B2B Marketing gets Complicated

B2B Marketing gets Complicated

January 2019 | Digital Marketing

New legal obligations and evolving technology have disrupted B2B marketing. In 2019, marketers will focus on adapting their tactics to meet a changing economy.

2018 was a year of change. New legal obligations and evolving technology proved to be more disruptive than expected. Preferred tactics and strategies changed overnight, and many marketers are still scrambling to cope with the fall-out. Over the last few years, many brands relied far too heavily on email to reach audiences, with social media and advertising often being seen as a way to attract new email subscribers rather than fully fledged channels in their own right. The content marketing boom reinforced this trend by providing a seemingly endless source of collateral to spam the inboxes of prospective customers. Email nurtures were designed and implemented to provide an outlet to promote all the content that was being produced. Not all marketers fell into this trap, but many did.

Omnichannel goes Mainstream

Increased consumer and political awareness of data protection has reduced the viability of a marketing plan built around email nurtures. Legal restrictions on the use of outbound email mean that marketers are going to need to find more channels to promote their content, and previously niche social networks or advertising platforms will take on greater importance. Until now, B2B marketers have had it easy compared to our B2C counterparts. The scope of inbound marketing has frequently been restricted to attracting new prospects with brand and awareness messaging. Nurturing those prospects after that first touch has been the domain of sales and outbound marketing. This neat distinction is being blurred with social, web and advertising needing to take on a greater share of the middle of funnel messaging.

This is a challenge that B2C marketers have been dealing with for years. The more transactional nature of consumer decision making and stricter attitudes to email marketing and telemarketing mean that there is a wealth of experience in making social, advertising and email channels work together to build a consistent user journey. B2B marketers have additional resources they can leverage as well, that have often been overlooked in the past due to the need to get buy-in on campaigns from other departments. Restrictions on outbound email, mean that going forward more assistance will be needed from LDR teams and Sales reps in promoting campaigns. If you're still struggling to decide on a new year's resolution, then better sales alignment will go a long way to making your job easier in 2019.

ABM reaches Maturity

Better sales alignment will also help with the second business priority for 2019. ABM has been slow to gain traction in EMEA, but since GDPR there has been a definite shift in priorities among European marketing teams. ABM is now a top priority, and the timing couldn't be better. The initial wave of ABM programs are now several years old, and an entire technology ecosystem has developed to help run them. You don't need this technology to run ABM, but it definitely helps.

This year will see a new wave of ABM programs being launched. Many of the companies running these programs will have experimented with ABM previously, but either struggled to identify the right approach or didn't get the expected results. There is no single best approach to ABM, but successful programs all rely on a common set of principles and capabilities. A data-driven approach to target account selection is essential, and Sales need to be equal partners when doing this. The technology required to enable this process, as well as to manage the resulting campaign automation has now reached maturity, with features such as account scoring, lead to account matching and account lists available in a wide range of MarTech products, including some CRM and Marketing Automation platforms. An awareness that ABM messaging and tactics don't have to be different standard campaigns will help too, the main difference with ABM is at the strategic and operational levels rather than the tactical.

With the basic structure of account based marketing understood, the focus will shift to enabling more targeted account personalisation at scale. Account based personalisation of digital experiences using both explicit and implicit data will be a discussion point. Many account based campaigns still require manual work, particularly when aiming for a one to one experience. Currently, this, requires dedicated customer branded microsites and individually co-branded emails limiting the audience for such campaigns. The desire to automate ABM experiences across both outbound and inbound channels, as well as to overlay this with existing demand generation and persona based messaging will see solutions for this proposed in 2019. This not only enables a more consistent journey for prospects at target accounts but importantly, it also allows the full ABM campaign experience to be extended to a greater number of accounts. Many web personalisation and advertising technologies already support ABM, the challenge is making the best use of them.

