As we approach the end of 2018, it’s time to take a look at key B2B marketing trends that will emerge in the year ahead.
Continuing a pattern from previous years, 2019 will see the ongoing evolution of many B2B marketing trends from recent years and some newer concepts will become more mainstream. So what trends will likely have the biggest impact on firms in the coming year? Here’s a list of nine B2B marketing trends to watch in 2019.
1. Continued expansion of marketing’s role and increased overlap with sales/PR/HR/IT
To meet the demands of today’s marketplace, B2B marketers’ role has and will continue to expand beyond the comforts of the marketing department. B2B firms are faced with a growing number of unique challenges including talent shortages, changing buyers, commoditization and increasing competition to name just a few. While these are certainly organizational challenges that will require cross-departmental collaboration to solve, marketing is well-positioned to lead the charge or greatly contribute.
While we’ve already seen marketing’s increasing involvement with initiatives traditionally owned exclusively by sales, HR, PR and IT, 2019 will definitely see marketing’s talents put to greater use firm-wide:
- To address the war for talent, marketers continue to play a larger role in helping their firms develop and execute employer branding and talent (recruitment) marketing strategies
- Marketing will also start to play a bigger role in shaping company culture and collaborating on employee experience (EX) programs (see #2)
- Firms will rely on marketing to assist on more retention-driven initiatives like improving internal communication and developing more useful company intranets
- As more firms launch formal client experience (CX) initiatives, marketing teams will be asked to play a significant role in the cross-functional process (see #2)
- Business development and sales teams looking to narrow their focus and expand their impact will need marketing to drive account-based campaigns (see #5)
- Larger firms with separate PR and communication teams will start to consolidate and/or align their content and communication efforts with those of marketing and sales
- Marketing leaders—even those in industries where marketing has not historically “had a seat at the table”—will be increasingly tasked with assisting in strategic planning
While these are just a few examples of how marketing’s role will continue to evolve, the biggest takeaway is that B2B firms are realizing marketing’s value and untapped potential for greater contribution to bottom-line success.
2. A holistic view of experience
If there is a business concept that permeates virtually every industry—both B2B and B2C—it’s experience. Customer experience (CX) has emerged as the key to creating genuine differentiation and sustained competitive advantage in the “age of the customer.” While many of our B2C counterparts figured this years ago, B2B firms now recognize that to win in business requires a truly customer-centric approach. But creating unrivalled CX doesn’t happen in a vacuum! In fact, firms are starting to understand that the other Xs—employee experience (EX) and brand experience (BX)—are all part of the CX equation.
These three seemingly separate functions have to work together in order to authentically deliver on a firm’s brand promise. You can’t provide exceptional CX without a highly engaged, client-focused workforce (EX) to make CX happen. And CX is what ultimately brings your brand promise to life (BX). The point is, in 2019, more firms will start to consider experience in every facet of their business, adopting a much more holistic view of experience. As CX, EX and brand converge, alignment of the three is essential to fulfilling the mission of each and ultimately creating sustainable competitive advantage.
3. Greater emphasis on branding and brand initiatives
Speaking of brand, another not-so-new concept that will gain increasing emphasis in 2019 is good old-fashioned branding. Historically, B2B firms have never invested nearly as much in their brands as those of their B2C counterparts—especially services-based firms. Yes, all firms already have a logo, a tagline, a color palette, apparel, branded-giveaways, etc. But as competition heats up for both clients and talent, firms are starting to realize the great importance of having a distinct, differentiating position in the marketplace.
So what will this branding renaissance look like? For starters, many firms will go back to core branding concepts such as brand purpose and brand promise—establishing them for the first time or revisiting with more intentionality. This will form the foundation of the brand which will be augmented by greater reliance on brand research, client perception studies and competitive analysis. B2B firms will seek to craft more differentiating and compelling value propositions and messaging complete with an emotional hook. Visually, “good enough” brands and brand elements will become less acceptable, especially as small and mid-market firms look to compete with larger competitors. This means a desire for a much more sophisticated overall brand experience—including everything from the visual identity, website, signage and corporate office interiors—will increase budgets and resources for branding initiatives in 2019.
4. Dominance of video marketing
Video has been on marketing trend lists for several years—and with good reason. Video content currently represents a majority share of internet traffic and is forecasted to grow to 82% of all internet traffic by 2021, according to Cisco’s annual Visual Network Index (VNI) forecast. But before B2B marketers assume that number solely represents Netflix binge-watchers and cat videos on YouTube, research from Google has found that 70% of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos throughout the buyer’s journey.
Video is a powerful storytelling medium that B2B firms can leverage to get their message across for a variety of purposes including brand videos, products videos, case stories, culture and day in the life videos, client testimonials, how-tos and thought leadership videos, live streaming and pre-recording shows, just to name a few. While video is already popular among B2B marketers, look for it to dominate in 2019 as more firms double down on their video investment and other firms decide to jump in.
5. An account-based marketing and sales approach
Account-based marketing (ABM) has been a hot topic in B2B marketing the past few years and it picked up a lot of steam in 2018. Research shows that 92% of firms recognize the value of ABM, going as far as calling it a B2B marketing “must have.” For B2B firms with long, complex sales cycles that often involve many stakeholders and transactions that are typically high-value in nature, ABM represents a more effective way to generate new business than solely relying on “inbound” approaches to lead generation.
