What Is B2B Marketing: Definition, Strategy, and Trends

July 29, 2018

What Is B2B Marketing

Editor's Note: This post is the first in a new series, B2B U, which provides introductory deep dives into topics of essential importance to digital marketers.

If you want to learn about B2B marketing, what it really entails, and where it stands here in 2018, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore the topic in-depth to shed light on each element of today’s most effective B2B marketing strategies.

What is B2B Marketing?

As the name suggests, business-to-business marketing refers to the marketing of products or services to other businesses and organizations. It holds several key distinctions from B2C marketing, which is oriented toward consumers.

In broad sense, B2B marketing content tends to be more informational and straightforward than B2C. This is because business purchase decisions, in comparison to those of consumers, are based more on bottom-line revenue impact. Return on investment (ROI) is rarely a consideration for the everyday person — at least in a monetary sense — but it’s a primary focus for corporate decision makers.

In the modern environment, B2B marketers often sell to buying committees with various key stakeholders. This makes for a complex and sometimes challenging landscape, but as data sources become more robust and accurate, the ability to map out committees and reach buyers with relevant, personalized information is greatly improving.

Who is B2B Marketing For?

Any company that sells to other companies. This can come in many forms: software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscriptions, security solutions, tools, accessories, office supplies, you name it. Many organizations fall under both the B2B and B2C umbrellas.

B2B marketing campaigns are aimed at any individual(s) with control or influence on purchasing decisions. This can encompass a wide variety of titles and functions, from low-level researchers all the way up to the C-suite.

Creating a B2B Marketing Strategy

Competition for customers, and even for attention, is high. Building out a B2B strategy that delivers results requires thoughtful planning, execution, and management. Here’s a high-level look at the process B2B companies use to stand out in a crowded marketplace:

Step One: Develop an Overarching Vision

Fail to plan, plan to fail – this truism remains eternally accurate. Before any decisions are made, you’ll want to select specific and measurable business objectives, then lay out the framework for how your B2B marketing strategy will achieve them. Answering these seven B2B content strategy questions is a good place to start.

Step Two: Define Your Market and Buyer Persona

This is an especially vital step for B2B organizations. Whereas B2C goods often have a wider and more general audience, B2B products and services are usually marketed to a distinct set of customers with particular challenges and needs. The more narrowly you can define this audience, the better you’ll be able to speak to them directly with relevant messaging.

We recommend creating a dossier for your ideal buyer persona — by researching demographics, interviewing people in the industry, and analyzing your best customers — to compile a set of attributes you can match against prospects to qualify leads.

Step Three: Identify B2B Marketing Tactics and Channels

Once you’ve established solid intel around your target audience, you’ll need to determine how and where you intend to reach them. The knowledge you’ve attained through the previous step should help guide this one. You’ll want to answer questions like these about your ideal customers and prospects:

  • Where do they spend their time online?
  • What questions are they asking search engines?
  • Which social media networks do they prefer?
  • How can you fill opportunity gaps that your competitors are leaving open?
  • What industry events do they attend?

Step Four: Create Assets and Run Campaigns

With a plan in place, it’s time to put it into motion. Follow best practices for each channel you incorporate into your strategy. Critical ingredients in effective campaigns - a message your team wants to spread that’s typically tied to a desired action -  include a creative approach, useful insights, sophisticated targeting, and strong calls to action.

Step Five: Measure and Improve

This is the ongoing process that keeps you moving in the right direction. In the simplest terms, you want to figure out why your high performing content performs and why your low performing content doesn’t so that you can make smarter decisions concerning your money and time. The more vigilant you are about consulting analytics and applying your learnings, the more likely you are to surpass your goals and grow continually. Even with a well-researched foundation, the creation of content and campaigns inherently requires a lot of guesswork until you have substantive engagement and conversion data to rely on.

Let your audience dictate your path. Consult metrics to pinpoint the channels, topics, and media that resonate most, then double-down. Meanwhile, cut or alter anything that isn’t performing.

Types of B2B Marketing

Here are a few of the most common B2B marketing types and channels:

Blogs: A mainstay for almost any content team. Regularly updated blogs provide organic visibility and drive inbound traffic to your site. Your blog can house any number of different content formats: written copy, infographics, videos, case studies, and more.

Search: SEO best practices change as often as Google’s algorithm (a lot), making this a tricky space to operate in, but any B2B marketing strategy needs to account for it. Lately the focus has been shifting away from keywords and metadata, and more toward searcher intent signals.

Social Media: Both organic and paid should be in the mix. Social networks allow you to reach and engage prospects where they’re active. B2B buyers increasingly use these channels to research potential vendors for purchase decisions.

Whitepapers/eBooks: Standalone assets containing valuable information, these downloadable documents can either be gated (meaning a user must provide contact information or perform another action to access) or ungated. Often used as a B2B lead generation tool.

