instincts. Simply put, if you can’t make decision makers “feel it,” then don’t even do it. Mark Wilson, senior vice president of marketing at Blackberry had quite the task of transforming Blackberry from a B2C company to B2B. He discovered that there was still a nostalgic passion with former Blackberry users, and found a way to merge B2C’s “emotional” approach with B2B’s “rational” approach into what he calls a “considered” approach. And as author/speaker Andrew Davis put it, logic and reason spur debate and conclusions, emotion spurs action.
- There’s a new normal in technology, and we already know the next normal
While most marketers might associate “mobile” with a primarily B2C audience, research shows that is simply not the case anymore. In the last 12 months, mobile search represents 42% of all B2B search, which is a 300% increase from the previous 12 months. And it’s not just in search; for the first time, LinkedIn activity is split 50/50 between mobile and desktop usage. Not only has it become a preference for companies to have a mobile responsive website, it has become a requirement. And we already know what the next normal is: wearables. As mobile devices began to replace wristwatches over the past decade, the smartwatch may seem like a step back, but consumers are realizing it makes our life better, and we’re seeing growth because of that. Choosing to dance around these technologies can be dangerous, and you’ll be focusing on a different kind of ROI: risk of ignoring.
- If you can’t measure it, stop doing it completely
Did you know there are more than 2,000 marketing technology tools out there? Finding the few that gives you the most effective return can be challenging. An organization might let you run an unmeasurable marketing campaign… once. But the next time you ask to run it, they’re going to want to see how successful of an investment it was last time. Not only do metrics help you win engagement, leads and revenue, but maybe the most important thing metrics do is win you budget. Metrics over the past few years have also evolved. We used to track creation (the number of posts/articles/collateral) and followers or audience size, but now, we should be focusing on adoption and engagement of our targeted audience. The average open rate of an email is 20%, with only 5% of those email openers clicking through your call to action. It’s up to marketers to not only figure out how to improve that 1% success rate, but use data to predict future behavior. Even measuring web traffic isn’t enough anymore, unless it leads to further metrics. As Patrick O’Hara from Gyro put it, “if you can’t measure, you can’t manage.”
- “B2B marketing” isn’t synonymous with “boring”
Hooray, right? B2B marketers should no longer be envious of B2C companies that have a larger audience and a “sexier” product. With the right research and innovation, B2B companies can be “cool.” One of the examples presented at BMA15 was the “Will It Blend?” YouTube campaign for Blendtec blenders. There aren’t a whole lot of products more boring than restaurant appliances, yet they thought outside the box and have more than 800,000 subscribers and more than 17 million views on their most popular video.
- Millennials are now decision-makers
46% of professionals aged 18-34, also known as the millennial generation, now have some kind of influence or decision-making power on B2B purchases. So not only is it important to understand how to market to millennials, it’s as important to understand how to work with millennials. To do that, there’s a couple myths about millennials that should be debunked. First, it’s that we’re (I use “we” as a millennial myself) entitled and all-knowing, when it’s actually just the opposite. We embrace constructive criticism, just as a company should embrace a negative online review. All companies are going to say they’re “number one” in their advertising, which can be confusing and shows why 90% of consumers don’t trust advertising. But millennials can see through transparent, corporate jargon and instead look for that human touch. Negative reviews are one way to bring some personality in behind the corporate logo, so embrace them and capitalize on them. Lastly, it’s assumed trade shows and face-to-face networking events will die because millennials can do everything while connected. Trade shows are actually growing at 1.8% annually and studies show we actually get just as much out of face-to-face events as professionals of previous generations, so keep taking advantage of trade shows as a marketing platform.
To conclude, I’ll leave with a little hidden takeaway from the event from the Motorola panel. “If a product is built for everyone, it is built for no one.” I think this phrase was designed to be intended for product developers, but I think it applies to marketing just as much, if not more. They compared this thought to a fruit cake: adding in too many things that people may like individually comes across as careless and haphazard and doesn’t work when mixed together. When you try to please the masses, you’ll fail at reaching your true audience. Don’t be afraid of making a few people upset if it means making your core audience more likely to engage with your brand.
I hope this helps you in your marketing endeavors, and I welcome you to share your latest innovative marketing campaign in the comments.