Traditional thinking holds that lead generation and brand visibility are the primary, if not exclusive, goals of marketing for business-to-business (B2B) companies. Some B2B stakeholders see the tactics commonly deployed in the business-to-consumer (B2C) realm – social media, dynamic visual content, inbound marketing – as child’s play: Fun stuff that doesn’t rise to their unique business development challenges.
2016 is a year that will turn ‘traditional thinking’ on its head – especially in B2B marketing. In fact, several B2C strategies have already significantly infiltrated the B2B space: Content marketing, “freemium” pricing models, and streamlined online purchasing processes (fill-out-the-form versus fax-over-the-contract) are increasingly common, even for enterprise-serving companies.
On a macro level, there’s an obvious reason B2B marketers need to adopt more seemingly ‘consumer-focused’ strategies: Younger professionals (of the oft-discussed ‘Millennial Generation’) are moving into buyer positions. To get their attention, B2B companies need to reach out to them with the same kind of ingenuity and tech-savvy that they’ve come to expect as retail consumers.
All of which makes this the year that B2B CMOs must get smart about testing or adopting B2C strategies, or making their existing ones more efficient and sophisticated. The following three areas are a great place to start:
1. Lead Nurturing: Get Specific and Customized
Lead nurturing is nothing new in B2B marketing, given that many companies in the space have extra-long buying cycles. According to a study by Demand Gen, 42% of B2B marketers have been implementing lead nurturing tactics for more than two years.
Lead nurturing is the process of keeping potential customers engaged from initial point-of-contact through sale, often by sending them emails designed to drive them through the buying cycle. But many B2B companies are guilty of taking a too-simple ‘drip campaign’ approach to lead nurturing: Segmenting leads solely by date acquired, and then sending the same series of messages, on the same schedule, to all the leads in that segment.
But deploying highly targeted content to smaller, more tailored segments is much more effective. In 2016, B2B marketers should refine their lead nurturing tactics to segment users more specifically (by what their needs are, where the lead was generated, whether they’ve engaged with the company since entering the sales funnel, etc.), pushing prospects into different “nurture paths” depending on their actions and interests. From there, B2B marketers can send more relevant communications and materials – likely boosting conversions.
2. Advertising: Go Digital and Engaging
For decades, B2B ad spending was long allocated primarily to print media – and an estimated 52% of B2B marketers still plug dollars into print ads and other offline promotional materials, despite only middling effectiveness.
Overall though, B2B marketers understand that advertising is a primarily digital sphere – both now and in the future – so in recent years, search engine marketing (SEM) has been the type of paid media used most often by B2B marketers (58%).
Yet while many B2B marketers are happy to plug their dollars into Google AdWords and other SEM tools, few invest in the creative approaches to digital advertising that B2C companies often use to create lasting value. One can understand why: advertising, of all kinds, is expensive. But an avoidance of paid advertising opportunities can be detrimental for B2B companies. According to the Content Marketing Institute, effective B2B marketers use paid advertising more often than their less effective peers.
In 2016, B2B marketers need to look beyond SEM, print advertising, and ineffective online banner ads. Two smart areas for B2B marketers to consider in 2016? Native advertising (aka “sponsored content”) and paid video, on YouTube and other mediums. Both forms of content help new audiences to engage with your brand and consume your information, and do so in a far more measurable way (clicks, impressions, time-on-page, seconds of video viewed, etc.) than any magazine ad ever could. Sorry, print world.
3. Social and Mobile: Get Active and Creative
Reaching Millennial-age B2B buyers, as well as their increasingly tech-savvy superiors, requires going beyond basic email marketing to smart multichannel outreach. For one, B2B marketers in 2016 need to make sure – if they haven’t already – that their websites, communications, and even their purchasing processes are fully mobile optimized, or else they’ll see their associated metrics (time-on-site, open rates, conversions) drop significantly as mobile use in the B2B space continues to grow.
This is also the year that B2B companies should stop looking at social media as something they have to do – for overall branding and awareness purposes – into something they want to do in order to compel interested audiences to engage with their brand and enter the buying cycle.
And tacking on paid social media ads to existing paid strategies can be a smart way to boost overall results. Think about it this way: Should B2B teams deploy sponsored content or paid video as part of their marketing strategies, the only way to maximize the value of the content is to share it with even more interested audiences.
Putting paid social aside, the key to doing B2B social media effectively is to focus on humanizing the brand without watering it down. (For example, by using a non-institutional tone to discuss complex issues, or sharing creative visual content that makes it easy to understand the features of your product or service.) In 2016, the more creative and innovative B2B brands are with social media, the more they’ll see engagement grow.
Check out these B2B marketers that are doing a great job at engaging their audiences (we think so anyway):
Boxever – www.boxever.com
Bond Brand Loyalty – www.bondbrandloyalty.com
GE – www.ge.com/digital
Have we missed any top B2B marketers from the list? Let us know in the comments.