As a kid I was a big fan of Science Fiction with a rich imagination about the world in 2020 with flying cars, floating cities and the possibility of aliens among us that sparked numerous ideas about what’s possible.
Of course that’s not exactly how things turned out (not so sure about those aliens) but B2B marketing is definitely entering an age of possibility.
Without question, the future is bright for digital with Forrester predicting that digital marketing spending will reach $146 billion by 2023. In B2B, there are important shifts from more B2C inspired tactics to a more focused effort to engage Millennial age buyers: 45% of B2B technology buyers are now Millennials and more than 70% of millennials are included in B2B buying decisions.
But what more does a future with high investment confidence mean for B2B marketers making decisions today?
Thinking about the future, trends and what’s next is a responsibility of everyone that leads a marketing organization. As we enter 2020, I have continued our tradition of highlighting some of the top marketing trends worth your time and consideration.
To start, let’s look at last year’s digital marketing trends:
Nearly all of these 2019 trends are still in effect and growing in 2020! This is especially true with video, the role of AI in marketing and influencer marketing. I guess we’re on the right track.
1. Personalization – While 72% of buyers expect B2B companies to personalize communications and 69% of buyers willing to pay more for a more personalization experience, marketers are “still missing the mark” when it comes to personalization.
Further research shows that even though digital engagement creates thousands of preference signals of data per day, marketers just aren’t sophisticated enough (yet) to turn those insights into effective, personalized experiences. Look no further than your inbox for evidence of the “just barely better than generic” efforts at communications that represents personalization today.
With the huge gap between where we are now with best practices and the upside of increased revenue, reduced costs and improved customer retention opportunities, Personalization is a huge opportunity in 2020 and beyond.
2. Video Content and Live Video – According to research from HubSpot, 78% of buyers watch online videos weekly and 55% view them daily. Video is the top format for US advertisers and it’s also one of the most preferred formats for influencer marketing.
The rising demand and proliferation of video content has many B2B marketers scrambling to figure out what formats, channels and messaging will work best for business buyers.
Posting recorded video on the B2B social platform of choice LinkedIn along with the introduction of live streaming video for both individuals and brands on LinkedIn combines with the popularity of YouTube, stories and live streaming on virtually all major social networks creates numerous opportunities for B2B brands to capitalize on video.
3. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) – Research from Adobe finds that 41% of leading businesses are using artificial intelligence in 2020 for everything from suggesting keywords and simplifying scheduling to flagging potential fraud. The arguments for implementing AI/ML include freeing up human resources for other more important tasks, providing personalization recommendations and processing large amounts of data in real-time and learning to optimize performance with each cycle. But AI is not about replacing people as much as it is about augmenting the intelligence of people to provide better customer experiences more quickly and effectively while managing resources efficiently.
Adobe’s research found some of the top B2B applications of AI include: analysis of data, optimization and testing, on-site personalization, email marketing, automated campaigns, image recognition, programmatic advertising, digital asset management, automated offers, video recognition, content creation, creative and design work. In 2020, it’s really not a matter of if, but when and how AI will become a more active part of your martech stack.
4. Voice and Podcasts – Voice has become as normal and natural a way to interact with devices as text. Maybe even more so. Natural Language Processing and AI have made asking Alexa, Siri or Google to do things a normal part of life: personal and professional. Marketers from SEO to content are paying more attention to creation and optimization of voice formats because that’s how buyers are discovering and engaging with content. According to ComScore, 50% plus of searches in 2020 will be from voice search, so it’s in every B2B marketer’s best interests to understand how voice and even mobile optimization can make their content the best answer when customers start asking questions.
One audio format that has particular promise for B2B marketers is the podcast. Podcasts have really come into their own in the past few years and the B2B world is taking notice. We’ve had an incredible experience working with clients like 3M to launch the Science Champions podcast as well as SAP’s Tech Unknown Podcast – both of which feature industry influencers.
If you’re still not sure about podcasting for B2B, listen up: 35% of LinkedIn members around the world listen to podcasts and 44% of senior-level decision-makers on LinkedIn (department heads, VPs, owners and C-suite executives) say they make time to listen to them.
5. Influencer Marketing – Ranked as a top 4 tactic for B2B marketers in 2019, influencer marketing has continued to grow in adoption and sophistication in the business world. In recent research from Demand Gen Report, 95% of B2B buyers say they prefer credible content from industry influencers. Overwhelming information choices and distrust of brand messaging make collaborating with industry experts that have the attention of audiences looking for solutions an ideal strategy.
Whether B2B brands engage famous brandividuals to attract top of funnel attention, industry experts and practitioners to highlight industry and solution best practices or internal key opinion leaders and subject matter experts (superuser clients t0o) to highlight case studies and performance, influencer marketing for B2B offers impressive options to optimize marketing performance across the entire customer lifecycle.
See this post on the Digital Marketing Institute site for a collection of 10 B2B influencer marketing campaign case studies to inspire you.
6. Content Marketing – Believe it or not, content is still a growth area for marketers with 49% of B2B marketers planning to increase their budget this year according to research from Content Marketing Institute.
