Editor’s note: Updated July 2019.
The marketing landscape never stays the same for very long. In 2019, B2B marketers will see old trends evolve and new strategies emerge. Disruptions like machine learning and artificial intelligence are changing the way B2B buyers interact with brands online. With so many tools to choose from, picking the perfect strategy is a difficult challenge. In fact, choosing just one strategy isn’t enough anymore. Businesses must have the ability to stay agile and choose a mix of tools and strategies that improve the buying experience.
These strategies can support your B2B sales and marketing goals in 2019 and beyond:
1. Content marketing
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 trends report, 78 percent of B2B survey respondents said they currently use content marketing, and the most successful marketers are more likely to have a well-documented strategy. Top performers said that the two best benefits of thorough documentation are better alignment around common goals and more effective decision making around which types of content to develop.
CMI also found that the majority of B2B content marketers leverage educational assets to nurture leads and build audience trust, which is essential for inbound marketing. Adding content that encourages audience participation and community building could augment the impact of educational assets. For example, an informational blog post could link to an interactive quiz that tests the reader’s knowledge.
In addition to blogs, white papers and other written assets, effective content strategies include other types of media, such as podcasts, infographics and videos. In fact, video marketing is quickly becoming a powerhouse strategy in its own right. Compared with other media formats, users everywhere favor video-based experiences.
Consider repurposing articles, graphics and case studies as videos to gain additional engagement. Not everyone who visits your website wants or has the time to read an entire blog post. Repurposed content expands the reach of your messages by creating a unified customer experience.
A mix of content also supports account-based marketing efforts, which often require content tailored to several decision makers within the same organization. For example, a white paper that covers technical details can appeal to a CTO and a concise video may be more engaging for a busy CEO.
2. Email marketing
B2B marketers have utilized email marketing since the inception of the internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s an antiquated tool. Over the years, email marketing strategies and the technology that drives them have evolved significantly. It’s still one of the best ways to connect with cold leads, existing customers, and everyone in between.
Enterprise-class email marketing platforms leverage powerful automation tools to segment audiences and produce hyper-personalized messages programmatically. When combined with killer content, email marketing automation drives audience engagement. For example, marketers can develop triggered routines that dispatch relevant email content when users download a white paper, abandon a shopping cart, or perform some other trackable action on a website.
Research from Constant Contact revealed that the average email open rate is 15.75 percent for all industries, with a click-through rate of 7.63 percent. This highlights the importance of subject lines and content. On one hand, an effective email subject line makes clicking irresistible to target readers. Questions, calls to action, time-sensitive offers and even nonsequiturs can encourage readers to open a message.
On the other hand, engaging email content satisfies the reader’s initial curiosity and draws them in with a relevant appeal. The type of marketing appeal that is most compelling will depend on the needs of your target audience. Marketing Land contributor Kyle Henderick noted that interactive content can improve engagement rates by personalizing the experience or providing entertainment. For example, polling customers about a recent brand interaction can generate data to support the continued improvement of the buyer journey.
When customers need support, the last thing they want to hear from an automated phone service is, “Please call back between the hours of nine and five….” It’s frustrating and it harms the business’s relationship with new and returning customers. Hiring an international call center could solve the issue, but brings about its own set of challenges, not to mention the increased expense. This is where intelligent chatbots can come to the rescue. In fact, Business Insider reported that 80 percent of businesses already use or plan to use chatbots by 2020.
Chatbots can answer frequently asked questions almost instantly, which can save human resources for more complex customer interactions. Likewise, chatbots can nurture new leads and hand them off to sales staff when they have matured. As part of an inbound marketing strategy, chatbots can engage readers after they view your content.
Research from Gartner indicates that 50 percent of enterprises will spend more on chatbots than on traditional app development by 2021. Integrating chatbots throughout a business’s website, apps and social media profiles can provide many of the benefits of an omnichannel experience. Organizations need to integrate chatbots carefully and with their customers’ need in mind. Our research found that, although many people have interacted with bots, the majority of users only find them somewhat helpful.
Fewer fractured interactions and more consistency between communication platforms can improve the customer’s comfort level with a brand. It’s like seeing your favorite barista at another coffee shop across town – you’ll get your order exactly the way you like it, without having to explain it all over again.
4. Social media
For B2B marketers, Facebook remains the most important social channel, according to data from Statista. Compared with other channels, Facebook offers robust targeting options that allow marketers to optimize their spend and focus on segments that are most likely to generate leads. Facebook also allows marketers to harness the power of the social media giant’s extensive database by leveraging lookalike audiences – users who have exhibited online behaviors similar to your customers, but who have not yet shown interest in your specific product or service.
