Why Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends matter for B2B

The digital oracle’s latest report is the most relevant yet for B2B marketers

July 17, 2019

2019 Internet Trends that matter for B2B

If you’re an informed marketer then you’ve almost certainly heard of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report. It’s the venture capital community’s most authoritative take on how internet habits are changing, how different platforms are responding – and where the opportunities for growth lie. However, if you’re a B2B marketer, you might be left wondering how much of this massive 333-slide presentation is really relevant to you. 

Does the fact that half of the world’s population is now online make a difference to your strategy? Should you be responding to the fact that interactive gaming experiences like Fortnite are emerging as the new social media? Should you be worried about the rise of encrypted messaging platforms, or the freemium model of online streaming services?

If you’ve been glancing at the coverage of Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report in the marketing press, then you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is content primarily for B2C marketers – and saving yourself the time needed to go through the thing in full. That would be a real mistake though. As a long-term fan of Mary’s work, I think this is the most relevant report yet for B2B marketers. It’s packed with insights on changing audience expectations that are hugely relevant for your B2B marketing strategy. And it throws up some genuinely big ideas that could inspire new propositions, new business models, and new approaches to the buyer journey.

Here are the seven key Meeker findings that B2B marketers should be paying closest attention to:

All communication is becoming more visual

One of the biggest ideas in Internet Trends 2019 is that we’re seeing a fundamental shift towards more visual communication online. Meeker points to two decades of growth in the number of images captured and created via smartphones – and the explosion of image sharing that’s now taking place on social platforms from Instagram and Pinterest to Twitter, where 50% of impressions now involve a visual image of some type. 

This trend is more than just a case of people taking and sharing more pictures, though. It’s the rapidly diversifying functionality around images that makes things really interesting. On Instagram and Pinterest, users are increasingly accustomed to image-driven commerce, with a shopper journey that’s based around discovering new products from pictures. Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) like Google Lens open up new possibilities by capturing information from images (by image recognition or visual text translation) and communicating information through images via augmented reality. Meanwhile, the growth of platforms like Snapchat and Canva is teaching users to tell their own stories via edited images rather than through words. They are becoming graphic designers rather than just photographers and writers.

How do B2B marketers respond to a more visually driven world of communications? By treating imagery as more than just illustration. If our audiences are more accustomed to creating images that talk to people on different levels, then it’s important to reach out to them through visuals that do the same. If you needed any more of an argument for moving beyond standard stock photography, and investing in illustration, infographics, and design time, then the 2019 Internet Trends Report is it.

Online video is growing – and diversifying

Meeker doesn’t just pick up on the fact that communication as a whole is becoming more visual. She’s keenly aware that more and more of those visuals are moving. Online video is another big story among the 2019 internet trends – because of the speed with which it’s growing and because of the interesting new forms it’s taking. In the US, 28% of all viewing time is now spent online, with time spent engaging with a mobile predicted to overtake time spent watching TV this year. 

This is more than a case of people watching shows on YouTube rather than TV, however. A growing share of online video viewing is taken up by short video formats such as Instagram or Facebook Stories. The definition of what constitutes video has quickly broadened. It includes ideas that are expressed in a few seconds as well as those expressed in a few minutes. And this diversification applies to B2B video just as much as peer-to-peer video sharing. Within the LinkedIn feed, we’re already seeing a rich variety of video lengths and formats.

The voice revolution is here

“You had the time, you had the power, you’re yet to have your finest hour…” Okay, so Freddie Mercury was singing about radio rather than podcasts and virtual digital assistants, but as a prediction about the comeback of audio communication, Radio Ga Ga is pretty much bang on the money as far as Meeker is concerned. 

She points to how Amazon Echo’s installed base within the US has almost doubled in just a year, with the number of available Skills on the platform growing even faster. The growth in Podcast listeners is almost as spectacular, with 70 million monthly listeners in the US alone, twice the number four years ago. A glance at Apple’s Top Ten most downloaded podcasts shows the rich variety of content that listeners are engaging with – and the very real appetite for high-end thought leadership delivered via voice. There’s never been a stronger argument for building podcast strategies for B2B brands.

Freemium is transforming the B2B customer journey

Zoom, Dropbox, Slack, Wix, Google G Suite … Meeker’s slides are filled with examples of enterprise applications that have grown through the Freemium model originally associated with online gaming and apps. It’s having a huge impact on the B2B tech buying journey, and could reshape expectations of B2B buying more generally, as audiences get used to the idea of trying services for free before they upgrade to a paid version. 

Network effects are a big part of the Freemium story. Just as with the growth of multiplayer gaming through social media, it’s the recommendations of existing users that often drive others to try a new video meeting platform or file sharing service for free. As a result, employee and customer advocacy have never been more important to B2B. Marketers need to think beyond traditional case study formats when it comes to encouraging and amplifying these voices.

Meeker’s analysis shows how Freemium B2B brands are succeeding in growing both their user base and their percentage of paying users – proof of the effectiveness of this go-to-market strategy. In the case of Zoom and Google G Suite, the percentage of paying subscribers is skyrocketing. All in all, she concludes, the Freemium business model in B2B is just getting started. In several sectors, the notion of paying for something before your business starts using it, could soon seem quaint.

Customer experience data is the key to competitive advantage

Customer insight has always underpinned the most successful businesses, from IBM leveraging the customer understanding of its B2B sales teams in the first half of the 20th century, to Nike developing its shoes by employing people from its target audience of runners, to Chrysler pioneering focus group research in the 1980s. Today, that customer insight comes through a growing array of what Meeker calls, “data plumbing tools.” She charts the growth of software from the likes of Qualtrics, Twilio, Salesforce and Slack, all of which enable companies to capture and organise customer experience data like never before. Packages and platforms like this make real-time data analysis more accessible, and they’ll lead the integration of AI and data-driven decision-making into sales, marketing and other areas of operations.

Cloud is transforming the tech landscape

Underpinning both the growth of Freemium and the accessibility of customer experience data is businesses’ growing dependence on the Cloud. This no longer just provides Software as a Service (SaaS). A growing number of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) also use the Cloud as a source of development platforms (37%) and IT infrastructure (49%). 

The growth of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud is freeing businesses from worries about integrating new technology into their operations, driving greater trial of new services. These platforms are also storing the data that is increasingly integral to how businesses make decisions – and market to their customers. Meeker’s report shows how the volume of data stored on the Cloud is about to overtake the volume stored on in-house servers. This will help drive exponential growth in the use of real-time data and AI.

Everyone needs the ability to learn faster

It’s a worrying conclusion of Meeker’s report that the speed of technological development is already outpacing the ability of businesses, employees, regulators and governments to adapt. However, this gap can be closed by a conscious effort to develop skills that enable faster learning and experimentation. Meeker identifies online learning platforms as a massive growth opportunity with a vital role to play in the future of work. That aligns with LinkedIn’s own research, that shows how soft skills like creativity and adaptability are becoming increasingly valued by businesses. Nowhere is this more true than in sales and marketing. Prioritising the ability to learn, and building a learning culture around your marketing team, is arguably the most significant source of advantage in B2B going forward.