Further, 69% of the most successful marketing organizations have a documented content marketing strategy while only 16 of the least successful do. Hmm, I think I sense a connection!
Where are those successful B2B marketers focused with their content? Building loyalty with customers, nurturing subscribers/audiences/leads, generating sales/revenue and building a subscribed audience.
2020 trends for content marketing are essential because content is the core of what B2B marketing uses to attract, engage and convert customers. Prioritization of content that is helpful vs. “salesey”, personalized vs. generic, right content in the right channel and full customer journey engagement are key for content marketing success in 2020.
7. Chatbots and Conversational Selling – According to research from Gartner, “By 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms on a daily basis.”
B2B marketers are using chatbots to filter content, provide basic support, capture contact information and nurture leads without much, if any, human involvement. When you factor in chatbot and AI integration, it opens up opportunities for automated personalization at scale. Chatbots are not limited to operating on a B2B brand’s website or via email. They can be setup for B2B on Facebook messenger too, according to Mobile Monkey.
With short term opportunities to provide real time assistance and information to help prospects find relevant content on your site, engage those prospects and even help them complete lead gen forms, there are many B2B opportunities to leverage chatbots and conversational selling. You can find numerous examples of chatbots in action via Drift.
8. CX (Customer Experience) – The topic of customer experience was a hot topic in 2019 and that trend continues in 2020 as B2B brands seek to differentiate themselves in an increasingly complex and competitive online environment.
Marketo found in their research that personalized customer experiences ranked as one of the top three purchasing drivers for business buyers and according to research from Accenture, 90% of B2B executives cite CX as a very important factor to achieving their organizations’ strategic priorities. The question is, are those B2B companies delivering?
According to research from Salesforce, no. “More than 80% of business purchasers surveyed by Salesforce want consumer-level customer experience, less than 30% of B2B customers say suppliers provide excellent customer experience.” That gap simply spells opportunity for B2B brands that want to capitalize and differentiate from competitors who are only paying executive lip service to CX.
If you’re looking for great examples of B2B experiences, Blake Morgan has curated this collection on Forbes featuring IBM, Adobe, FedEx, Wells Fargo, Slack, GE and more.
9. Visual Content – Images, video and even interactive content are a big part of the shift towards creating more engaging experiences that go beyond informing B2B buyers about solutions, but connecting with them on an emotional level. 54% of buyers want to see more video content from a business they support according to HubSpot and it looks like marketers are happy to oblige: Over 50% of marketers are planning to increase their video marketing budgets.
As they say, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth millions. And if Cisco is right with their forecast that video will represent 80% of all Internet traffic by 2021, then the opportunities are in the billions.
When it comes to more visually engaging content, business buyers say yes. Research from Demand Gen Report found that 91% of B2B buyers say they prefer interactive and visual content to static content. Speaking of interactive B2B content, we’ve found a very powerful combination between interactive and influencer content which you can learn more about here.
10. ABM – According to a study by Demand Gen Report, 50% of marketers implementing ABM have had their initiatives in place for more than a year and 25% for six months to a year. 92% of B2B companies feel ABM is a must-have, according to research from Demandbase. The momentum behind Account Based Marketing has been growing rapidly and in 2020 it will be even hotter.
Further research from Terminus reports that 45% of B2B companies have some level of ABM program in place, but only 9% classify their ABM program as advanced or “fully adopted.
Why the optimism around ABM? One of the big disconnects in B2B organizations when it comes to customer acquisition is between sales and marketing. ABM brings sales and marketing together, identifying target accounts, individuals and the unique insights needed in order to hyper personalize to generate new business. Another issue is that in today’s world of information overload and distrust, B2B marketers need to get far more personalized and specific in their efforts to connect and engage with customers. ABM does that. As Jon Miller from Engagio says, “Traditional marketing is fishing with a net. ABM is fishing with a spear.”
One of the connections with ABM that I think we’ll see a lot more of in 2020 is with influencer marketing. What better way to create personalized and targeted experiences for those in a buying committee than through the influencers that have their attention and trust? This is a topic I will be presenting on at the B2BMX conference in February.
Here’s the full list of additional B2B marketing trends for 2020 from the various other predictions articles and research I reviewed for this post sorted by the frequency mentioned:
Regardless which emerging B2B marketing strategies and tactics are hot for the year, the universal truth when it comes to content for marketing is the importance of understanding buyer preferences for information discovery, content engagement/experience and the triggers that motivate action. (DEA – Discovery, Engagement, Action).
The B2B marketing world moves faster than ever, many of these trends are long term and multi year. Visual, experiential content that is easy to find and satisfies business buyer’s needs to be informed, entertained and inspired will continue to be areas of focus.
If you’re interested in more specific categories of where to focus in the B2B marketing world, several of my internal marketing pros collaborated with some of the top marketing experts in the world on a series of B2B marketing trends for 2020 from content to influence to SEO. You can find those here:
What B2B marketing trends would you add to this list?