Top Trends in B2B marketing in 2016

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Practical, pragmatic and helpful thoughts from us at Junction on six key areas to monitor, investigate and explore as part of your 2016 B2B marketing programmes (and how to avoid any wrong turns in the year ahead)

Email – from marketing to servicing

Still a huge opportunity, still hugely squandered by many marketers, email isn’t going away any time soon. But perhaps the traditional use of email may be about to?

With the onset of even more devices for us to consume (or more likely delete before consuming) the billions of daily messages racing around the internet, we strongly feel those that adapt the primary use of email as a communications channel will come out on top in the year ahead.

Email is still a very effective way to get your message across. As long as the message is relevant and useful to the recipient. This is has long been the problem; far too much “meh” messages going out that aren’t particularly useful or relevant and are often a weak attempt to sell your wares.

But various brands have proven that if use email to help and to services your audience (I could wax lyrical for hours about delivery business DPD on how they use email as just one example) you can still achieve strong engagement and response rates. In fact you may even find you increase your current engagement rates.

Consider how the humble order confirmation email is still the most anticipated of all emails sent. It’s a message we actually want and need and so it gets far more prominence on arrival into our inboxes. We actively look out for it.

So perhaps 2016 is the year where we stop using email for heavy, one-way marketing purposes, but instead use it as a channel to help, serve and inform. If you can turn your recipients back on to you by being as useful and relevant as an order confirmation email, you are far more likely to engage them longer term, by which time you have earned the right to use email to market or sell again.

In short, your future email strategy can be defined in three words: “be more helpful”.

 

Content marketing – less will be more

There is web is slowly being overwhelmed by the virtual landfills of unread, unseen content marketing pieces from marketing departments across the globe. If you pull on your virtual wellies and start wading through these ever-growing mountains you’re sure to find an array of whitepapers, guides, top tips, blog posts and infographics as the main culprits.

We have developed an insatiable appetite to pump out as much content as we can, often in the hope that we are seen to be doing the right thing in the eyes of the boss, often because of the volumes of commentary telling us how important content marketing is.

And it is important. Really important. But not necessarily in the volume it is currently being produced.

It is vital that you spend as much time planning and promoting the content you produce, to ensure that you curate the right mix of content types and sizes that as assets are worked as hard as you can, to ensure you start to see a return for your effort.

Start by mapping your sales process to content types and fracture your existing content into more manageable bite-sized chunks – at least at the top of your funnel. Don’t overlook the weightier in-depth pieces, but ensure they are just that – a brochure rebadged a whitepaper will come across as just that and find itself flung atop that landfill before you know it, then ensure they are put in places that your audience will find them at the right time or you are signposting this content clearly to help them.

Social selling

First there was social networking, then social media and now social selling. My, my there is a lot being written about this topic right now and doubtless there will be more to come.

A simple definition of this newly coined initiative is from Hubspot is as follows:

Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.

This is a great principle and there are some brilliant case studies of organisations harnessing social media to communicate and “sell” to their audience. But for every one of those there are fifty “hey let’s be friends” LinkedIn messages sent out undermine the whole thing…

“Hi Steve, I noticed you and I are in the same LinkedIn group so thought I’d use that as a weak and flimsy excuse to bug you and attempt to sell you my wares” is the sub text for many of these.

So although we see great value and have in fact achieved great results from this technique with organisations we work with (Top tip: especially in Key Account Management) we also offer words of caution – after all marketing were the department that locked down the CMS, CRM and email marketing systems so that sales people couldn’t go rogue and start to send their own messages and campaigns out, so exercise that same caution here. Work on the strategy first – audience first, then message then channel – and if social media offers your business a chance to start a conversation (or at least to listen to one) then go for it. Otherwise ensure you focus on the broader areas of social media and social networking that many boards of businesses are still trying to get their heads around.

Augmented data

Data is cool. Fact. I’m from a digital marketing background and realised early on that data was the difference between success and failure in the numerous web initiates I was running.

But data is changing. I don’t mean from tiny to medium to big data, I mean in terms of what data is, where it comes from and what we use it for.

Big data is a wonderful concept but often the reality for businesses is they are still trying to wrestle normal-sized data to the ground, let alone tackle the big stuff.

However, data sources are rapidly evolving; whether it is social currency ranks such as Klout or Klear or the numerous social media data providers who can append contacts social data alongside more traditional data, the choices are growing fast. This is a great thing for us b2b marketers, as it means we can augment our data to create a multi-dimensional view of a contact, allowing us to then create and distribute relevant messages to them (and others like them) in a truly multi-channel way. Using direct mail (DM), email and LinkedIn ads in conjunction, for example, is a great way to get your messages across. This approach also allows us to tier our prospects – only the best-looking (based on analysing and ranking) can justify a high-value DM piece, but perhaps the tiers below get the same messaging and Call To Action, but via email, social posts or social advertising?

 

Marketing Automation

Ok, in theory this one is amazing. A true game-changer in terms of modern 2b marketing. The ability for us to launch a programme of workflows and rules that neatly funnel, nudge and divert our audience into segments based on who they are, what they’ve done (or not done) previously is  incredibly appealing.

Reality, thus far, however is a long way short. Without doubt marketing automation (or at least the use of technology to aid the leg work of marketing communications) will continue to grow in terms of uptake and sophistication, but so will the efforts and cost associated with it.

Here at Junction we are actually big fans of marketing automation, but are realists and urge caution. Look to start small and map out the essential communication points and automate these. Humans are rarely rational and homogenous in their behaviour and so building the required rules and messages to allow the dynamic segmentation of your audience is ludicrously hard and complex. And expensive.

So instead look to learn from email marketing, the close cousin of marketing automation. See email (and other marketing automation channels) as a nudge for when somebody strays of your desired path, or as a cement to bring your marketing channel together.

Think also about how humans can be part of this automation too – in that a telemarketer is still an incredibly vital part of the marketing mix when it comes to moving a marketing lead to a sales-qualified one – look at how the insights gathered from your marketing automation can feed your outbound and inbound telemarketing or internal sales teams.

 

Customer Experience

Customer experience (or CX as it is commonly referred to), has been receiving a lot of attention over the last few years, primarily among B2C companies and retailers. It involves the combination of people, process and technology to understand, anticipate and consistently deliver exceptional personalised experiences across all touch points. In a recent white paper, Forrester Research predicted that “In 2016, leaders will understand and anticipate individual needs to deliver personalized experiences, sharply increasing their lead in the market.”

As today’s B2B buyers are increasingly influenced by their consumer experiences and have begun to demand similar experiences in their professional lives, businesses are recognising how customer experience can be a driver of both business differentiation and profitability. For marketers this will mean a much more systematic and intentional focus on the entire experience for a customer, delivering a seamless and consistent experience, regardless of channel or device and in a way that is consistent with your brand promise.

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