B2B marketers have had a much steeper learning curve with digital than their B2C counterparts. Fortunately, those who stuck with it are seeing results. B2B companies that have remained committed to digital marketing now have proof that their efforts are resulting in increased awareness of their services, differentiators and value proposition.
This is a big deal because the promise of digital marketing (as opposed to paid media or direct mail, for example) is significantly reduced costs. So companies that stayed the course are now spending dramatically less to get and stay on their customers’ radar screens.
Additionally, companies that have been pursuing the digital track for longer – provided they’ve taken their marketing beyond a semi-regular enewsletter and an occasionally posting on social media – are also starting to see increased sales.
2017 digital trends are shifting the marketing landscape and helping B2B companies achieve a return on their investment.
The first, big overarching trend is an emphasis on data. If you’re not yet collecting customer and market data and making that data usable, before you do anything else in 2017, invest in a process, system and/or technology for doing just that. Every trend we have seen in recent years, and will see in the future, has data in its DNA.
Brand storytelling has always been central to good marketing. Where advertising and data fail, stories engage, connect and drive action. Today, easy access to technology affords new and innovative ways for creating and sharing content – especially visual content.
And while brands will continue to seek new formats for sharing information and data to create emotion and drive action, the future of marketing is not in building a better platform for broadcasting your brand’s story. The next level of brand storytelling is about how well brands can facilitate the story exchange and tap into stories that customers are sharing with each other.
For a case study on how a science and technology company GE leveraged both audience storytellers and leading technologies, read “The GE Model for Brand Storytelling.”
Not all that long ago marketers championed moving away from talking at audiences to engaging in a two-way conversation.
And for years, engagement remained the hottest marketing currency. It’s the birthplace of the modern website, the backbone of social media and the foundation of today’s strongest brands.
Today, the focus is shifting again – this time toward one-to-one communication, or personalization. Through tailored messages, customized experiences and predictive marketing, companies are looking for ways to create highly personalized experiences for individual prospects or customers.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM), for example, leverages technology to automate and scale a very personalized, high-touch process of directly and effectively targeting a select group of prospects. Previously employed by enterprise-size companies only, thanks to technology, this level of personalization is now attainable for B2B companies of all sizes.
Until now B2B marketers have routinely put most of their energy into finding, attracting, engaging and selling a customer – the first phases of the customer journey. However, it’s post-sale where the real power lies.
Existing customers, given additional value after the sale, become not only loyalists but also brand champions who are passionate about advocating for the companies they like.
Once again, B2B companies are capitalizing on most successful B2C practices for cultivating brand advocates. Customer loyalty programs; customer-only communities; and tools for engaging top customers in sharing experiences, challenges and providing feedback are, by nature, much more credible to new customers than any “marketing” message.
Does this make you want to put up a new testimonials page on your website? DON’T DO IT.
It’s tempting to turn to familiar tactics and settle for what seems like at least an incremental improvement. But to become truly relevant to today’s hyper-connected, socially-influenced and increasingly-impatient B2B customers and make the experience truly worth their time, you must think beyond creating just another promotional opportunity for your company.
Apps are another trend typically thought of as a B2C tactic. But they have valuable applications for B2B companies that wish to enhance the customer experience during or post sale, and we will see them becoming a larger part of the B2B marketing toolbox.
Apps can provide prospects and customers with tools for more informed decision making, offer an easy way to interact with a service offering or allow customers to test-drive a product. They can also be used for networking with customers and prospects or enhancing conference or tradeshow experience.
Although this trend is currently cost-prohibitive for most B2B companies, that won’t be the case for long. In today’s global economy – especially for companies where simulated on-location experience, project tour or showcase make a difference in sealing the deal or at least shortening the sales cycle – VR will soon become indispensable.
If this seems far-fetched, just think that only 20 years ago the main form of communication was on paper!
According to Forrester, VR will become even more important for delivering customer experiences in the next five years. And it’s promised to become more affordable as soon as 2018–2019. So, A/E/C and technology firms, as well as other sectors, such as education and healthcare, need to take notice.
Finally, here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: Make 2017 the end of the “digital vs. traditional” marketing mindset.
When companies think of traditional vs. digital, costs rise, confusion ensues and strategy and opportunity are the collateral damage.
Stop talking about “digital marketing,” “digital strategies,” “digital team” and put your energy and resources into creating an integrated marketing department, strategy and plan that result in more effective marketing for your company.
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