In 2017, B2B marketers will continue to deal with tangible growth and marketing ROI pressures. Below are 13 primary B2B marketing trends that deserve your time and attention and will help you address the challenges, opportunities, and complexities you’ll undoubtedly be presented with this year.
#1: Customer Experience Balance
Probably the most impactful B2B marketing trend in 2017 will be a tighter focus on improving the customer experience while driving growth. Strive to use a balanced approach to building customer loyalty. Instead of focusing solely on “customer-centric” methods based on your customers’ lifetime value, offset it with “customer-focused” techniques that enable you to provide relevant experiences across all touch points and concentrate on what your customers value most. Symmetry between those two approaches will result in higher revenue combined with stronger customer loyalty.
#2: Executive Branding
Over the past decade, the Internet, mobility, and social media have upended traditional “command and control” marketing. The pendulum has shifted dramatically to individuals—individuals as buyers and individuals as the voices of their companies. As a result, traditional company branding and digital marketing efforts are no longer sufficient. Especially in B2B environments, executive branding is now considered a necessity.
Grant Wickes, an executive branding specialist, says, “Senior executives must create and develop their personal brand. Buyers want to know the ‘why’ and trust the leaders behind the companies they do business with. Some companies have adapted to this evolution, but many have not. And executives are most guilty of not embracing this new paradigm. Some feel there is no need, but 2017 will mark a watershed year for executive branding.”
#3: Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning into B2B marketing playbooks will continue to increase this year. In late 2016, Forrester Research predicted that “AI will provide business users with access to powerful insights before they are available to them.”
Through the use of cognitive interfaces in complex systems, advanced analytics, and machine learning technology. Many vendors are already embedding components of cognitive computing capabilities into their solutions. This isn’t just technology for technology’s sake. AI will drive faster business decisions in marketing, e-commerce, product management, and other areas of the business by helping close the gap from insights to action.”
#4: Visual Content Marketing
According to HubSpot, B2C marketers still place more emphasis on the importance of visual content in their marketing portfolios, but B2B marketers are catching up quickly. The primary driver is the desire to make content more engaging, compelling, and shareable than just the written word. The most common forms of visual content that will be used in 2017 will be video (including 360-degree video), infographics, and images in blogs and social media posts.
#5: Influence Marketing
Influence marketing isn’t new, but it will begin to mature in 2017. Warren Whitlock, a noted influence marketing pro, says, “Everyone has influence. Influence marketing is the practice of finding the people who are already influencing your market. They will welcome your help to serve their audience better and reward you with reputation and trusted leads.”
Following the trend set by their B2C brethren, B2B marketers will continue partnering with influencers but will focus more on social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc. This year also will mark the rise of micro-influencers in the B2B space, which typically have fewer followers and less reach than their mainstream counterparts, but they also tend to be a lot more focused on one specific topic.
#6: Native Advertising
Native advertising refers to material in an online publication which resembles editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intends to promote the advertiser’s products or services. A viable alternative to traditional banner and interstitial advertising, native advertising is blurring the lines between advertising and content and will continue its upward growth curve in 2017.
It’s much less intrusive, can provide educational benefits for the reader, is more likely to be shared, and can be very cost effective for the advertiser. A number of leading B2B companies have figured out how to successfully leverage native advertising, including IBM, Teradata, Delux, Dell, and Intel.
#7: Agile Marketing
Every marketer says he or she wants to work smarter, not harder, right? Well, agile marketing is all about working smarter—and much more quickly. Originally developed by software engineers and now a hot trend in the marketing space, the goal of the agile process is to enable you to get the right things done at the right time.
The folks at Velocidi say that for most B2B organizations, “embracing agile marketing means letting go of traditional barriers between departments and adopting a far more collaborative approach, both within the organization and with clients. Although adjusting corporate culture to accommodate an agile model can be challenging, its benefits extend far beyond sales.”
#8: Experiential Marketing
Instead of just sending a marketing message to a prospect, experiential marketing creates an opportunity for your customers and prospects to truly experience your brand, whether in a virtual setting or in person. As this trend grows in the consumer world, more and more B2B buyers will begin to expect the same from their suppliers.
Spend some time educating yourself about the latest experiential marketing strategies and techniques, and give some thought as to how you could integrate them into the interactions with your customers and prospects at trade shows, on their cell phones, etc., so they can “touch,” “taste,” and “feel” your brand. You might also want to consider how experiential marketing could be used within your own organization for engaging, educating, and energizing your employees.
#9: Social Media
In 2016, 39% of marketers reported significant ROI generated from social media marketing, contrasted with only 9% in 2015. While this data implies that challenges still exist, year-over-year increases show that B2B marketers are becoming more successful at converting social media activities into sales leads, and ultimately, revenue. Paul Slack, developer of the “social media tactical wheel,” agrees.
Paul is a firm believer in the role that social media will play in the B2B arena again in 2017. He says, “Social media is your marketing and sales teams’ best friend when it comes to opportunities to grab face time with tough-to-access people and to keep the referral pipeline well oiled. Those who are best at leveraging the tools and navigating the online culture have learned to optimize relationships within their communities to reach clients they never would have landed without their participation.”
#10: Mobile Marketing
Back in mid-2014, we reached the official tipping point concerning access to websites. At that time, mobile devices officially overtook desktops as the preferred method of viewing and downloading content on the web. By the 4th quarter of 2016, 50% of all B2B companies had implemented a responsive design for their websites, according to Gorilla Group. (Responsive design allows a website to be more easily viewed on smartphones, tablets, and notebooks.) That was almost double the percentage of sites with responsive design in 2015 (26%). That trend will undoubtedly continue in 2017, as more and more B2B marketers realize the necessity of deploying mobile-friendly sites.
#11: Next-Gen Automation
A number of studies conducted by Aberdeen Group, Ovum, Marketing Sherpa, and others have revealed that the adoption of marketing automation technologies continues to be one of the fastest growing marketing trends today. The next generation of marketing automation tools are now being used by all sizes and types of B2B organizations to accomplish a variety of objectives, such as driving e-commerce revenue, generating and nurturing leads, accumulating customer intelligence, managing cross-channel campaigns, and account-based marketing, among many others.
According to Forrester Research, 58% of the top-performing companies where marketing contributes more than half of the sales pipeline have adopted marketing automation.
#12: Alignment and Collaboration
Although the need seems obvious, most B2B organizations still aren’t willing—or don’t know how—to align their marketing and sales efforts. You can argue that customer experience should be added to the equation as well, so that all three functions are marching to the same drummer. That approach will help tear down the inherent silos that exist in most organizations and will encourage everyone to turn their focus to the customer.
Also, experiment with incorporating shared goals in your compensation programs for your marketing, sales, and customer service teams. It’s amazing what financial incentives can do to change behavior when it comes to alignment and collaboration.
#13: Outsourced Marketing Executives
In an age where digital and social tools are all the rage, B2B companies in the SMB space are more frustrated than ever because they’re not getting what they want. B2B marketing firms are frustrated as well, as their clients sometimes paint complex—and often conflicting—pictures of what they want. Outsourced CMO Eddie Reeves says, “The businesses that will be successful as this confusion grows will be those which proactively build into their structure, function, and culture an overt bias towards multidisciplinary execution.
By bringing to bear seasoned professionals from outside their own organizations who offer deep levels of proven expertise across a wide expanse of sectors and industries, they can more quickly and efficiently realize significant, profitable growth.”