As we approach the end of 2019, 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, 2020 will see the ongoing evolution of many B2B marketing trends from recent years and the increasing influence of B2C marketing will make a big impact. 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 2020.
1. Strategic focus and lean marketing
Over the last several years, B2B marketing has experienced a great deal of change, largely brought on by evolving customer demands. Combined with an explosion of new tactics, tools, channels and technology, this has created a proverbial “kid in a candy store” situation for the B2B marketer. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing (or at least an ineffective thing) and many marketers have quickly found themselves overwhelmed and in a chaotic cycle of trying to do too much. As the dust begins to settle, B2B marketers are starting to tap the brakes and evaluate their marketing activities, looking to understand where to focus their time, energy and resources.
B2B marketers are shifting from thinking about what they can be doing towards what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing.
In 2020, B2B marketers will shift from thinking about what they can be doing towards what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing. This will ultimately lead to less breadth in marketing activities, and more depth—narrowing the focus on what is most likely to drive bottom-line results. This means B2B marketers will be more concerned with actionable insights into their marketing activities and less interested in traditional vanity metrics. MarTech tools will be consolidated, as firms look for better integration and less waste. Lean principles such as iteration, testing and continuous improvement will become more of an emphasis. As more firms realize marketing’s value and untapped potential for greater contribution to bottom-line success, B2B marketers are looking to deliver—and strategic focus will be key.
2. The convergence 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 out 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). And CX is what ultimately brings your brand promise to life (BX). In 2020, more firms will start to consider experience in every facet of their business, adopting a much more holistic view of experience with the alignment of people, processes, programs and touchpoints. 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. Full adoption of account-based marketing
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 2019. 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 is no longer just a buzzword, many firms have yet to fully implement ABM programs. In fact, a study from Terminus found that while 45% of B2B companies have some level of ABM program in place, only 9% classify their ABM program as advanced or “fully adopted.” In 2020, B2B firms will look to advance their adoption of ABM in both philosophy and practice and move to an account-centric model across marketing, sales and client success.
4. Dominance of interactive, visual and video content
Content marketing has been the darling of B2B marketing for more than a decade—and rightfully so. While firms continue to invest in creating relevant, thought leadership-oriented content, B2B marketers are increasingly turning to interactive, visual and video content to better engage their target audience. A study from Demand Gen Report found that 91% of B2B buyers say they prefer interactive and visual content to static content. And 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.
91% of B2B buyers say they prefer interactive and visual content to static content.
Interactive, visual and video represent a tremendous opportunity to combine content, design, and technology in a way that can be both engaging and effective. While this content is already popular among B2B marketers, look for it to dominate in 2020 as more firms double down on their interactive investments and other firms decide to jump in.
Interactive, visual and video content trends for 2020
- Investment in video, video and more video—short form, long form and live video will become much more prominent
- “Snackable” short-form videos for use on websites and social media content
- Live streaming events as an alternative to webinars
- Visual content such as infographics will see a resurgence and interactive infographics will become more prominent
- Increasing reliance on motion graphics and animation to explain products, processes and complex data
- More attention given to visual social channels such as Instagram and more video content shared on platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook
- Increased usage of micro-interactions, background videos, data visualization and other forms of interactive content on B2B websites
- Quizzes and online assessments for engagement and lead generation
5. Experiential marketing and immersive live events
Live events such as trade shows and conferences have been a staple in B2B marketing for decades. And in spite of the growing number of digital touchpoints in the buyer’s journey, B2B marketers rank live events as the highest performing tactic for converting leads into clients. But in many cases, B2B live events are in need of evolution and this will be largely influenced by the B2C approach. Firms need to look beyond the booth and give the audience memorable moments that will evoke emotion and build relationships.
B2B marketers rank live events as the highest performing tactic for converting leads into clients.
In 2020, look for B2B firms to “level up” their trade shows and live events, by bringing in a B2C-inspired approach to create immersive experiences. This experiential approach transforms an ordinary (and often stodgy) event into a memorable experience by leveraging immersive touchpoints to engage prospects and clients around an experience. In the year ahead, we’ll see many firms experimenting with how to leverage a variety of experiential tactics and technologies:
- Creative scenic design – ditching the typical booth backdrop and six foot table with a branded tablecloth for a more “staged” environment using lighting, scenic elements, 4K displays and comfy furniture to break down traditional barriers and create a more engaging environment
- 3D projection mapping – this technology takes images, graphics or logos and projects them onto walls to create a more immersive experience. It has become a staple at large consumer events and high-production B2B events as well, but as the technology has become more affordable, more B2B marketers can leverage in their spaces and events.
- Ambient interactivity – digital technology has enabled ambient interactivity—the embedding of interactive elements that encourage user interaction into the physical environment—to become mainstream. While originally applied in retail and architectural environments, event planners are finding creative ways to leverage the technology and create more immersive and engaging event environments.
