January 19, 2016
Experts say that industry changes and customer preference shifts will transform B-to-B marketing this year
The world doesn’t change just because the calendar flips over, as anyone struggling with resolutions can attest. But while it’s tempting for B-to-B marketers to start the new year with the same business practices, new forces that will define 2016 have emerged over the last several quarters are already starting to alter the B-to-B marketing landscape. Here are some top trends that industry experts predict will dominate the year ahead.
The most powerful force reshaping B-to-B marketing is the increasing reliance on Big Data, according to Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, a top research and advisory firm.
“I think it’s never been a better time to be a B-to-B marketer because of the power that data, digital and technology bring to the profession. However, I think that B-to-B marketers have a long way to go to truly take advantage of all the changes that those trends are bringing.”
According to a detailed report produced by Ramos and her team titled Predictions 2016: B2B Marketing’s New Mission, “Buyers now expect B2B suppliers to be at the right (digital or physical) place, at the right time. And Big Data promises to help manage sales and marketing activity with the ultimate predictive metric: propensity to buy.”
The report reveals that 37% of B2B marketers say that increasing use of data analytics is a high priority for 2016, and predictive analytics remains one of the hottest areas for B-to-B tech investment.
“It all boils back to the data,” Ramos says. “If everything is going to be focused around your marketing strategy, your content, your tech investment … then it needs to focus on getting to know your customers. And getting to know them at a deeper level than just, you know, well they’re big customers or they’re small customers, or they’re in these geographies or they’re in these industries.”
2. Flat, Minimal Websites
There are two directions websites can go in, according to Jeremy Durant, business principal at B-to-B Web design agency and marketing firm Bop Design: flat or realism. Of the roughly 35 B-to-B websites Bop Design launches each year, Durant says that clients show a strong inclination to go flat.
A recent Bop Design blog post highlights why this is:
“Digital marketing continues to focus more and more on the user or customer experience. Flat design is the perfect fit for an industry focused on getting their message across to the user, as this simplified design approach places emphasis on visual simplicity.”
Rather than focusing on design for design’s sake, flat design hones in on how the user will interact with the design. It includes 2-D images for use on 2-D devices and is most compatible for responsive design.”
Similarly, Durant says B-to-B marketers are opting for a stripped-down approach to websites that increases loading speed.
“A couple years ago it was all about responsive design, but really now there’s a lot of focus on speed and flat design, making sure that the website loads fast. It also helps from a SEO standpoint,” he says. “There’s a saying: ‘if it takes 10 seconds to load, it’s broke.’’
3. Customer Empathy & Relationship Building
Despite a lot of high-minded talk about doing what is best for customers, B-to-B marketers never lose site of the end goal: selling. And many marketers are single-minded in approach, often to their detriment. Ramos expects that to change this year.
“We still think [B-to-B marketers] are too focused on process and lead funnel and all these sorts of things. In order to be successful they need to switch their prospective from how do we generate demand to how do we engage with customers,” Ramos says.
According to Ramos, Forrester predicts, “B-to-B marketers will finally start to create new relationships between sales and marketing by looking at, ‘how do we approach customers based on how customers go through their purchase journey, not through how we want to take them through a lead funnel.’”
4. The Return of Social Media
Social media has been hyped as a game changer for close to a decade. While true in many ways, some B-to-B marketers in particular have grown disenchanted as tweets and likes never resulted in the sales numbers that they may have been expecting. However, Durant predicts a social media resurgence, as B-to-B marketers align their expectations with social media with platforms’ potential deliverables.
“I think a lot of people had the wrong expectations with social media,” Durant says. “I think a lot of B-to-B marketers thought it was going to be a lead generation tool. It’s going to be very much on the customer service side. From a branding standpoint, it’s a very important top-of-mind [service].”