As we start 2017, it’s time to take a B2B marketing-themed look ahead at what’s in store over the next 12 months. Technology and transformation will, as always, ensure it will be a time of innovation, change and opportunity. Here are 7 reasons why:
In September, Sentient launched Ascend, an AI-based A/B testing tool. Instead of setting up the tests manually, Ascend promises to ‘accelerate your testing 10–100X or more. Of course, this form of conversion rate optimisation relies on a large amount of traffic, plus the human insight to analyse the results. However, for large-scale B2B campaigns requiring instant insight it offers exciting potential.
Expect adoption in 2017 to be steady, rather than explosive. A recent survey found 80% of marketers think Artificial Intelligence will revolutionise marketing by 2020. However, the same survey also finds that just 26% have a confident understanding of the technology, and just 10% currently using AI.
Voice technology is already having a major impact on SEO in terms of the search queries people are using, with a 35X increase in usage since 2008. Search engines now understand semantics – the intent and context behind a query – and serve up results accordingly, just like a normal conversation. For example, here’s a search for ‘who is the lead actor in Titanic’:
The top result highlights the words cast and crew in the meta description, even though neither are in the search query. That’s semantic search in action. Years ago, a search such as this would have given a jumble of results relating to each keyword.
The growth in personal assistants such as Amazon Echo or Google Home will further enhance semantic search, as people get used to asking questions rather than typing in a series of keywords. This all means that for B2B marketers, keyword research must become more in-depth, with greater understanding of their target audience’s needs and emotions.
The Pokemon craze may have disappeared as quickly as it materialised, but this technology will become an increasingly important tool for B2B marketers. After all, a key advantage of VR headsets is that users have to give 100% attention. And that’s why there are plenty of B2C success stories, such as this Red Bull immersive experience:
Expect B2B marketers to expand on the B2C approach. Look out for campaigns that allow the user to experience using a product as part of an interactive test demo. At this year’s Unite Europe 2016 much of the talk was about the headsets being used to demo software: “VR has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years because of the availability of the devices,” said Brian Howell, VP of Production, DAZ 3D (Morph 3D). “So the headsets that are available and equipment available makes it less expensive. Lots of people have been anxious to try the device on our stall, the Microsoft Holo Lense, because it’s not even shipping in Europe yet.”
The continued popularity of ad-blockers will force B2B marketers to get even more creative in their digital marketing campaigns.
Content published on a platform, marked as sponsored, has the potential to build brand loyalty because readers are already engaged with the platform. That’s why SAP’s Brand Voice partnership with Forbes is one of the best examples. Forbes obviously has the platform reputation, and the readership, which SAP wishes to reach.
A different form of native advertising, although just as effective, is via social media. What’s more, as the likes of Facebook and Twitter continue to boost their monetisation strategies, sponsored posts or promoted tweets are often the only way for B2B marketers to reach their audience via these sorts of channels
The recent upsurge of interest in ABM shows no sign of slowing:
Google Trends interest in the search term ‘account based marketing’ over 2011–2016
ABM may be a relatively new strategy, but the results speak for themselves. For example, 97% of marketers have seen ABM yield a higher ROI than other marketing activities. Targeting individual accounts with personalised marketing messages, rather than creating a generic campaign, is a highly effective way for organisations to differentiate from the competition.
What’s more, ABM leads to increased alignment for sales and marketing teams. The process requires teams to work together to nurture prospects, instead of generating leads and handing them over for closing. This has reportedly resulted in 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth over three years.
With results like these, 2017 will be an even stronger year for ABM.
Mobile companies are offering ever-increasing piles of data as part of their contract plans. Downloads for live streaming apps such as Periscope and Livestream are in the millions. Twitter is rolling out live streaming. Facebook pays celebrities to publish live videos on its newsfeeds. Together this all means that in 2017, B2B marketers can finally seize the audience engagement opportunities available within this instant form of broadcasting.
Expect live streaming to add an extra dimension to event marketing, recently rated as the most successful tactic for engaging senior executives. Look out for an increase in live webcasts, plus more instances where B2B marketers offer ‘virtual’ tickets to those unable to attend conferences in person.
Large volumes of customer data plus omnichannel insight already make it possible to provide ultra-relevant content to consumers. Automation tools such as HubSpot are established ways for nurturing leads at scale. When so many B2B marketing agencies have access to this technology, it requires something extra to make content stand out.
This means 2017 will be the year when content marketers will need to produce more niche content. Yes it won’t have general interest, but this will mean content doesn’t join the noise and content shock already evident within the industry. This focus on niche will mean content marketing success will be concentrated among fewer agencies, who can expect greater reward.