7 Key Trends Determining the Future of B2B Marketing

September 17, 2017

7 B2B Marketing Trends

Editor's Note: Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo contributed to this post, which is based on a presentation Mike Weir delivered at Content Marketing World 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for a new ebook, "7 Trends in B2B Marketing," that is coming soon and will shine a spotlight on some of these trends and others that are transforming B2B marketing.  

As Joe Pulizzi pointed out during the recent Content Marketing World, prior to 1990, B2B marketers only had to concern themselves with eight channels — with print, events, and direct mail leading the way.

Today, the digital world has added countless other channels — such as websites, email, and social media. What this means is that the buyer’s journey has grown increasingly complex, and so has B2B marketing. With so many convergent trends, where the future of B2B marketing is headed can be confusing, and it’s hard for marketers to prioritize programs and channels.

Here are seven crucial trends that we believe are defining the future of B2B marketing. Pay attention to these trends as you plan for 2018 and beyond:  

The Hidden ROI of Thought Leadership

Creators of thought leadership are not confident that it actually works. Just 17% of creators of thought leadership said it led to inclusion of their company in an RFP, according to recent Edelman-LinkedIn research. But here’s the thing: 41% of CEOs said that after reading a thought leadership piece they included a company in an RFP process. This misunderstanding about real ROI shows why companies should embrace thought leadership. B2B buying committees are cautious; each person in the committee understands that a poor buying decision can be career threatening, and therefore makes them risk averse. This dynamic spawned sayings like the Mad Men used, “No ever got fired for buying IBM.” Put another way, no one ever got fired for specifying an industry leader. If your thought leadership truly positions your company as a leader in your industry, it can de-risk the buying process for your prospects — whether you’re the industry leader trying to continue dominating or a challenger who wants to prove you have a better solution.

The Sustainable Profitability of Content Franchises

When looking for a model for content creation to support thought leadership, marketers should look to Hollywood and embrace the blockbuster model. Take Disney, for instance. This company builds its release slate around familiar, surefire franchises such as “Star Wars,” “Toy Story,” and Marvel characters. Leading B2B marketers are doing the same thing by building their content around expertise. What does their company stand for that matters to the market and their prospective clients? Salesforce, for example, has built a content juggernaut around its “State of…” series, where the company examines the current state of technology sectors such as Marketing, Sales, and IT security. At LinkedIn, we’ve developed our own content franchise around the “Sophisticated Marketer” brand, which we use to dive into how marketers should use LinkedIn, content marketing, account-based marketing, lead generation, metrics, and other topics where we want to lead the conversation. In implementing this franchise approach, a company creates market demand for the next edition, while proving their expertise and encouraging the market to speak with them.

Universal View of the Customer

Customer experience — ranging from when a prospect is first encountering your brand via marketing, is engaging with your sales team, and finally is using your product — is a mandatory focus for every company. The most effective and forward thinking marketers are doing their part by unifying their databases, which can include customer data from websites, marketing automation software, CRM platforms, and customer service interactions. Creating a unified view as prospects become customers can improve the customer experience, which can lead to gaining more customers and, perhaps more important, keeping them.

The Sudden Death of Hypertargeting

B2B marketers like the promise of hypertargeting, but the concept of zero waste is a false promise. If B2B marketers are using hypertargeting, they are likely excluding potential buyers and influencers. If you try to pull a needle from a haystack, you will miss, because you’re not educating the buying committee, and you’re also not going to predict what companies will be in market for your specific solution. Instead, B2B marketers should aim to reach the entire buying committee — which includes not only the decision maker but all of the influencers. The idea is to strive for “relevant reach” to expand the market interest and consideration of your company.

The Arrival of Everyone-As-A-Marketer

In this post-trust age, your prospects aren’t in a trusting mood. It’s like the entire country has become the Show-Me State. Recent research indicates that only 45% of Americans trust institutions. At the same time, 63% do trust people like themselves. And you have access to these “people like your themselves” — they are your employees. The most effective marketers are putting marketing messages into the hands of their employees for distribution on social media, in person, and during customer service calls. And not only do employees deliver a message that’s more trusted, they also have more reach: A typical company’s employee base has 10x the social reach of the company itself.

Artificial Intelligence and Personalization

Artificial intelligence, data, and personalization are key concepts for the B2B marketing future. With artificial intelligence, fueled by data, marketers can ensure they’re delivering the right message at the right time to the right audience. On websites, for instance, AI can serve visitors the content they’re looking for or direct them to it. Data can also help B2B marketers identify new audiences and serve them relevant marketing messages and content. AI can also help nurture your prospects with timely, relevant email. It’s all a part of delivering a personalized experience your customer wants.

Marketing Metrics Are Changing

As marketers, we can measure almost everything. But we have to be careful, because, as the quote goes, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." For instance, we should allow cost-per-click and click-through rate to fall by the wayside for more significant metrics that measure the actual contribution of marketing throughout the funnel. In the upper funnel, for example, marketers should measure brand awareness. In the mid-funnel, we should measure content engagement. And in the lower funnel, we should measure lead generation and sales conversion — both of which give a window on marketing’s very real contribution to revenue.  

These trends are just seven among many that are altering the future of B2B marketing. To stay on top of all the trends that are transforming B2B marketing, subscribe today to the LinkedIn Marketing Blog.

Photo: Dinesh Wijekoon