- AR/VR – Augmented reality and virtual reality technology allow people to be placed into a scene that feels incredibly close to real life. Whether demonstrating a product, service or technology, B2B marketers are looking for ways to incorporate it into their live events and trade shows to drive traffic and create more memorable experiences.
6. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
While B2C marketers have been using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for a while, its usage by B2B firms has been slower to gain traction. However, its wide range of benefits, from better insights, detailed analysis, prospect identification, hyper-targeting (see #7 below), content personalization and expedition of tasks, is gaining the attention of B2B companies. In fact, according to research from Salesforce, B2B Marketers list AI as the technology they are most likely to implement in 2020.
As more B2B-specific applications continue to emerge, look for AI technology to become more prominent in B2B marketing strategies. Platforms such as 6sense, Mintigo and Infer harness AI to analyze vast amounts of data for things like predictive analytics, intelligent lead scoring and campaign optimization. Conversation intelligence platforms like Chorus use AI to analyze sales calls with prospects and provide insights on how to close more details. And Otter.ai is an AI-powered assistant that transcribes and generates rich notes for meetings, interviews, lectures, and other important conversations—expediting daily tasks that can take hours away from other more strategic initiatives. While these are just a few examples of how artificial intelligence and machine learning can benefit B2B marketers, look for greater exploration and adoption across the board in 2020.
7. Personalization and hyper-targeting
As mentioned in our first trend, B2B marketing has been experiencing seismic shifts brought on largely by changes in customer demands. And arguably no customer demand is more crucial than personalization. Business buyers are becoming conditioned to expect the same level of personalization that they receive from B2C brands such as Amazon and Netflix. While this trend has been around for several years, 2020 will see customer-centricity take the shape of increased personalization and hyper-targeting and the ever-important goal of right person, right message, right time and right channel.
Business buyers are becoming conditioned to expect the same level of personalization that they receive from B2C brands such as Amazon and Netflix.
The shift towards personalization starts with empathy and an understanding of customer psychographics. While traditional buyer personas are helpful for creating more relevant content, personalization (and account-based marketing) requires truly identifying who is on the other side of the table and understanding their values, aspirations, attitudes and selection triggers—intimately. This will provide a foundation for creating relevant messaging and leveraging hyper-targeting tactics and technology.
Some of these tactics include using software such as Coveo and Adobe Experience Cloud to personalize website content based on a user’s click-paths, browsing behavior and/or geolocation. Programmatic advertising—while once only thought to be relevant for B2C companies—now offers B2B marketers the ability to deploy digital campaigns to hyper-targeted audiences at scale. And geofencing will provide hyper-local deployment of programmatic ads based on your target audience’s location. In 2020, B2B firms will increase their emphasis on personalization and experiment with a variety of hyper-targeting technologies.
8. Online reputation management
With the proliferation of the Internet, online reviews became a vital concern for B2C businesses. For many years B2B firms were able to ignore this trend, but that has changed. Reviews now have increasing influence in a job candidate’s or client’s decision-making and overall impression of a firm’s brand. Whether reviews on Google, Glassdoor, or a growing number of industry-specific review sites, B2B firms are starting to prioritize online reputation management, and it’s a trend that will accelerate in 2020.
This will include a larger emphasis on the regular monitoring of reviews and ratings, as well as “listening” for online chatter about the company on various websites, forums and social platforms. This might involve adoption of online reputation management tools that enable a marketer to monitor and manage reviews from many different review sites, all from a centralized dashboard. To overcome negative search results, B2B marketers will be retooling their content and SEO strategy to ensure that fresh and relevant content on both the Internet and social media overshadows anything negative. While a business can’t control what people say online, it is possible to proactively manage its online reputation, so look for B2B marketers to do so in a bigger way in the year ahead.
9. Greater emphasis on websites and website optimization
With so much emphasis on recent trends such as content marketing, client experience and account-based marketing, many B2B firms have inadvertently deemphasized their most valuable marketing asset—their website! But times have changed and today’s B2B websites should serve as platforms for differentiation, thought leadership, business development and talent acquisition—while also delivering a remarkable user experience. To better capitalize on growth opportunities, B2B websites will experience a renaissance of sorts in 2020, becoming more central to the marketing strategy as the hub of marketing activity.
Today’s B2B websites should serve as platforms for differentiation, thought leadership, business development and talent acquisition—while also delivering a remarkable user experience.
What will this website renaissance look like? For starters, many firms will approach website redesigns and updates much differently than they have in the past by emphasizing audience centricity through planning, designing and building around the user—not the firm. This mindset will influence everything from content strategy to site architecture and user interface design. Other website optimization efforts will include lead generation, search engine and page speed optimization, mobile-first design, advanced security hardening, ADA compliance and data privacy law compliance. This reemphasis on the B2B website and the desire for a much more sophisticated overall website experience will increase budgets and resources for website initiatives in 2020.
The only constant in marketing is change
There are certainly a variety of other B2B marketing trends that will likely pick up steam in 2020 (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.