Social media remains an effective way to humanize brands. B2B marketing centers around human interactions, but communication is often stymied by the realities of corporate life. Important leads may be difficult to communicate with if they’re always in meetings, for example. Social media offers an alternative route where buyers and sellers can let their hair down and discuss topics that can drive value for both parties.
B2B marketers can utilize local inventory ads that show users stock availability and driving distances. So if a user is ready to buy your product immediately, a PPC ad at the top of the search engine results page can show them the fastest and most efficient way to make a purchase. Both Bing and Google offer this feature.
Keywords are likely to become less important in 2019, as PPC networks leverage machine learning algorithms to include variants of exact matches. This is good news for marketers, who can write fewer keyword-bloated snippets and more content that speaks directly to target audience needs. For example, if an ad targets the keyword “yosemite camping”, the network will match the ad with queries such as “yosemite campground” or “campsites in yosemite”, but not the query “yosemite hotel” because the search intention is different.
This intelligent system makes it easier for marketers to distribute their ads to a wider target audience while maintaining relevancy. Combined with robust analytics support, PPC ads can drive site traffic and lead generation. Likewise, PPC networks support marketing automation by maximizing the marketing team’s efficiency.
Remarketing tactics supported by a content strategy can improve a brand’s ability to engage customers throughout the buying process. For example, if customers view articles on a brand’s website, then leave and visit other sites around the web, a dynamic remarketing network can remind them about their previous interest and encourage them to take a further action. Best of all, remarketing fits perfectly into a marketing automation program because these campaigns run unaided after they are built.
The Google Display network reaches over 2 million websites and mobile apps, which means if your customers are online, they’re likely exposed to remarketed display ads. Unlike almost any other B2B marketing strategy in this article, remarketing gives your brand the ability to engage with your content even when they aren’t on a site or social media profile you own.
Analytical models leverage massive amounts of data to generate value for the marketing team. Rather than guessing at what potential customers want and do online, analytics reports show exactly how they interact with digital assets. For instance, marketers can use analytics to view customer behaviors across channels and then adjust the buyer journey to optimize engagement. With hard data to back up their efforts, B2B marketers can develop campaigns with more confidence.
Considering the benefits analytics brings to the table, it may surprise you to learn that a May 2018 report from Forrester found that only 52 percent of B2B marketing decisions are driven by data. The report also noted that B2B customers have rising expectations and marketers are struggling to provide product and service knowledge at the right moment. Today, there are more purchase decision makers in many organizations and buying paths are increasingly nonlinear.
Considering the complex nature of these challenges, it’s clear that a machine-driven approach is necessary to meet customer expectations. According to the American Marketing Association, the average percent of marketing budgets allocated to analytics is expected to increase from 6.7 percent in 2018 to 21.3 percent in 2021. Early adoption of this trend could set businesses apart from their competitors.
8. Channel integration
Answering the question “Where are my customers?” becomes more difficult with each passing year. Are B2B buyers consuming content on mobile or desktop? Do they prefer face-to-face meetings or teleconferences? There are many more questions like these, and none have easy answers. The simplest, and most frustrating, response is that they’re everywhere. That makes multichannel B2B marketing strategies more important than ever.
Multichannel campaigns require more resources, but the value they generate can more than make up for the additional spend. Data from Accenture revealed that multichannel customers are 15 percent more profitable than digital-only customers and 25 percent more profitable than customers who only interact with sales staff. For organizations that leverage account-based marketing, multichannel is essential because different stakeholders within an organization may prefer certain channels.
Accenture also noted that 90 percent of B2B leaders believe customer experience is critical to their organization’s strategic priorities. Channel integration supports this goal by providing consistent experiences throughout the buyer journey. An excellent omnichannel experience not only integrates marketing and sales, but also customer support and product development. Each channel supports the others with personalized customer interactions.
9. Mobile optimization
Companies have been optimizing content for mobile platforms for several years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down in 2019. According to Cisco, mobile data traffic will increase sevenfold between 2017 and 2022, growing twice as fast as fixed IP traffic.
Considering the diminishing size of desktop traffic, it’s clear why many B2B leaders are shifting to a mobile-first marketing strategy. Putting emphasis on mobile during the development stage gives internal stakeholders the time and resources to make exceptional experiences that feel fluid on smartphones and tablets. Mobile prioritization also supports an effective SEO strategy, as Google announced last year its commitment to mobile-first indexing, which means it uses the mobile version of a webpage for ranking.
SEO expert and Search Engine Journal contributor Brian Harnish recently suggested that the days of separate mobile websites is over. Thanks to modern responsive design, a single website can automatically optimize itself for whatever device accesses it. Harnish noted that responsive design eliminates the risk of duplicate content that could negatively impact search engine rankings. Plus, it conforms to the idea that consumers crave consistency. Seeing a completely different version of a brand’s site on mobile can be confusing, and it disrupts the user experience.
