Last year we shared 2019’s B2B marketing trends. But with the new year now upon us, its time to look into the future and figure out what will be the defining trends of 2020 B2B marketing. We think there are some key developments that build on 2019, and other things that fall by the wayside.
B2B marketing is changing and it’s changing rapidly. Over the last 15 years, B2B buyers and their behaviours have fundamentally evolved. The internet has created the most informed buyers and marketers need to find new ways of complimenting and ensuring relevance in increasingly crowded markets.
So without further ado, here are the top B2B marketing trends that should be on your radar for the year ahead.
Marketers have been crying out that content is king in the last few years, and so you can expect this trend to get stronger in 2020 and beyond. B2B customers need to see you as a proactive voice within your space. They want to see your authoritative, secure and strong vision for the future. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has stated that over 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers, which only reinforces how critical it is to marketing efforts today.
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Why is this?
Well, a multi-pronged approach can be utilised to reach them through many formats. From sponsoring industry-specific podcasts to publishing insightful infographics on your Twitter timeline, a thoroughly varied approach will help secure more attention from an increasing number of potential customers as the months pass on.
It can take up to seven points of exposure for a customer to start valuing your business as a potential opportunity. By spreading your content marketing reach over many platforms, you are able to continually suggest your competence and relevance.
Authenticity should also be considered a vibrant and vital term to adopt. Thought leadership is a phrase that’s been floating around since the early 2000s, and quite frankly it’s lost its meaning. Being a voice in the industry is no longer enough against the white noise of all those claiming to be experts. B2B customers are aware of shallow blogs and half-hearted insights being used as an SEO-led marketing strategy.
As such, providing real value in the form of practical leadership (as opposed to thought leadership) is essential. How are you answering the questions of your target audience? Why should someone take your example over a competitor? Going that extra mile will help you secure leads.
Marketing companies have become extremely slick at promoting their packages in a shiny, attractive wrapping. They’ve utilised excellent motion graphics for smooth video presentations, adopted green-screen-led website greetings and opted for simple pricing options to allow customers to easily and quickly digest their output. These renewed methods signify great strides in clean messaging.
However, it’s very easy for marketing firms to become lost in the sauce of their own self-aggrandisement. Humble businesses, firms looking to make a difference, or those tired of this overly polished messaging can identify this as soulless, and it can make you seem vague. In 2020, B2B customers want to know that you have their interests at heart, not that you’re going to churn them through a highly-automated process.
This means marketing to them directly, focusing on your customer or buyer and prioritising the quality of messaging over how easily and often it is received and this signifies positive new changes in the industry. You can be sure that ABM (account-based marketing) will become the new norm, and so refining a program such as this can be important, especially if you want to secure those precious leads and start moving that revenue needle.
2020 will see marketers get cunning with their paid media targeting efforts. B2B marketers need to understand that bigger isn’t better. Instead, targeting niche audiences and their specific pain points is the way to secure those all-important leads.
LinkedIn is well-known as the go-to for B2B advertisement, and it is a platform that allows you to get really specific with your audience criteria. This means you can get as granular as targeting a certain job function within a single industry, and coupled with the right messaging is a powerful tool in lead generation.
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But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let’s not forget the golden rule of content — value. A sales-led approach is likely to scare off prospects at the top of the funnel, instead educate your audience by pushing them towards premium content such as eBooks or pillar pages, ensuring they’re either gated or include pain point-focused calls to action to capture leads.
Marketers have got clever with their Google Ads targeting too. Custom-intent audiences have allowed companies to target specific domains or URLs at a fraction of the cost of other paid platforms. This has enabled cost-effective display ad placements on competitor websites and is a subtle but effective poaching tactic.
There’s a reason that B2B and B2C marketing are two different disciplines. It’s an obvious statement yes, but it’s shocking how many marketers try (and fail) to adapt B2C techniques to suit B2B.
The sales cycles and average order values for B2C are much smaller than B2B. As such, impersonal mass outreach tools are used to target as many people as possible and drive a high volume of sales. With many decision makers involved in the B2B buying process, the 'quick win' B2C mentality simply doesn't work — blanket marketing is far too broad to convince a business in a hyper-specialised market that your product is worth their investment of both time and money.
We’ve already touched upon account-based marketing becoming the norm, and the focus for the year ahead needs to be persona-led — targeted outreach based on data. This means understanding your specific prospect, where they belong and best practices on how to target them, and only them — not the 10,000 people who vaguely resemble them. There’s an ever-increasing number of B2B tools, platforms and software to help achieve this and support growth.
But before you go adopting them all...
Another new tool to learn? Groan.
If you want employee buy-in, simplifying your MarTech stack is essential. There are always new self-proclaimed ‘must-have’ apps or ‘genius’ pieces of software popping up. They are all the hype and businesses are quick to adopt them before they are ultimately thrown into a disused corner of their workspace. There is no all-encompassing MarTech stack that works for everyone. As unhelpful as the short answer is, you simply have to find what works for you.
Having said this, it’s important to keep in mind what you actually need out of a marketing tool. It’s very easy to give in to the alure of shiny new features, but don’t forget the core principles — to be able to easily record and manage your data. After all, data drives your business.
SEO has helped a great number of firms eloquently market their wares within nested content, but it’s true that trying to ‘hack’ the algorithm or doing everything you can to rank higher will distract you from organic SEO and the benefits therein.
User experience (UX) needs to be a key consideration as potential customers navigate through your site and digest its contents. Google and other search engines are continually updating their algorithms to favour worthwhile content, meaning that designing a new strategy going forward can help you intertwine SEO into a value-led content strategy. You need to continually focus on quality and ensure this reflects your business correctly. Once again, it needs to be curated to the specific audiences you hope to attract and the questions and pain points that they want answering.
The power that search engines like Google hold mean that SEO has and will continue to be an integral part of your content strategy, but remember — UX matters — so harness SEO, don’t hack it.
Stop doing big website projects.
They may be big, but they’re definitely not clever.
Not only do these dragged out projects suck the life and soul out of everyone involved, they often result in the pursuit of perfection which ultimately turns out one of two ways:
Instead, start thinking like a product manager and create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) website. An MVP website isn’t developed to the point of perfection, it’s purpose is to understand how users interact with it, whereby iterative changes to SEO, UX and messaging can be made to improve it.
It’s a data-driven design, born from a growth-driven methodology. This negates the risk of developing a site only to find out it’s way off the mark and fails to fulfil the fundamental requirements of your users.
Growth hacking is one of the most overused buzzwords in the marketing industry today. You can’t hack your way to B2B marketing success.
This strategy is far too broad for B2B — rapidly experimenting across marketing channels to find the most efficient way to grow your business is unlikely to yield results. It’s too short-term and over-optimistic. You may find it a useful acquisition tool to begin with, but retention will be your downfall as you discover poor-fit customers become the norm.
Ultimately, growth hacking doesn’t make your product any more compelling or useful. As you focus on acquisition over retention, customers will soon start questioning the value they are receiving and take their business elsewhere.
For sustainable growth, you need to take time to understand your audience and target them effectively. If you nurture prospects through the funnel and educate them towards the perfect sales conversion you’ll establish a best-fit client base, retain more customers and drive profitable growth.