B2B Beat: 7 Marketing Lessons Learned from BMA15

Takeaways from BMA15 that are a blend of the old, the new, and the remade

May 31, 2015


The Business Marketing Association’s annual conference, BMA15, took place in Chicago this week from May 27-29 and delivered many valuable takeaways for today’s B2B marketers.

I’ve been going to Business Marketing Association annual conferences for a long time, since back when the organization was called the Business/Professional Advertisers Association. I went to the 1977 annual conference in Rochester and the 1978 edition in San Francisco. I was not, technically, an attendee. I was just 12 or 13 years old. My father, who ran a B2B advertising agency now known as HDMZ for many years, was a B/PAA member, and he brought the family to the conferences. For us kids, it was the start of summer vacation.

Mercifully, I didn’t attend the conference sessions back then – instead we visited Niagara Falls near Rochester and roamed Chinatown in San Francisco. But I know the topics back then focused on the relatively limited tactics of the day: print advertising, trade shows, and distributor marketing.

In contrast, BMA15 delved into many topics that either didn’t exist or weren’t on the radar in the 1970s: marketing automation, customer experience, content marketing, and growth hacking. But BMA15 also covered many perennial B2B topics, such as branding and event marketing.

B2B marketing has changed – but not completely. Here are seven takeaways from BMA15 that are a blend of the old, the new, and the remade:

1. BlackBerry isn’t dead.

BlackBerry famously has had its troubles. Ignoring the threat posed by the iPhone until it was almost too late, the company at one point was losing $1.2 billion a quarter. “That is not really a sustainable strategy,” said Mark Wilson, BlackBerry’s Senior Vice President-Marketing, in his session, “Successfully Making the Tectonic Shift from B2C to B2B.” Wilson has led a rebranding of BlackBerry that builds on the company’s original core professional customers of in the medical, legal, and financial industries. BlackBerry has taken the remarkable step of referring to other smartphones as “toys.” “If you want to play, go with them,” said Cristoph Becker, CEO at BlackBerry’s agency, gyro. “If you want to work, go with us.” The rebranding positions BlackBerry as “serious mobility for serious business.” The company is also branding itself with a focus on the Internet of Things and for security-conscious organizations. Wilson made the point that it’s no accident that President Obama and Hillary Clinton use BlackBerry devices. “It’s the most secure thing out there,” Wilson said.

2. Event marketing remains essential.

Trade show spending still commands $12 billion a year in B2B spending, said Ruth Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy, in her session, “Face-to-Face Marketing Rules.” She also pointed out that about 90 percent of B2B marketers use some sort of face-to-face marketing. Even digitally-adept technology marketers saw strong value in customer events (47.9 percent) and traditional trade shows or conferences (26.6 percent). Digital events, however, didn’t have the same support: Only 5.3 percent of tech marketers gave virtual events high marks. “It’s not the event,” Stevens said, “it’s the ‘face-to-faceness’ that is valued.” Face-to-face marketing, apparently, remains one thing the Internet can’t do.

3. Content marketers don’t focus enough on subscribers.

Content marketers may be spending too much time chasing generic website traffic and not enough time going after the right audience, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, said in his session, “Here’s Why You’re Failing at Content Marketing.” Pulizzi said research indicated that only 30 percent of content marketers were focused on building their subscriber base. He said subscribers are an underrated metric of blog performance. As an example of the potential power of a subscriber base, Pulizzi cited Copyblogger’s success at building its subscription audience, which at one point accounted for 99 percent of the company’s revenue.

4. Marketing has moved beyond the marketing department.

In his session, “B2B Customer Loyalty,” HCL Technologies CMO Matt Preschern noted that all B2B marketers would assert that they control the brand. What they don’t control, however, is every customer touch point, which is where a significant amount of branding takes place. A company’s brand is on the line during each every customer interaction, which can range from seeing an ad to getting an invoice in the mail to calling customer service. If any of these touch points are broken – a bill that requires a “PhD to understand,” Preschern said, naming one example – the marketing department should address the issue. “Pick the top three problems, and fix them,” Preschern recommended. “Then pick the next three problems, and fix them, too.”

5. Data’s predictive power is no longer a prediction.

The predictive power of data has arrived, Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research, said during her session, “Predicting the Future: Unlocking the Power of Big Data in B2B Marketing.” She said predicting a B2B marketer’s best prospects isn’t “snake oil” or “witchcraft.” Data can now help marketers identify these best prospects and, more important, pinpoint the most likely window when they will be ready to buy. By targeting timely messages to this group, marketers can boost the effectiveness of their communications. “A modest 2 percent increase in response rate can yield a 575 percent increase in profit,” she said, adding: “Now is the time to set your big data agenda.”

6. For growth hackers, the product itself does the marketing.

At BMA15, there was much talk about customer experience as an essential element of marketing. Similarly, Ryan Holiday, founder of Brass Check Marketing, said a crucial part of growth hacking is enabling the product to market itself. One aspect of this idea is that the product markets itself simply by being something that people want and need. Another facet of the growth hacking concept is that marketing is built into the product. An example involving Apple: The text at the end of an email message that reads, “Sent by my iPhone.”

7. Relevance is an imperative.

As prospects search for information on the products and services they want to buy, their buyer’s journey often devolves into a “random walk around the Internet,” Russell Glass, Head of Products for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, said in his presentation, ‘The Rise of the Data-Driven Marketer.” Glass said marketers can begin to solve this problem by making sure their content is relevant to the buyer’s needs at every stage of the marketing funnel. He said marketers should strive to be like Amazon, which delivers a personalized experience to each of its customers based on their past buying history, what they’ve searched for, and what similar customers have purchased. “This experience is totally different for me and totally different for you, and it has raised the expectations of customers,” Glass said.

B2B Move of the Week

In a development that underscores the power of Amazon as an online selling platform, ThomasNet, which formerly published The Thomas Register, a giant compendium of industrial manufacturers, announced it is bringing “Buy Now From Amazon” functionality to its ThomasNet.com digital platform. This new functionality will allow purchasing agents to source millions OEM and MRO products via ThomasNet and then seamlessly make ecommerce purchases of these products via Amazon.com. “We’re all about making buyers’ lives easier and enabling them to work more efficiently,” said Mark Holst-Knudsen, president of ThomasNet.

B2B Resource of the Week

This week we debuted The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in Lead Nurturing. This new ebook offers B2B marketers guidelines on how to nurture leads and deliver them the personalized, relevant content that is an “imperative,” as Russell Glass said in his BMA15 presentation.