3 Big B2B Digital Marketing Challenges, and 3 Huge Opportunities

May 7, 2016

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Monu Kalsi, Vice President-Head of Digital at Zurich North America

While consumers may be talking about that clever new car commercial they saw on TV, B2B marketers are busy writing white papers and focusing on digital marketing channels trying to get their audience talking. Sound familiar?    

Or maybe you’re not writing white papers. You’re busy using social media and perhaps posting content on your LinkedIn Company Page. As more B2B marketers get comfortable in digital marketing, they’re starting to see the possibilities — and the challenges — this multi-faceted channel has to offer. In my journey over the last few years helping different global brands create their digital strategy and sustainable footprint, I have encountered three main challenges and three key opportunities for B2B digital marketers:

Opportunities

1. Digital opens up communication and service channels your company never had

While traditional offline channels (face-to-face, phone, fax) will continue to be relevant and sometimes the primary go-to-market channels for B2B companies in near future, digital has significant potential to complement and strengthen efforts and content shared via these channels. More than 50 percent of the buying decision these days is completed before a prospect connects with a brand for the first time. Prospects are doing online research, self-educating on the brand and its products, and viewing ratings, reviews, and customer complaints. With the buyer being increasing digitally savvy and mobile enabled, digital is not a channel that B2B marketers can afford to ignore or put as second priority.

2. Social Media delivers insight and targeted advertising like no print or TV ad can

Social media gives brands the tools to target ads to a very specific demographic. For instance, most social networks such as LinkedIn allow brands to show ads only to people who belong to a specific age group or location. It can even target ads based on people’s likes and interests on the platform and on their business demographics, such as job title, company size, and seniority.

In terms of insight, social listening tools allow companies to “crawl” different social networks and collect mentions of your brand. The collected data can tell you what people say about your company, products, and services, including how often they’re mentioned in a given timeframe, and people’s moods. You can also leverage social listening to learn more about your competitors or to identify gaps or over saturations in the market.

3. Digital self-service drives customer experience

With an increasing number of customers spending a major portion of their day on their computer or smart phones, more of these digitally savvy users prefer taking control of their digital user experience and outcomes. Because of these trends, companies have an unprecedented opportunity to build self-service capabilities for these customers, which go beyond the usual account management.

With the new millennial generation preferring digital over traditional phone or in-person interactions, the bar for B2B companies to deliver Amazon-level customer experience is quickly rising and almost at the same level as their B2C peers in some verticals.  While creating self-service capabilities is not for the faint hearted and requires significant resources, the benefits from such investments — such as reduced cost to serve, consistency in experience, speed/agility for customers to name a few — go far beyond the upfront heavy lifting that a company will have to make in terms of investments, technology enablement, and data integrations.

Challenges

1. Producing exciting and engaging content that also adheres to industry regulations

B2B websites have a reputation for boring content. I’m sure many of the marketers at B2B companies are bored out of their minds, too. It’s just that industry regulations and their website’s topics can make it difficult to generate with compelling content. That’s why many of these sites just continue publishing news about their own companies.

There’s a way to create interesting content without overstepping your boundaries, set by either your brand or regulators. For example, manufacturing company Etratech created virtual tours of its facility and uploaded them to YouTube. Now that’s more interesting compared to another update about their machines. Plus, it gives prospects a sneak peek into their facility, a major selling point.

2. Producing content consistently despite a long approval chain

How can you Tweet every day and post a blog every week if the marketing head, compliance department, and communications head needs to approve everything before it’s published? This makes for an incredibly tight timetable, with practically no room for errors. 

According to the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 53 percent of the most effective B2B marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy in place.

What does that statistic have to do with producing content regularly? Everything! Create a documented content marketing strategy that includes the whole approval chain, including what each person is expected to do at every step. This way, when the marketing head deems a blog post 100 percent accurate, the communications head doesn’t have to check if it’s accurate too — thereby saving time and eliminating extra back and forth communications.

Don’t forget to include a Plan B in your strategy, so you have a fallback plan in case the content isn’t approved before it’s due for publication.

3. Tying digital results to business impacts

This is an area where most B2B brands, even the high-performing ones, are stuck! While digital practitioners have reams of marketing metrics — impressions, followers, open-rates, click-through-rates — what they are still missing are core “conversion” and “impact” metrics, which are what your CEO or board cares about. This continues to be a struggle for brand marketers who are working hard to strike the right balance on their attribution models, which assigns a value of the outbound or inbound marketing activities on sales, while also accounting for the offline and non-marketing efforts that contributed to closing the deal.

Brands need to quickly pivot from making old-fashioned marketing metrics the focus of their conversation with their leadership. Marketing should also stop chasing the unattainable goal of complete revenue attribution. Instead, I suggest that marketers align their efforts to a “conversion” metric, which could be oriented around the volume or quality of leads or the creation of sales opportunities or new customer touchpoints. Brands should also look into aligning their digital efforts with company’s voice of customer programs such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or customer satisfaction metrics that show the impact of improvements in digital experience and services on these indicators.

So here’s the bottom line. Digital and social marketing provides challenges. But the opportunities far outweigh whatever barriers there may be in the digital age. Digital and social are here to stay (in ever evolving forms): Marketers must embrace this new world. 

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