Email: While its effectiveness is waning somewhat in the age of spam filters and inbox shock, email won’t disappear anytime soon. To work around overloaded inboxes, some sales and marketing professionals use LinkedIn InMail for lead generation.

Videos: This content type can be applied in several of the previous categories mentioned here (blogs, social media, emails) but is worth singling out because it is growing so important to B2B strategies.

B2B Marketing Best Practices

How can you set yourself up for B2B marketing success? Here are a few proven pillars that will help your team stand out and make an impact.

Be Human

The following might be the single greatest fallacy in B2B marketing, and it derives from the very name: marketing to businesses, instead of people.

Yes, you’re trying to sell to a company, but you aren’t literally marketing to a building or some intangible entity. You are trying to reach actual people within the company, and like any other human being, they are driven by emotional and cognitive motivations.

Don’t just learn about the companies and accounts you’re pursuing. Learn about the people within them, and make sure your marketing speaks to them. Yes, business decisions tend to be more rational and logical in nature, but that doesn’t mean your content and tone should be robotic.

Focus on Targeting

This was mentioned earlier but bears repeating: Overly broad campaigns inevitably lead to wasted time and spend, because you’re serving content and ads to people who are either uninterested or unable to influence a buying decision. Take the time up-front to define and segment your audience. Create messaging that speaks directly to the specific people who you want to see it.

The best B2B marketers and sellers today are finding ways to offer personalization at scale.

Thought Leadership Makes an Impact

Research continues to show that senior-level decision makers highly value this type of content, using it to vet both vendors and solutions.

The SlideShare below, via Edelman, lays out statistics that substantiate the importance of B2B thought leadership:  

Edelman's Research Confirms the Power of Thought Leadership

Keep Context in Mind

As we’ve mentioned, personalization and relevance are essential. You want to speak the language of your customers, but that’s not always enough. You also want to deliver content and ads that fit thematically with where they’re viewed.

For instance, shorter videos with quick hooks perform better on social media feeds, whereas a longer format is probably better suited for YouTube. It takes a different copy angle to catch someone scrolling through LinkedIn than other networks. Put yourself in the end user’s shoes and try to adopt their mindset.

B2B Marketing Solutions on LinkedIn

According to the B2B Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report from CMI and MarketingProfs, LinkedIn is the most-used social media platform for B2B marketers (at 97%), and also the most effective.

 

(Image: Content Marketing Institute)

This intuitively makes sense. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking site, with more than 550 million members, and its context is more fitting than other networks for most B2B-leaning content.

At a base level, we highly advise that every B2B organization develop an optimized Company Page, which you can do for free on LinkedIn, as this is your brand’s hub on the platform and a frequent destination for buyer research. Posting updates frequently will help you stay present, active, and visible.

For maximizing your business impact and B2B marketing ROI, there are a number of LinkedIn marketing products and features you can take advantage of to reach and engage the right members.

Native Ads

Also known as Sponsored Content, these ads appear within LinkedIn feeds, alongside the user-generated content members come to peruse. Very useful for thought leadership, brand awareness, and driving strategic traffic. Learn more about LinkedIn Native Ads.

Lead Generation

This is a primary goal against which many B2B marketers are measured. Lead Gen Forms are extremely effective for this purpose because they pre-populate based on a member’s LinkedIn profile data, and don’t force the user to navigate from the site, creating a seamless experience. Learn more about LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms.

Retargeting

This relatively new capability within LinkedIn enables you to track website visitors, using the LinkedIn Insight Tag, and then market to them while they’re on the platform. It goes without saying that these individuals are more likely to be interested in your company and product, improving your odds of conversion. Learn more about LinkedIn Website Retargeting.

Sponsored InMail

As it grows harder to reach professional inboxes (and sometimes just to find email addresses to begin with) Sponsored InMail is growing more advantageous. You can use this tool to send tailored direct messages to members on LinkedIn, even if you’re not yet connected. Learn more about LinkedIn Sponsored InMail.

Dynamic Ads

These ads are customized to the member viewing them, populating with profile images and relevant details to stand out and capture attention. Learn more about LinkedIn Dynamic Ads.

Breaking Down B2B Marketing

Summarizing the most important takeaways from our exploration of modern B2B marketing, here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Although it’s business to business marketing, you’re still speaking to human beings. Don’t fall into the trap of being overly formal or robotic.
  • The foundational steps in creating a B2B marketing strategy are developing your vision, defining your audience, identifying tactics and channels, putting content and campaigns into motion, and then continually measuring for optimization.
  • Popular types of B2B marketing content include blogs, search, whitepapers, social media, email, and video.
  • Truly effective B2B marketing is conversational, targeted, and contextually relevant. Thought leadership content is among the most effective in this category.
  • LinkedIn should be an integral component of any B2B social media marketing mix.

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