While ABM does require a close collaboration and alignment with sales (or business development depending on your firm’s vernacular), firms are realizing the need to move to an account-centric model across marketing, sales and client success. Engagio refers to this as “account-based everything” and defines it as “a strategic go-to-market approach that orchestrates personalized marketing, sales, and success efforts to land and expand at named accounts.” Understanding that repeat business represents a significant portion of many firms’ revenue stream, look for account-based marketing and sales strategies to dominate in 2019.
6. Maturation of content marketing
Content marketing has been the darling of B2B marketing for over a decade. And most firms today are leveraging content marketing in some form or another. However, the latest research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that only 42% of B2B marketers consider their firm’s content marketing as mature or sophisticated—but that is up from 34% in last year’s study. This underscores a trend as more and more firms that have been “doing” content marketing are shifting towards a more sophisticated and strategic approach.
In 2019, B2B content marketing will get back to its roots—seeking to “create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.” So look for less emphasis on the sheer quantity of content and more focus on creating quality, original, thought leadership-oriented content that educates buyers and provides a window into the caliber of thinking a firm is likely to deliver. Additionally, more firms will be guided by strategic, documented content marketing plans that direct the efforts in a much more intentional way.
While firms refocus their content approach, there will also be the need to fine tune their content and promotional mix as well. Firms with smaller teams and limited resources will need to narrow their focus while firms with larger teams and more sophisticated content marketing programs will shift towards leveraging a broader mix of formats, as well as an adjustment of their overall social media presence.
Content and promotion trends for 2019
- Investment in video, video and more video—short form, long form and live video will become much more prominent (see #4)
- Live streaming events as an alternative to webinars
- Diversification of content formats to include a broader mix including podcasts, interactive assessments and mobile-friendly (non-PDF) content
- Visual content such as infographics will see a resurgence
- As enthusiasm for Twitter starts to wane, non-traditional B2B social platforms such as Instagram will start to play a larger role
- Increasing reliance on paid amplification to boost distribution, as opposed to organic-only
- More attention given to influencer marketing and native advertising to support program goals
7. Smarter measurement, reporting and attribution
One of the many benefits of marketing in the digital age is the availability of real-time analytics, allowing marketers to understand how their marketing is performing and make necessary adjustments. In spite of the hype around Big Data, the average B2B marketer has found synthesizing and acting on data to be a challenge. However, the push for demonstrating ROI to leadership, combined with the growing demands of Customer Experience (CX) and account-based strategies, necessitates changing measurement and reporting in 2019.
Look for marketers to account for measurement earlier in the process at the strategic planning level, as opposed to the tactical execution level. Instead of being guided by the endless amount of data that can be culled from analytics, B2B firms will start to identify smarter and sometimes unconventional ways to measure, which will ultimately drive better business decisions. This means marketers will increasingly start to rely on MarTech tools fueled by artificial intelligence (see #9) to sift through the vast amount of collected data, but it will also mean a rethinking of what metrics matter in the first place.
Technology has also finally caught up to meet with demands of marketers for a more integrated and automated way to report the results of various digital marketing activities. Business Intelligence (BI) and dashboard tools such as Google Data Studio, Grow.com, Tableau, Geckoboard and Klipfolio, among others, will become staples for many marketing teams as executives desire to more succinctly monitor analytics and make sense of their impact.
8. Greater attention given to data privacy and security
In 2018, we’ve experienced a number of major data and security storylines: the introduction of the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), Google’s labeling of unencrypted websites as “not secure” and well-publicized data breaches of major companies holding consumer’s personal information. These and other storylines represent a growing concern from consumers—both B2C and B2B—about data privacy and security. While many B2B firms have addressed these issues in 2018, 2019 will see continued attention on protecting the personal data of clients, improving privacy policies, security hardening of websites and an overall more proactive approach to the subject.
9. Experimentation with B2C trends and emerging technologies
I don’t think I could authentically assemble a list of 2019 B2B marketing trends without paying some respect to the emerging trends and technologies that seem to be all the buzz as of late. I’m talking about things like voice search, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, chatbots, virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR) and the Internet of Things (IoT), among many others.
For many B2B marketers, these emerging technologies are incredibly abstract and the direct application is not always obvious. And while there are certainly examples of these emerging technologies being leveraged by B2B firms on the bleeding edge (I’ve personally been a recent chatbot victim of a SaaS provider), 2019 will see many firms experimenting with how to leverage these emerging technologies:
- Voice search optimization to capitalize on the growth of personal assistant devices
- Chatbots for sales and service (in addition to live chat)
- Using AI to sift through data, identify trends and provide additional client/buyer insights
- VR being used to sell clients and prospects the experience of “trying before you buy” (e.g. architecture, construction, etc.)
- IoT devices that provide user insights into a wide array of things, from energy meters to embedded sensors in retail locations to track traffic patterns
While these are just a few examples of how emerging technologies can benefit B2B marketers, look for greater exploration and adoption across the board in 2019.
The only constant in marketing is change
There are certainly a variety of other B2B marketing trends that will likely pick up steam in 2019 (and a whole bunch of fads will come and go too). This list, while admittedly not comprehensive, provides a look at some B2B marketing trends to consider and watch in the year ahead.