Ask the Experts: How Should Your B2B Marketing Budget Change in 2017?

October 24, 2016

I don’t want to panic anyone, but there are fewer than 70 days remaining in 2016. We’re running out of time to formulate the strategies that will help us deliver better results in 2017. Now is the time for B2B marketers to take a hard look at what worked and what didn’t this year, to peer into the future and get down to planning.

With that in mind, here’s a different take on the usual predictions post. It’s all well and good to know that video is going to get more popular, VR may begin to play a role, etc. For this post, let’s pull it back down to earth.

Rather than ask our expert panel to predict how marketing would change in the next year, we asked:

Where do B2B marketers need to change their budget for 2017?

This question evoked seriously thought-provoking answers from our panel of experts. If you’re a B2B marketer looking to create a smarter 2017 budget, read on for indispensable advice.

1. Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder & Strategic Director, Orbit Media Studios

Three areas will bring back the highest ROI for the money in 2017. Here are my predictions/suggestions:

  • Developing Training Materials and Hiring Assistants
    Delegating the routine tasks to more junior marketers (or even virtual assistants) will let you leverage the growing skills of your more strategic team members. Put resources into developing detailed training materials that explain how to do all the dozens of little things (sharing, promoting, research, list building) then pass those tasks down the line. Time and money spent documenting your processes and hiring VAs might be your best move of the year. 
  • Creating High End Visuals
    The data keeps supporting greater investment in visual media. Smart money will be spent on everything from infographics to video. Because visuals are such compelling content, pages of long-form text will look quieter, colder and lonelier in the coming year.

    I put live video in this same category. Look for products like Wirecast that make the channel less important. They syndicate live video content to Facebook, YouTube, Ustream and everywhere, all from one stream. The technology is making live video (the ultimate visual format) much simpler than in years past.
  • Live Events
    Marketers who have tried it have found that it's worth the cost, especially in B2B and especially for companies with account-based marketing programs in place. It will feel like a leap of faith, but there is no replacement for a room full of people, where fans and prospects mingle. In the 2016 Marketing Profs/Content Marketing Institute B2B Survey, in-person events were found to be the more effective B2B tactic. They're worth a bit of your budget.

2. Pawan Deshpande, CEO, Curata

Marketers may or may not spend more in 2017—but they should definitely be smarter about their marketing spend. Expect to see less budget allocation for solely keyword-based pay-per-click programs and open-ended content marketing, and more of a ‘hunting with spears rather than nets’ approach. I.e., smart marketers will be more targeted and take less of a general approach.

This will entail an increase in more specific online ads that use customer segmentation, and more personalized content marketing that targets particular named accounts or sub-segments of the overall market.

It’s well known that today, roughly 80 percent of a customer’s buying journey happens before they ever interact with sales. So for most marketers what happens early in the buying process is a giant blind spot, yet it is precisely where the majority of marketing budgets are spent.

Because of this, budgets should increase for technology that helps better track, report, and optimize top-of-the-funnel interactions and their contribution to overall revenue.

3. Justin Gray, CEO & Founder, LeadMD, Inc.

In 2017 marketers need to STOP buying technology. I was sitting in a roundtable the other day where the session began with each marketer listing off, ad nauseam, the composition of their tech stack. On average each marketer had over forty pieces of software, some integrated, some not – but all overwhelming.

In modern day marketing, and certainly compounded by the rise of Account Based Marketing/Everything, the last thing marketers need is more technology. If you look at the way marketing spending is trending year over year, the investment in marketing technology is resulting a monster bell curve of investment on items that, in and of themselves, provide no value.

Instead, organizations and marketers need to recognize that software only makes people and process come to life and scale. Squarely, marketers are lacking the talent to take advantage of the software rapidly flooding into their purview.

In 2017 marketing and sales lines are blurring more than ever as marketers begin to engage buyers in more one to one, rather than one to many, conversations. This degree of customization and hyper-personalization necessitates skill-sets not often found in marketing.

We must change that by investing in education and training. Today’s modern marketer did not go to school for marketing, and if they did they didn’t learn relevant curriculum helping them in their role today. The majority of marketers fell into their role and largely are focused on becoming an expert at running the tools utilized by the department.

Building a successful modern marketing department requires that we create marketing skillsets which are not defined by the tools they use. You would never hire a sales professional based on their ability to use CRM, yet that’s what we are doing in marketing every single day.

2017 is the year to shift the necessary budget and time into creating the marketing leaders that will drive the success of our organizations long term – not simply falling victim to the immediate gratification of purchasing more tools to topple over an already wobbling tech stack.

4. Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing Inc

In 2017, I hope more B2B marketers invest in attribution.  More specifically, prioritize the tools, processes and systems required to measure marketing’s impact on sales pipeline contribution and closed deals.  This will require investment in attribution-focused tools but also likely a re-mix of campaign spend based on what’s having the biggest impact on pipeline contribution, not just traffic and leads.

5. Carla Johnson, Chief Experience Officer, Type A Communications

For 2017, B2B marketers need to change their budget to allow more training for their teams. Across the board, the biggest challenge I hear from companies of all sizes is how hard it is to find people with the right skills.

The marketing world is changing and we not only need perpetual skill development, but also mindset development. We need to become business people who know how to build collaboration and integration across the organization, how to look at challenges with a more creative eye and how to become critical-thinking problem solvers.

Where can marketers reduce spend? On efforts that don't work or nobody uses. This is insanely harder than it sounds…we're creatures of habit who don't like to quit doing what we're in the habit of doing. But if we're ever going to earn a seat at the strategy table with the rest of the C-suite, we have to learn how to be business people first, and then quit doing things that don't drive our business.

6. Mark Schaefer, Executive Director, Schaefer Marketing Solutions

We are in an era where the rules of a few years ago don't work like they used to, primarily because of the overwhelming competition for eyeballs on the web. Content budgets continue to rise but the economic value of that content is zero if it's not seen and shared. Yet 70-80 percent (depending on the study you read) of B2B web content is never seen!

My suggestion to 2017 is to focus on ignition -- how do we get our content seen and shared? I define six strategies in the book The Content Code, but for 2017 I would focus my budget on 1) influence marketing, 2) new distribution strategies, and 3) identifying and nurturing the people who already share your content the most.

7. Neal Schaffer, Founder, Maximize Your Social

In 2017, I would emphasize the following for the following reasons:

INCREASE Social Ads. You spend 1/4 of your budget on content, but then you only spend 7% of your budget to promote it in social where people spend 25% of their online time. If you were going to increase social, it would be in social ads, to microtarget potential customers along every step of the buyer's journey through a sophisticated use of custom audiences and savvy targeting that the social ad platforms support.

INCREASE In-Person Events, which not only help you cut through the over-digitalization that we face and develop better relationships, but it also helps you create great visual content when you meet people or present through static photographs, videos, or livestreaming. These forms of social content are the best way to cut through the noise.

DECREASE Print and TV/Radio/Movies/PR. These are legacy items which still eat up 34% of the budget. Aligning with the digital lifestyle of today's buyer means further reducing legacy budgets to compensate for increases in the recommended areas of social ads and in-person events.

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Photo: John Towner