Audience-Centric B2B: Driving Results in the Rapidly Evolving B2B Marketing Landscape
When most B2B marketers think of innovation, they think about mastering new technologies. And rightly so. New tools, data sets and ways of executing marketing continue to spur tremendous advances in the B2B category. In recent years, heavy adoption of content tools and data–such as marketing automation, ABM and predictive intent–coupled with highly targeted advertising has enabled B2B companies to reach customers in exciting ways.
But when it comes to unlocking the full value of these capabilities, we’re still in the early innings. The reality is that most brands still struggle with how to personalize digital marketing efforts to effectively resonate with customers. As discussed in the chapter Convergence: The Need for an Integrated Marketing Tech Ecosystem, you can buy the latest and greatest innovations, but at the end of the day, if these technologies aren’t influencing how customers think and behave in ways that help your business, what’s it all for?
In the race to embrace digital innovations in B2B, a basic but core aspect of marketing is too often overlooked: creating relevance for the customer. Being relevant assumes some level of personalization to the customer. And yet, by some measures, personalization remains the single most difficult tactic to achieve. In fact, when surveyed, 63% of 190 marketing influencers worldwide responded that data-driven personalization is difficult to implement 1 . As brands chase new technologies and trends that seem to emerge daily, creativity and intelligent communications are more vital than ever to realize the benefits of digital innovation. This is among the most critical challenges B2B marketers must solve today.
At this point, you might be thinking, “This all seems pretty simple, so why isn’t everyone doing it already?” Before we can help clients solve the customer relevance challenge, let’s break it down and understand what’s causing the challenge in the first place:
- Hunger for data, regardless of what it may mean – In an effort to show “results” quickly, many marketers reach for all types of data, even if it’s not truly tied to business impact. Typically, this means looking at various outbound tactics to demonstrate brand reach via large numbers, regardless of the quality of the audience and interactions. Unfortunately, this short-term thinking leads to a path of false metrics and costly diversions to long-term success.
- Siloed thinking and disconnected KPIs – Organizational silos lead to disjointed strategies and tactical executions. More often than not, a lack of alignment between marketing and sales results in poorly defined goals and metrics. This misalignment causes marketing efforts to be inefficient, leading to a fractured customer experience.
- Lack of company or functional leadership – Silos often result from a lack of vision and leadership. On the other hand, company leaders who see marketing, communications and sales efforts holistically strive to integrate and harness these groups in support of one cohesive mission–creating great experiences for the customer. For myriad reasons–cultural, operational or just a “that’s how it’s always been done” mindset–this integrated approach is far more easily said than done.
- Skipping the hard part: Uncovering real value to customers – Truly being customer-centric is difficult. It requires time, investment and change. It’s easy to get behind the concept, but creating customer-centric marketing often requires asking hard questions like: What truly is our value prop? How are we different? What can we give the customer that nobody else can? Beyond asking the tough questions, marketing leaders must achieve the internal buy-in to make necessary changes.
At its core, relevance comes down to having something on-topic, timely and compelling to say to the customer. In B2B, we strive for customer relevance in terms of creating a “value exchange” – that is, going beyond grabbing the customer’s attention to give something of value in order to earn something in return: time, interaction and even the permission to sell. So, what are some of the ways B2B brands can create the value exchange to gain an edge on competitors and win over customers?
Planning and strategy must be customer-first, not product-centric. Too many marketers focus their message and content on features and benefits instead of the pain points that are truly on the minds of their customers. Direct feedback and insights from customers are vital for organizations to understand the problems they are trying to solve and what customers need to be better at their jobs. Insights from executives, sales teams and customer representatives are also invaluable for communications and marketing efforts, but this process of discovery doesn’t always happen. When planning marketing efforts, engage more deeply with the people in your company who are already hearing direct feedback from customers.
An effective content and communications strategy should avoid the classic trap of trying to be everything to everyone. Today’s marketers must personalize their content at a granular level in order to break through the barrage of information. Here are some key considerations to cut through the noise:
- Industry: What are the top trends and most pressing issues that your customers are dealing with in their vertical? Focus on explaining what’s behind those trends and how your customer should be anticipating and preparing for them.
- Role: Who makes the key buyer decisions? Is it someone in a particular role or a buyer committee comprised of people who have different priorities? Get inside the minds of decision makers to focus content on what’s most important to them.
- Journey stage: Are buyers already aware of you? Or are they deeper in the purchasing funnel and therefore in need of different kinds of information and insights from you? As uncovered in this year’s Edelman-LinkedIn joint study 2 , thought leadership and non-product-oriented content can have great influence deeper in the buying funnel. Don’t assume that just because someone knows you and has consumed a lot of content that they just want a “buy now“ option. Uncover which triggers and insights are needed to successfully nurture your specific customers along their journey with your company.
- Underlying causes of trends affecting customers: Especially for senior executives and decision makers who are constantly seeking an edge, look to explain how and why things are happening in a way that nobody else can. Demonstrating an understanding of what’s driving trends will show potential customers that you’re a partner who’s looking around corners for them.
- Empower customers in their day-to-day jobs: While some customers gravitate toward high-level industry trends, others might value insights and tips that make their everyday lives easier. There’s a good reason why “how to” and “explainer”-style content is often so effective. Don’t underestimate the power of simple but tactically useful ideas that speak to your customers.
- Enable communication across the buyer committee: High-value, complex purchases typically involve many different types of people, including senior decision makers, everyday users, procurement and information gatherers. Look for opportunities to personalize communications in ways that speak to a range of topics and needs that are attuned to the buyer committee. Enabling communication across these groups can help drive alignment and preference for your solution.
It is essential to connect dots across the organization. The reality today is that marketing is affected by many different functions across the organization, including technology, communications and additional business units. Outside partners must help clients effect change by thinking beyond marketing and helping the client get buy-in from other stakeholders internally.
- Create a shared agenda: Partners need to help educate internal stakeholders on how marketing plays a vital role in influencing considerations sets, RFPs, etc. In addition to creating high-level brand awareness, marketing can-and should-be aligned with commercial goals.
- Align on a shared language and understanding of KPIs, processes and handoffs: Partners need to help clients define success metrics that make sense to non-marketing people. They also need to show how other functions, such as sales, play a critical role in capitalizing on attention and awareness to continue nurturing decision-makers.
Our teams specialize in helping B2B brands navigate the constantly evolving marketing technology ecosystem. We are experienced in helping a wide range of B2B clients establish their marketing initiatives to directly target key decision makers and create processes that will allow marketing teams to publish real-time, relevant content at scale. Combined with the ultimate purpose of driving accountability, these process implementations result in the kind of impactful innovation businesses will require and demand in 2019.
1 “Why Marketers Struggle with Data-Driven Personalization” eMarketer. October 2018. Source: https://www.emarketer.com/content/why-marketers-struggle-with-data-driven-personalization
2 “2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study: How Thought Leadership Drives Demand Generation” Edelman. December 2018. Source: https://www.edelman.com/research/2019-b2b-thought-leadership-impact-study
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