"Change is the only constant in life" ─ a saying from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that would have made a perfect tweet. In 500BC, there were no brands, no B2B sales channels and no Google to make sure that you are citing Heraclitus accurately. Nevertheless, what he said is emblematic of our digital economy, where change happens so fast, and so ruthlessly, that companies can never sit still.
This explains the need for "agility", which is the technological answer to the fact that for B2B, as for all business, change is a way of life.
So what lies ahead in B2B marketing? New technologies are creating new opportunities ─ and new threats. Technological change will continue to set the agenda. Brand identity, data security, and above all social media will require focus, strategy and new ideas.
In this two-part blog, we set out what we believe will be the dominant trends for B2B marketing in the coming year. We shall begin with where it all begins: your brand.
1. Development and maintenance of the digital brand
The digital brand is becoming increasingly important. It is essential to capture this brand identity and to keep control of it consistently and systematically.
The main barrier to build a strong brand is holding on to a clear identity, especially if the business is going through a period of rapid growth. You mustn't lose sight of your core values. There is a cost to this ─ especially in time and determination. But the price of neglecting your brand identity is even greater as you erode a make-or-break asset.
There is also a hierarchy. Your cultural values are what makes you tick as a brand and as such, they rank above the company goals. They are not a "nice to have" but a precondition for your strategy, in the same way that the law and environmental restrictions frame how you conduct your business.
2. No more bad B2B websites
Ready-made themes for open source CMS are ubiquitous, and for good reason. They are cheap and quick to implement. That is the attraction ─ and the reason they are on the way out.
You cannot build or communicate a strong brand with a website that is indistinguishable from thousands of others. Visitors coming to your site for the first time want to meet an exciting business, product, or service ─ not some lackluster "theme".
This is why these pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap sites are on the way out. B2B e-commerce has long had the reputation of being dowdy and old-fashioned, but it really cannot get away with this any longer.
Most B2B marketers have seen the light and are investing in websites and Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) with state-of-the-art features to orchestrate experiences as individual and striking as the brand itself.
It took a long time for the penny to drop that in B2B as anywhere else the website is an extension of the brand. In the end, indifferent sites lead to indifferent buyers and dwindling sales. Even in B2B, buying is an emotional experience ─ and your online presence needs to be a route to that emotion.
3. Excellent customer interaction through chatbots
Humans are great but they have off-days. The best marketing plans can be undone by the mistakes of one sales rep who gives wrong or contradictory information to a customer or makes a poor impression on a prospect.
This has probably happened to all B2B buyers, who now expect to get their questions answered through their own efforts; 89% of B2B decision-makers do online research as part of the buying process. If this is a less than perfect experience, the marketing strategy is under threat. To avoid this, B2B companies are increasingly deploying chatbots to process simple customer inquiries.
Simple is the keyword ─ for now. One day chatbots and Artificial Intelligence ─ to the extent that AI is available to B2B marketing teams ─ will be able to handle a significant proportion of the trickiest customer questions and problems. But that is for another day and another blog.
For now, chatbots are best used as a gateway leading to the desired outcome. For example, you can use a chatbot to accept tickets for technical support questions. Chatbots can also automate the delivery of B2B marketing material. When used correctly, chatbots can absolutely help expedite the processing of customer inquiries. They also lead to shorter response times, which is in itself a short-cut to higher customer satisfaction.
4. Content made for prospects, not PR distributors
According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 91% of B2B strategies contain some form of content marketing to reach customers. This shows that B2B has at last understood the role of content in its marketing campaigns ─ although the thinking around what that content should be, and in what format it's presented, can still be rigid. The 2010s were the decade of Netflix and Instagram ─ and this emphasis on visual communication will persist. According to Forbes, 70% of B2B buyers watch the videos that are presented to them as part of the customer journey during the decision-making process. That is a lot.
Not that the written word is dead, far from it. B2B buyers respond particularly well to long-form content of 1,000 words or more. This makes sense because B2B relationships and the B2B buying process are also a kind of longform (in contrast with B2C, where a purchase is made in the time it takes to write a tweet about it).
The B2B buyer appreciates thoughtful writing with valuable insights into their every-day experience.
In the second blog post I shall look at SEO, Analytics, the importance of data transparency, how Social Media is now a must and lastly I'll cover programmatic advertising. In the meantime why not download and read eZ's eBook on Digital Experience Platforms and the four considerations for creating exceptional customer experiences.