10. Influencer marketing
When you think of influencer marketing, you might picture Instagram models and YouTubers who pitch products to consumer audiences. B2C influencer campaigns are certainly more prevalent online – but that doesn’t mean this marketing strategy isn’t working in the B2B space.
Altimeter’s Future of Influencer Marketing report found that B2B marketers lag behind their B2C colleagues in the implementation of influencer strategies. About half of all B2B influencer programs are in an experimental stage, with 36 percent leveraging a campaign-driven approach. In other words, there’s a lot of room to stand out in this channel at the moment.
It’s important to understand what to look for in an influencer. Marketing Land contributor Michael Brito suggested looking for influencers who can offer four key benefits:
- Reach: Does the influencer have a large audience?
- Relevance: Does the influencer regularly discuss topics relevant to your brand?
- Resonance: Do users frequently engage with the influencer’s content?
- Reference: Has the influencer made valuable contacts with other relevant influencers? Do they boost each other’s content?
In the B2B market, influencers can lend thought leadership and professional credibility to a brand’s product and service offerings. When buyers see someone they respect talking about the benefits of an offering, they may be inclined to learn more.
Sales team and marketing team alignment
Traditionally, sales and marketing teams have been siloed from one another. The marketing team develops messaging and content that nurtures and generates leads for the sales team; then, the sales department qualifies those leads and closes sales. However, it just isn’t that simple anymore.
B2B buyers are highly informed today; they have access to nearly all the world’s knowledge in the palm of their hand. So when they ask a question, why should they listen to your answer? You have to convince empowered decision-makers that your brand is the authority on the subject. And perhaps more importantly, you have to ensure that your answer is engaging.
To develop a truly customer-centric user experience, your marketing and sales teams must be in alignment. The last thing you want is for your marketing collateral to promise something your sales representatives can’t fulfill. But even on a more granular level, alignment between these teams can improve your digital marketing ROI. When your sales representatives make contact with qualified leads, they can get right to each customer’s needs if the representatives have a complete picture of every interaction customers have with your brand. For example, if the rep knows a lead has recently read a case study, he or she can discuss it further with the client and skip the low-level details.
Besides adding more meetings to everyone’s schedules, what are some ways to create more alignment between sales and marketing? Integrating digital workflows is a good place to start. A shared promotions calendar can ensure everyone has the same talking points, for example.
A formalized content creation process facilitates a high level of alignment by developing routines that ensure cross-pollination of ideas. Integrating more teams in this process may actually enhance your ability to conceive a cohesive sales funnel. For instance, when your development team adds a new feature to your digital product, stakeholders from that team can work with sales and marketing to ensure everyone fully understands its benefits.
Unlike some other marketing metrics, brand awareness is difficult to quantify, yet 89% of marketers say it is their most important goal, placing it ahead of lead generation, according to the Content Marketing Institute. For B2B marketers, brand awareness is important because prospects often require multiple impressions or engagements before they’ll reach out to the sales team.
Companies big and small can benefit from expanding their reach beyond branded channels. In other words, having a blog article on your website is great, but it can be even more powerful to author a guest blog on another website. However, you have to be careful about where you publish content and who you allow to write guest posts for your own website.
In the old days (read: 2010), marketers would farm out links to any site willing to host them. And in those days, it worked. But in 2011, Google exposed a minor scandal in which Overstock.com was found to be artificially boosting its rankings by paying colleges and universities to host links in exchange for discounts. As a result, Google developed more sophisticated ways of determining the relevancy of hosted links. So when you approach guest bloggers, make sure they have legitimate authority to speak about topics related to your industry.
Mapping the buyer’s journey
Documenting how customers move through your sales funnel is an essential inbound marketing tactic. If you don’t know how your customers move from one piece of content to the next, it’s difficult to optimize your messaging.
Generally, the buyer’s journey can be broken down into three distinct stages: awareness, consideration and decision-making. As noted above, brand awareness is supported by blogs, link building and other top-of-funnel content. At the consideration stage, case studies and white papers can help stakeholders to better understand your products and services. Finally, deep-funnel content actively promotes your offerings with language that primes leads for a conversation with the sales team.
Mapping the buyer journey is really about getting to know your customers. Your buyer personas are useful tools that will help you align your offerings with your customer pain points. With that understanding, you can develop content that speaks to those challenges. Inbound marketing strategies use blogs, email marketing campaigns and social media posts to capture organic traffic and move qualified opportunities into the funnel.
