What will successful B2B marketers to be doing more of, or differently, in 2016?

That question was recently posed to the expert contributors at the B2B Marketing Zone, and two dozen responded with a range of insights about content marketing, measuring results, employee advocacy, customer experience and other topics.

B2B Marketing Trends for 2016 eBookThe answers to that question—from influential bloggers like Michael Brenner, Paul Gillin, Cheryl Burgess, Jeff Cohen, Carla Johnson, Neal Schaffer, and J-P De Clerck among others—have been compiled in a free eBook, B2B Marketing Trends for 2016 (link at the end).

Download the eBook to read all of the thoughts from these experts regarding the keys to B2B marketing success in the coming year. Here are three key takeaways plus some additional musings.

Create the Content Your Buyers Crave

Several contributors addressed the need for B2B content marketers to focus on quality over quantity in 2016. One key measure of content quality is how well it meets the needs of the reader or viewer.

Too often, content marketers miss the mark, resulting in wasted time and effort as well as frustrated sales prospects. As noted in the eBook:

Followers (of companies on social media) rank images, videos, and case studies as the most valued content from brands on social media. Yet 58% of marketers say written content is their most important form of social content; just 19% say that of original visual content.”

The disconnect between what buyers want and what content marketers produce goes beyond format as well. As noted here previously, 75% of B2B buyers want brands to furnish substantive content that helps them to research business ideas, but 93% of brands focus their content on “marketing” their own products and services.

Finally, buyers value images, videos, and customer reviews from brands most highly on social media. They place the least value on white papers and ebooks (though these assets are very important further down the funnel). B2B content marketers need to produce a range of content, but promote it through the right channels, to the right audiences, at the right times.

Marketing Technology is Worthless Without Training

Marketing teams have become some of the heaviest users of technology in many organizations. As illustrated in Scott Brinker’s graphic below, marketers now have access to an incredible array of software tools to help with all aspects of their roles, from online advertising and email marketing to social media management, content development, project management, lead nurturing, and big data analytics.

These tools are designed to enable B2B marketers perform a broad range of functions both more effectively and more efficiently. But such tools represent nothing more than large investments with little return if marketers don’t know how to use them to their full potential. As eBook contributor Erika Goldwater noted:

Organizations spend millions of dollars annually on (marketing and sales technology), yet we invest little, if any, in the training and marketing enablement for our marketing departments. The growing technology stack and the fact that most marketers are self-taught means we need to ensure effectiveness of our teams…Only 7.5 % of (companies report) the skill set of marketing personnel (is) highly effective. Clearly, we need to do better.”

Everything is Measurable, Yet Effective Measurement Remains a Challenge

Several contributors noted the increasing pressure on marketers to demonstrate business results—like ROI, customer retention, and market share gains—from their marketing programs. They also acknowledge this remains challenging, despite the deluge of data now available.

One challenge is that ROI isn’t always the right measure. Certainly, ROI is a powerful metric and should be used wherever possible. For example, if you develop a white paper and promote it using AdWords and email marketing, it should be fairly straightforward to at least measure the cost per lead (download). And if you can track those leads through to sales revenue, ROI is easy to calculate.

But not every activity leads directly to revenue or lead generation. What’s the ROI of a thought leadership or “how to” blog post that generates a lot of views but doesn’t tie directly to promoting a product? How about a Facebook post that attracts “Likes” and comments but again, doesn’t directly generate leads or sales? Such activities don’t necessarily lack value simply because the ROI is hard to measure.

That leads to a second challenge—developing meaningful metrics for activities that don’t lead directly to ROI. Vanity metrics such as “Likes,” retweets and shares come in for a fair amount of criticism, because the C-suite doesn’t care.

Well…no, top executives likely don’t care much about how many Twitter followers the company has or how much “engagement” the firm’s social media updates may have generated—but they do care very much about the brands share of online voice, brand awareness, brand preference, and brand image.

The challenge for marketers is to “roll up” low-level vanity and web analytics metrics into measures that do resonate in the board room. Marketers also need to set measurable goals for activities at all stages of the sales funnel and track what’s appropriate at each level.

A final challenge is attribution. Customer retention, for example, is an easy metric to track. But how do you accurately measure the impact of your customer newsletter, blog, or customer service activity on Twitter on customer retention? Ceasing those activities probably isn’t a good idea, regardless of whether or not they can be tied directly to retention rate.

These are just a few of the insights shared by the more than two dozen expert contributors to the B2B Marketing Trends for 2016 eBook. Download the eBook to discover all of the wisdom shared regarding where savvy B2B marketers will be focusing their efforts this year.