As we welcome a new year and a new decade, in this issue we have cast our minds forward to the future. Lauren Bowden, experienced B2B marketer and Chief Content Creator at UK PR agency The Comms Crowd shares her predictions for B2B marketing.
It’s that time of year when rear-view mirrors are wiped clean and crystal balls dusted off. The flurry of end of year articles is upon us once again – a stalwart in every editorial calendar, no matter what industry you are in. Is it me or are they even more plentiful this year?
Could it be because the 2010s are ending and it’s a nice neat passage of time to comment on? Could it be because the last few years have been so eventful that people are using this time to take extra stock?
Whatever the reason, I have found them more useful than ever before in my role as a freelancer with only two cats for company. While they are the cutest colleagues I have ever had, I am sure they wouldn’t mind me saying that their B2B marketing experiences are somewhat lacking. So, I have poured over the many prediction articles out there and made a compilation of those that piqued my interest the most.
Content Strategy = Proven Success
One topic I often find myself waxing lyrical about is the benefits of having a solid content marketing strategy in place. So much so that I was invited to speak about the topic in an eBook with 10 other content evangelists earlier this year (shameless plug via my blog here). It’s a theme that I assumed was becoming high on most CMOs’ agendas as I sought out more information on the topic. But with recent events in mind, I really should have been more prepared on the dangers of one’s echo chamber when I found out that actually that might not be the case.
The excellent Ractoneur Media’s report on the future of B2B marketing featured a stat from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) revealing that marketers with a documented content strategy are almost four times more likely to be successful than those without, yet just 38 percent have a documented strategy in place. As the editor of the report rightly said – “This statistic should startle anyone working in B2B, especially if you suspect you may be one of the 62 percent of businesses that plan their marketing activities on the fly”.
While it’s understandable that planning what (and more importantly why) content that will be created six to twelve months from now seems like a gargantuan task – it is not an impossible one, even if the world around us is so changeable. A wealth of useful information is available if you can tap into your colleagues’ collective experience. It is often is a goldmine of not just internal variables, but very likely the competitive landscape too.
There is also a plethora of online industry and trade information at your fingertips to inform the wider landscape in which you operate. The final golden source of information for planning is your customer base. If you have the opportunity to speak to your customers – grab it with both hands! There is nothing more valuable than hearing directly from your clients to work out what your content strategy should look like. Gathering this information will take time – but believe me – will save much time, effort and last-minute panic in the long term.
The Snowballing Demand of the Data Scientist
As I have said in an earlier post, while I am not a technophobe by any means, I’m not ashamed to admit the detailed science of marketing stumps me a bit. However, I was lucky enough to work with someone in my last corporate role who did all the heavy lifting in terms of plumbing the pipes and making deep data insights easy, accessible and insightful for the whole team. Fortunately for me, my colleague was also patient and a natural teacher, so I can say I now fully understand and advocate the principles of what can be achieved by a solid data science practitioner and can see why it’s a non-negotiable in our digital age.
From the increased need of personalized marketing content and extreme customer segmentation to make messages resonate fully, to the lowering barriers of entry to artificial intelligence and machine learning, data experts are – and will continue to be – in demand. According to IBM, data science will account for 28% of all digital jobs by next year, but worryingly, the same report revealed that on average, each of these places remains unfilled for up to 45 days due to a lack of talent equipped with the necessary skills. For all those considering a career in marketing but not sure where to start? Data science really is where it’s at.
For some, the technology side of marketing could mark the beginning of the end for one the longest-running feuds in business – the battle between marketing and sales. Some think that with the use of demographics and predictive behavior, targeted marketing techniques will be developed to reach out to the right decision-making individuals. Gaining a better understanding of the prospect can help B2B companies develop precise strategies that can be deployed. While this has the potential to help ease friction, I am not convinced new tech alone will fix the issues between the two departments. As I said earlier this year, this will only be solved with intervention from the top.
Keep it real
Another topic close to my heart which I have also written about this year is values and authenticity in marketing, as this year. With the introduction (and sadly the acceptance in some cases) of fake news, deep fakes and other forms of media manipulation, one could be forgiven for thinking the importance of authenticity is negligible. But from most ‘future of marketing’ articles I have read, I am very pleased that nearly all of them listed authenticity and credibility as one of, if not the most, important factor that needs to be considered for brand management, corporate communications, content marketing, internal communications and more.
One of the most interesting pieces I read on this topic was Deloitte’s 2020 marketing trends: Bringing authenticity to our digital age. The comprehensive report does an excellent job of not only decoding what it means for companies to be authentic but also provides a number of ‘cheat sheets’ pitched at the whole organization, the CMO and the rest of the C-level. One of the most useful of these was the guidance to marketing leads when it comes to building trust in your brand:
- Drive the data and AI trust agenda as a strategic imperative, including promoting the brand and its values.
- Develop a coherent customer journey that includes unified customer data and AI hierarchies.
- Represent customer wants in terms of data privacy and/or compensation.
- Lead the messaging to ensure the approach is proactive and clear.
- Work with legal representatives to avoid regulatory missteps in other markets and regions.
There is no compass for how to navigate the future of marketing, but as I have discovered – not only through research for this article, but by continuous monitoring the market over the year – the marketing community is luckily very generous with their experiences, providing their knowledge in insightful and easily digestible ways. It’s not easy to predict the future, but access to the expertise of smart marketing experts from the comfort of your sofa (with your cat colleagues curled around you) makes success significantly more achievable.