2016 has seen some significant shifts in the B2B marketing landscape; yet 2017 is likely to witness even greater developments as the pace of technological innovation accelerates; competitive pressures increase in more challenging market conditions; and buyers demands become heightened given their experiences as consumers. Here therefore are my top 10 B2B marketing trends 2017:
1. Data drives focus on the customer experience
The major drive in 2017 will see B2B marketers re-focus on the customer experience. According to the Econsultancy / Adobe B2B Digital Trends 2016-2017 report, 97% of B2B Marketers feel that optimising the customer journey across multiple touch points is either very or quite important. In fact, Marketing will play a more central role in this regard with research from Dun & Bradstreet highlighting that 75% of global CMOs and senior marketing executives believe that Marketing will be responsible for the end-to-end customer experience over the next 3 to 5 years. However, the majority still see that they lack the resources and infrastructure to effectively make sense of the data required to achieve this. This will therefore lead to a refining of customer data management and analysis practices around the customer life cycle, doubling down on customer insight and intimacy. Combining data across the digital footprint of the buyer will give us a better picture of how, when and why they are likely to buy, which will inform a more aligned go-to-market strategy.
2. The rise of the machines
Businesses will increasingly use machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to power the customer experience. AI-enabled user and entity behaviour analytics will be applied to inject intelligence into new and existing apps and processes, providing greater utility and customer experiences. These technologies will become universal; as Gartner comments, “Technology will be embedded in everything in the digital business of the future. Rich digital services will be delivered to everything, and intelligence will be embedded in everything behind the scenes.” In the B2B context, machine learning and AI with drive a more seamless customer interface, enabling immediate response and greater personalisation of messages and experience.
3. Playing with VR
2016 has seen the emergence of Virtual Reality (VR) as a mainstream technology, with consumer adoption predicted to reach 24 million VR and Augmented Reality (AR) headsets in circulation by 2018. The phenomenon of Pokemon Go has illustrated that users are ready to embrace VR / AR en masse; with a number of leading technology companies, including the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Samsung, all focusing on this new wave of devices, applications, and content. 2017 will see this extend to B2B, where the opportunity for the application of this technology is considerable. B2B marketers will look to leverage VR/AR as a medium for storytelling and engagement by transporting their audiences to new times and places, providing access that was previously unachievable or unimagined.
4. Growth in B2B ecommerce
B2B businesses are starting to generate significant sales through their ecommerce efforts, but there’s still a lot of room for growth. Forrester claim that B2B companies currently sell about $780 trillion of products or services online, which they predict will rise to $1.13 trillion by 2020, a growth of 45%. They also suggest that 56% of B2B buyers will make at least half of their purchases online. B2B buyers are now taking a digital first approach to researching and making purchases, a trend that marketers will look to take advantage of through 2017.
5. Getting serious about social media
Social media as a channel for B2B marketing is still relatively in its infancy, however research from the Direct Marketing Association indicates that social media investment will grow from 10% of marketing budgets today to 24% within 5 years. According to eMarketer, overall paid social media advertising will increase from $24 billion in 2015 to $36 billion in 2017, up by 33.5%. 27% of respondents to a survey by Regalix claimed that social media was an “indispensable” channel for content distribution. In all, B2B brands will further embrace social media in 2017 as a primary vehicle for building awareness, engagement and intent amongst increasingly socially active B2B audiences.
6. UGC becomes central to storytelling
Despite B2C marketers having embraced User-Generated Content (UGC), those in B2B are just getting started. Brand stories delivered through UGC are more engaging, and perceived as more trustworthy, reliable and authentic. Content and messages created by users for the consumption of other users will increasingly be used by B2B marketers as a key tactic as they build their social media activation plans through 2017.
7. Influencer Marketing gains greater traction
B2B brands are switching on to Influencer Marketing as a way to create advocacy and build audiences. As social platforms rise so do the opportunities to leverage advocates within these networks and increase peer validation and influence, leading to greater recognition for the brand. Influencers are now less being defined by the size of their followings, and more by the relevance for the target audience. This enhanced context will fuel the growth of Influencer Marketing in 2017 as new channels and influencers emerge.
8. Mobile still a wish but not a reality
Brands still aren’t prioritising the move to mobile with 61% of B2B Marketers not including it in their Top 3 priorities for 2016 according to the Econsultancy / Adobe B2B Digital Trends 2016-2017 report, and this doesn’t show signs of changing in 2017. Despite the onslaught of evidence that buying behaviours are becoming increasingly mobile oriented, B2B organisations continue to sideline mobile as a focus in favour of more recognised lead generation channels and platforms. This can’t be sustainable in the longer term, however other priorities are taking precedence for the immediate future.
9. ABM comes of age
There was significant interest in Account-Based Marketing (ABM) from B2B marketers in 2016, with its promise of greater lead flow and improved ROI. According to the SiriusDecisions 2016 State of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Study, more than 70 percent of B2B companies focused on driving ABM programs. Understanding key accounts has come back as a primary strategy for B2B marketers with data developments now making it possible to know even more, and view them as an overall entity rather than a standalone purchase. This will be built upon in 2017, as ABM becomes increasingly integrated with Sales practices to deepen relationships and establish long-term revenue streams with clients.
10. Video dominates effectiveness
According to research from HubSpot, video is the most thoroughly consumed form of content by prospects and customers, followed by social media posts, news articles, and research. Video content isn’t new, and it’s now become an essential component of successful content marketing strategies. According to a study by Firebrand Group, approximately 85% of marketers have seen positive ROI from video. Yet as the surge towards video content continues, so does the challenge to keep it fresh and effective. As attention spans shrink, video content will increase in bite sized bursts, with innovative new methods sought for storytelling and repurposing.