Customer Lifecycle Marketing

Marketing has taken on greater responsibility for customer experience in recent years, as executives tap into the design and user journey expertise of marketers in an effort to reduce friction and increase engagement with products. It is the CMOs job to map out every stage of the customer experience and ensure it is smooth, coherent and consistent. The ultimate aim of this effort has been to increase user adoption and make their products stickier within their customer base. Customer marketing has been a secondary consideration in CX programs, and in many instances has been deliberately ignored to avoid irritating customers with an unwanted sales message.

2019 will see a renewed focus on the end to end customer experience, as companies look for ways to increase revenue from their existing customer base. With customer acquisition becoming more difficult, retention is now more important than ever. Previously neglected interaction points such as renewals or first run experiences will take on a bigger priority as marketers look to drive cross-sell and upsell at every stage of the customer journey. Trial and demo experiences will take on increasing importance, with more automation and more supporting content and campaign journeys created to support them.

Automating Marketing Automation

Investments in marketing automation will be driven by the desire to enhance and automate customer experiences. For many marketers, systems such as Marketo, Eloqua or Pardot will become tools for orchestrating user journeys across disparate channels and platforms rather than tools for executing campaigns in their own right. MAP will continue to be used for email execution, but this is only one part of the new multichannel world that B2B marketers operate in. Currently, many of these channels are run independently with no feedback loop between them. This contributes to the sense of tech stack sprawl that many CMOs are worried about, 2019 will see an effort to optimise that tech stack and link it to all together with marketing automation acting as the central hub for marketing profile data and customer activity history. Cross-channel customer journeys will then be built with tracking data from previous interactions on one channel used to personalise website experiences or target ads on third-party sites.

Privacy hits the headlines again

Data protection laws are only going to get stricter, as consumer privacy continues to feature on the media agenda. The US is expected to follow the lead of California and devote serious attention to passing an American version of GDPR in 2019. Much of this effort is driven by the desire to harmonise federal regulations prior to the California Consumer Privacy Act coming into force at the start of next year. This may not be possible given the difficulty in passing laws through a divided Congress. Even if the federal government fails to act, other states still might as there is a desire across the political spectrum to have a level playing field on privacy laws.

Across the Atlantic, new privacy laws will also be on the European agenda. Brexit shouldn't have any impact on this area - the UK was among the leading advocates for GDPR. However, there is a new ePrivacy regulation making its way through EU institutions. This ePrivacy regulation was supposed to be ratified several years ago but has been severely delayed by disagreements between member states on its contents. The EU is still a long way from a consensus on ePrivacy so the final version may not be ready this year. If it does pass, expect to hear a lot about it.

Additionally, expect more clarity on the real world impact of GDPR too as the first batch of complaints reaches their conclusion. This will set precedents that legal teams will use when they review internal GDPR compliance midway through the year. Marketing ops will be horrified to discover that further compliance efforts are required, as loopholes and inconsistencies in the law are clarified.

Next Generation Analytics

You may not hear the phrase data-driven marketing much this year, but it will underpin many of the technology trends that people do talk about in 2019. The biggest of those is personalisation, which was a buzz topic last year too. Lots of companies claim to be data-driven marketing but aren't able to maximise the potential of this approach because they don't have the right numbers. Expect a lot of effort dedicated to fixing this.

CMOs have long identified reporting and analytics as a priority, and if anything it is getting harder to find the right metrics rather than easier. Most enterprises have all the data they need and the tools to pull out together, but actually doing so is a challenge, often requiring a lot of manual work. Where the problem is solved, it has been done so by hiring a dedicated team of data analysts and building a complex web of integrations. This is great if you have an unlimited budget, but not everyone does. For the rest of us, a lot of manual effort is required which reduces flexibility and increases the time needed to get the right numbers. Fortunately, MarTech vendors are aware of the challenge and solutions exist to solve it.

Expect a bigger focus from the entire industry on analytics and dedicated marketing data platforms in 2019. Until now, marketing leaders have made do with what they've got due to other priorities. With a slowing economy at the start of the year, there will be a push for greater efficiency and the need to streamline reporting will shoot up the priority list. A changing blend of tactics will make this especially critical. Proving ROI is a lot more important when hard decisions need to be made about budgets.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.