Over the last few years, B2B marketing has experienced a seismic shift in both strategies and tactics—all focused on better attracting and engaging target audiences. In 2015, B2B marketing trends will continue to underscore this shift.
There are many different trends (plus a few fads) that are likely to make their presence known in 2015. We’ve developed a list of seven B2B marketing trends to watch in the year ahead and trends that we think will have the biggest impact on B2B marketing plans.
1. Mobile first marketing
Nearly 60% of the U.S. adult population now owns a smartphone and nearly half own a tablet. Mobile devices are becoming the first screen of choice for many executives to check email, browse the web, conduct research and communicate. So what does all of this growth in mobile mean for B2B marketers? It means it’s essential for your marketing to meet prospects and clients where they are — and increasingly that’s on a tablet or smartphone.
Obviously mobile first concerns your website—having a responsive website in 2015 is an imperative; it’s no longer optional. But it really goes beyond your website. A mobile first mentality affects every facet of your marketing strategy and involves viewing all your marketing efforts through a mobile lens. Many B2B firms already have great content, but they don’t necessarily have the technology and tools in place to deliver a mobile experience. Moving forward, if you expect your audience to engage with your firm, improving the mobile experience has to be a priority.
2. Micro-targeting and personalization
Micro-targeting is another concept that has been generating a lot of conversation in the B2B marketing world. This trend is about drawing from data and analytics to better understand your target audience—and responding in real-time with targeted messaging and content that is personalized to their specific needs at the exact time of need. Ultimately, it’s about improving the client journey through more targeted and relevant 1-to-1 interactions.
In B2B marketing, this means adopting a much more individualized approach to your content and building relationships. While many B2B firms have been leveraging client persona profiles for their marketing strategies, 2015 will see a push for more comprehensive and meaningful personas, leading to more “micro” targeted marketing activities with an eye to increased relevancy and effectiveness. Additionally, dynamic content served up in emails and on certain sections of the website will also play a large role in increasing personalization.
3. Predictive lead scoring and analytics
Predictive analytics is a trend that B2C marketers having been implementing for quite some time. Anyone who has used Amazon has experienced predictive analytics in action, specifically their “recommendations engine” which makes product recommendations based on previous purchases, location, previous reviews and other customers with a similar profile. While it obviously works differently for B2B, the technology enables marketers to make better use of behavioral data and other data points.
Going beyond the limitations of traditional lead scoring models (which have an average of 10 data points), predictive scoring uses anywhere from 200 or more data points by scouring a host of sources from the web, social channels and even internal sources like your CRM and marketing automation database to calculate a score that’s more predictive of actual buying intent. Leveraging the growing number of solutions out there such as Lattice Engines and Mintigo, companies like Dell, GE, Adobe and Time Warner are using predictive analytics to identify, prioritize and ultimately close more customers.
4. Content marketing 2.0
Not so long ago, we were educating clients on what content marketing was all about and why they should be doing it. Fast forward just a few short years and the great majority (86%) of B2B firms are using content marketing. In fact, according to the latest research from Content Marketing Institute, the majority of B2B firms plan to increase both their content marketing budgets and content volume in 2015.
So needless to say, B2B firms will continue to rely on content marketing as a cornerstone of their overall marketing strategy. But content marketing is maturing—evolving into a much more strategic, sustainable and measureable discipline. Here are some of the content marketing trends to look for in 2015:
• Prioritization of having a documented content marketing strategy
• Extra attention and priority given to ROI
• More budget and resources assigned to content marketing activities
• Better integration of content marketing throughout all communications and PR
• Mixing of paid and owned media to boost distribution and consumption (see #5)
• Less focus on quantity, more focus on quality, well-written content
• Greater dependence on visual content such as video, photos and web graphics
• Increased usage of SlideShare as a platform for content marketing
• Additional emphasis on the mobile experience for all content
5. Pay for play amplification
As more firms invest in content marketing, the desire to reach as many prospects as possible becomes paramount. And with the ongoing challenges created by Google’s ever-changing algorithms, and Facebook reach woes, among others, B2B marketers are going to be increasingly leveraging paid media to support content amplification. Noted social media marketing expert Jay Baer concurs: “It’s already happening, but 2015 will be the year of paid amplification. With content marketing reaching near-ubiquity, the success pendulum will swing toward boosting consumption of content.”
Whether in the form of sponsored posts, promoted tweets, search engine marketing, banner ads or retargeting, 2015 will see B2B marketing plans with greater dependence on mixing paid and owned media to boost content distribution and consumption. There will also be a growing trend of companies using more traditional advertising (e.g. digital, print and even broadcast and radio) as a means to promote specific content offers, not simply promote brand awareness.
6. Smarketing / sales and marketing alignment
Marketing and Sales have historically had a somewhat contentious relationship, at least in many organizations. But as B2B buyer behaviors have changed, the need for increased alignment and closed-loop communication between marketing and sales teams is absolutely critical. Many company leaders cite alignment as an ongoing priority, but in 2015 it will become more mission-critical than ever — and rightfully so. According to SiriusDecisions, B2B organizations with tightly aligned marketing and sales achieved 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period.
To support alignment, firms are turning to marketing automation to provide an infrastructure to coordinate marketing and sales activities through increased communication, transparency and measurement. This is one of the many reasons marketing automation software continues to see enormous growth (the latest analysis from Frost & Sullivan predicts global software revenue will reach $1.9 billion by 2020). As B2B firms look for ways to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their sales and marketing teams through better alignment, look for marketing automation to play a role. In 2015, marketing automation adoption rates among B2B firms will continue to increase and firms already using the software will continue to improve and refine their processes and practice.
7. “Old school” marketing tactics make a comeback
While traditional tactics haven’t been ignored completely, they haven’t necessarily been en vogue over the last decade or so as marketers have focused on newer, trendier, (and, yes, more effective) digital tactics and channels. But interestingly, some of those traditional tactics are starting to make a comeback in B2B marketing. Print is one of these tactics that we’re starting to see make a comeback. In an era of shrinking attention spans, email deliverability challenges and digital overload, leveraging print in the right way can actually help firms engage their audience in a more differentiating way.
That’s right, with everyone using digital and significantly fewer doing print, print can actually be a way stand out. But the key will be finding unique and different ways to leverage print, not just the same old tri-fold brochures and sell-sheets from the past. While many think of content marketing from a digital perspective, print can actually provide a fantastic medium for longer-form content such as magazines and guides, while giving your audience something tangible to hold onto.
In addition to print, another “old school” tactic that’s making a return (although for many it never left, it was simply reduced) to marketing plans is in-person events and tradeshows. In a relationship-driven business, you simply can’t beat the face-to-face interactions that tradeshows and events offer—research proves it. Over the last five years, B2B marketers have listed in-person events as their most effective marketing tactic in CMI’s B2B content marketing research. But as with print, while the tactic is the same, the strategy and execution has to change. Firms need to adopt a more strategic, client-centric, education-oriented and ROI-driven approach to their tradeshows and events.
These seven trends are just some of things you should expect to see on the B2B marketing landscape in 2015. While there are certainly others, we believe these are the trends that are likely to have the most ongoing impact in the coming year. Did we omit any trends you think are important? Feel free to add to the conversation and share your additions in the comments.