For most of us, planning for the end of the year marketing campaigns is well underway. In fact, a lot of you may have it all buttoned up.
Many of you are already drafting your 2018 marketing plans. You’re mapping out the year, if only at the 10,000-foot level.
So we thought it would be helpful to round up the likely major trends of B2B marketing for next year. Whatever you’re planning, it should probably include at least a few elements from this list.
1. Customer-centric marketing
This may be the over-arching B2B marketing trend of the year.
This one idea – that the customer’s experience is the first, last, and primary consideration, and that all strategy and tactics serve their (the customer’s) priorities – is the premise of most of the trends we’ll mention here.
Take mobile, for instance. A major trend, for sure. But it’s vitally important because people simply use mobile devices more than they use desktops now. Making your messaging and services mobile-friendly (if not mobile first) is smart because it serves customers’ needs better.
Then there’s the trend of personalization – again, another symptom of customer-centric marketing. Personalization, clearly, puts the customer’s needs and preferences first.
Same goes with account-based marketing, too. It’s just another aspect of customer-centric, aka “customer first” marketing.
This applies again to video. That’s a trend because – you guessed it – people like to watch videos.
We’ll look at each of these trends individually of course, but this might be the one question you have to ask yourself if you want to be cutting-edge in 2018:
Does this tactic/channel/campaign serve the customer’s needs first?
Of course, while we want to put the customer’s needs first, we also have to stay in business. But often, business initiatives or practices have been set up for the benefit of the company, while keeping the customers “happy enough.” We may all have to flip that around in this coming year, and the years to come. It may become necessary to do things that delight customers, while we keep the business needs (profit, mainly) “happy enough.”
This reminds me a bit of Amazon in earlier years … like around 2000. Remember when people were joking about “Amazon.org” because Bezos kept investing in making Amazon better and better and better, profits be damned? Most of his investors were pulling their hair out, but Bezos kept building his platform … kept building for the customer.
Well, who’s laughing now?
For more ideas on implementing a truly customer-centric marketing strategy, including ideas for customer retention, satisfaction, and revenue, see our on-demand webinar, Team Trifecta.
2. Marketing is increasingly data-driven
As customer-centric marketing takes over, we obviously need to know everything we can about our customers. Knowledge of them becomes the ultimate business asset. Turns out, marketing functions are particularly dependent on and sensitive to the quality and accuracy of our data.
Or, as CEO Jack Welch once said:
An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.
The more you know about your customers, the more of an advantage you have. And the more you can adapt your messaging, your products and services, and your sales and customer support to those customers, gives you more advantage still.
There are plenty of ways to do this.
Some ways are low-tech, like simply talking to your customer service staff and your sales reps. Or ‒ ahem – actually talking to your customers.
Then there are medium-tech ways, like setting up a simple listening station or doing customer surveys.
And then there are the high-tech ways.
These usually involve one of the bigger buzzwords and trends of the last few years: Big Data.
And increasingly, these high-tech approaches also involve the “scary” big new trend: AI ‒ artificial intelligence.
None of this is going to go away. In fact, our job titles are more likely to go away than Big Data, AI, and super-sophisticated customer knowledge systems are likely to go away.
Marketers are increasingly data-focused and data-driven. At our best, we are data conductors – maestros who can stand in front of our analytics dashboards like conductors stand in front of their orchestras, leading our data feeds through our campaigns and strategies, skillfully balancing the different inputs to create something truly artful.
That’s the vision, at least. Getting there will require a lot of practice. And lots of technical skill.
Some of us may have to improve those technical and data management-type skills.
I know, I know. Every year people say: “This is going to be the year of mobile.”
I’m not saying that. I say that, if you’re smart, 2018 will be the year you become genuinely mobile-first. So, when you block out big projects, large campaigns, and messaging strategies, you don’t think about the desktop. You stop seeing people receiving your messages on a desktop.
You see them holding a phone in their hand.
You build for that, and then circle back to expand and adapt the mobile version for their desktops.
“Video is eating the Internet.”
This is another trend, like mobile, that’s been rising for years. But in 2018, video will probably tilt from a “nice to have” to an essential part of your content marketing program.
Fortunately, video is not as hard to do as it might first seem to be.
Want an example of a completely Oscar-worthy B2B marketing video? Watch Conductor’s hysterical video, SEO and Content Go to Couples Therapy.
5. Interactive content
I’m not even listing “content shock” as a trend for 2018. It’s not really a trend anymore – it’s just a fact of life. At Act-On, we’ve been dipping our toes into interactive content for a few years now, creating cool infographics, lead-generating quizzes and assessments, calculators, content hubs, and much more!
But because our content has such a crazy amount of competition, it’s time to up your game. If you haven’t tried interactive content yet, put some on your editorial calendar for next year.
Personalization is an essential competitive edge
There are aspects of this trend in many of the other items listed here. Customer-centric marketing is, at its core, personalized marketing. And interactive content is also a type of personalized marketing. Even video can be personalized (especially for those of you doing account-based marketing).
But I’m including it here just to call personalization out by name. We B2B marketers may not have achieved personalization perfection, but we’re getting far more sophisticated with it than we used to be. The blending of marketing automation with personalization is particularly interesting.
In 2018, it’s going to get even better.
6. Influencer marketing
This is not just a trend for B2C marketers, or for marketers with massive budgets. B2B marketers with modest budgets (or with large budgets, for that matter) have been getting results from influencer partnerships for years.
Sometimes those partnerships are for simply endorsing or mentioning a brand. Sometimes they involve content co-creation. Sometimes just having someone on your podcast is enough.
What seems to be working particularly well now is partnering with “micro-influencers” ‒people who have followings, but smaller followings, often more focused on particularly niche-y topics. That’s good for marketers because smaller influencers tend to charge less. They also tend to be more available, and often more flexible. And because they’re more focused on particular topics, they’re more relevant, too.
The only problem is, it’s slightly harder to find the right micro-influencer to partner with. But even that isn’t so difficult.
Facebook may overshadow LinkedIn
This is the one B2B marketing trend that isn’t directly about the customer (though it is indirectly about the customer).
For years, many B2B marketers have been cool on Facebook. They’ve tried it, sure. But LinkedIn has dominated as the go-to platform for business.
Marketers tend to love tools. We savor statistics and data. And that’s all a good thing. We’ll see more and more reliance on tools and data in the coming years.
But I urge us not to get too far from genuinely connecting with customers. While Artificial Intelligence and sexy CRM and marketing automation systems can and will change how we market, they are only intermediaries.
So, regardless of what we’re listing as the B2B marketing trends in 2018, just try to talk to your customers. Live events are a great opportunity for this. Live events are, interestingly enough, also one of the most effective content marketing formats. Maybe it’s because they let us meet our personas face to face. That’s where we’ll learn the qualitative data needed to ask the right questions in the first place.
Because all that data – all that awesome technology – well, it’s only as good as the questions you ask it. And often, we have to know our customers as real people in order to be able to ask those questions.
This customer connection is actually an emerging trend unto itself. I’ve been seeing a surge in articles about this thing called “empathy” lately. Let’s all keep it top of mind as we’re ruminating on B2B marketing trends for 2018.
Written by Pam Neely