Google Analytics will be your best friend for mapping the entire buyer journey, as your dashboard can show you how visitors move from one page to another, and where they bounce, or leave your site. For example, if you notice that your blogs have high engagement, but your whitepapers have few downloads, you may want to rewrite your blog CTAs to drive traffic to your mid-funnel content. Over time, you’ll need to develop new content to fill in gaps as you notice them.
Social media marketing
Many B2B marketers write off social media marketing because they believe their industry or services are too boring to be appealing. However, thinking of social media users as a homogenous group misses the mark. Sure, Instagram may not be the best platform to promote business services, but you also shouldn’t discount it immediately.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn have powerful targeting tools that allow marketers to fine-tune their campaigns. Many platforms utilize lookalike audiences to find new users who are likely to engage with your brand. For example, if a SaaS company posts an ad on Facebook, the platform will use an algorithm to find users who have engaged with similar brands in the past.
When developing a content strategy for social posts, consider your business goals. Is a LinkedIn ad the right place to discuss your product specifications? Probably not. Is it a good place to show off your brand values and personality? Absolutely.
Whatever you goals, track KPIs to ensure your campaigns are producing results as intended. Example metrics include:
- Post impressions.
- Post engagements.
- Link clicks.
- Follower count.
Voice and semantic search
In the early days of internet marketing, SEO efforts consisted of keywords and a handful of other simple tactics. Websites could shoot to the top of a search engine results page by stuffing pages full of keywords. Today, keywords are still an essential SEO tool, but they require the support of relevant context to meet searcher intent.
Essentially, the SEO of the past needed only to meet the needs of a simple machine. If a web page contained a keyword, a search engine would consider that page relevant to users who searched for that word or phrase. The more instances of that word, the more relevant it was. Today, search engines are capable of matching keyword variants and related words to understand the deeper meaning of queries.
In fact, modern search algorithms can interpret searcher intent by analyzing a number of determinants, such as global and local search history and searcher location. You can see an example of this functionality by opening a new Google tab and searching for something like “How fast can a cheetah run?” If you start a new query with the word “where,” you’ll likely see relevant autocomplete suggestions like “where do cheetahs live?”
Semantic search will become increasingly important as more users search by voice using digital assistants like Siri, Alexa and OK Google. Currently, digital assistants have limited semantic capabilities. You can ask Alexa for a weather report and it will automatically tell you the local forecast. But if you ask Siri, “What is the biggest planet in the solar system?” and then, “How far is it from earth?” Siri won’t understand what “it” refers to.
Content optimized for voice search should provide concise answers using keywords and structured data to support queries processed by semantic algorithms. For example, you could develop a frequently asked questions page that succinctly answers questions posed by your prospects. Your answers may even become rich snippets that appear at the very top of SERPs, in position zero, as we call it.
Pro tip: Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it easy to generate HTML that directly tells the search engine exactly what data type your pages contain.
B2B sales cycles can span months, so it’s essential to differentiate between leads who have shown a passing interest in your content and prospects who have developed significant interest in your offerings. The former group requires additional nurturing before they engage with the sales team, while the latter is ready to learn more about specific features of your products or services.
Content such as white papers and case studies keeps prospects engaged with your brand by giving them meatier content to chew on. This type of collateral should include in-depth analysis, data points and primary research. It’s often developed with a target decision-maker in mind. Consult your audience personas to ensure your down-funnel content addresses the needs and interests of managerial and executive stakeholders.
Compared with B2C campaigns, B2B campaigns often need to appeal to multiple prospects at various stages of the sales cycle. As buyers travel down the sales funnel, they’ll bring in additional stakeholders to sign off on various aspects of the proposal. For example, SaaS providers often develop content for prospect IT leaders, financial stakeholders and end-users. Prospect marketing initiates when leads pass a predetermined point in the funnel.
To fully optimize this strategy, it should be deployed in conjunction with a strong inbound marketing strategy. You can think of these two tactics as accelerants within the sales funnel. Inbound marketing attracts organic leads to your website by satisfying user search intent, driving leads on to mid-funnel content, where prospect marketing kicks in and generates deep-funnel engagement, and ultimately, boosts conversion rates.
Your email capture rate is a great indicator of the success of your prospect marketing efforts. Strong mid- and deep-funnel content should grab the prospect’s attention and make him or her think deeply about a trend, pain point or topic that will facilitate a conversation with a salesperson.
As you can see, many of these B2B marketing strategies work best when used alongside others. Email marketing supports content engagement, chatbots tear down silos between channels and analytics provides a roadmap for strategy improvement. Content optimized for semantic search supports an SEO strategy that addresses searcher intent. Use a mix of these essential marketing strategies to meet your B2B marketing goals in 2019 and beyond.