It’s official. B2B marketers have made their pandemic-induced shifts to digital marketing permanent. The recent U.S. B2B Advertising Report from eMarketer predicted B2B marketing and advertising spend in the U.S. will pass $30 billion in 2023, of which nearly half will go to digital. Evidently, no dollars will go back from digital to traditional (TV, print, radio, outdoor, in-person events), which shrank by 10% in 2020 alone.
The question is, now that B2B marketers have had time to better understand post-pandemic B2B buyer behavior, how different will the spend allocation and channel mix look?
B2B Marketing Plans Adjust to the Mobile-First, WFH Reality
Digital, mobile-first, hyper-targeted advertising, search and content will form the backbone of B2B marketing plans.
For the first time, more than half of B2B spends will go to mobile devices such as phones and tablets. The traditional mindset of reaching B2B buyers in work mode on laptops, desktops and desk phones no longer applies as work from home (WFH), hybrid and distributed workforces become the norm. Unlike in-person events, which may not recover to pre-pandemic levels, mobile spend is pegged to double to $7.43 billion by 2023. Similarly, while search is still important, the nature of search will increasingly move towards voice, visual and video search, supported by growing investments in text, audio and video content experiences designed to educate and engage throughout the customer journey. Both digital display and search advertising will grow to the $6 billion to $7 billion range each in 2022-2023.
B2B consumer buying behavior has evolved, said Bhawna Sharma, worldwide senior partner marketing manager for Google Cloud at NetApp Public Cloud Services and advisory council member of the Customer Experience Program at California State East Bay. Customers are increasingly seeking to make purchase decisions on digital channels rather than on-the-road at conferences or in-person meetings — all while multitasking as they WFH. While her team will factor in those realizations, “digital burnout” is also something they will keep in mind as they plan for 2022.
"My focus will be to gain buyer mindshare via small yet effective tactics such as hyper-personalization (think account-based marketing); succinct video and audio content (under 18 minutes), mobile ads for on-the-go users, page speed for better digital experience, chatbots for engagement, voice search for the multi-taskers; and influencer programs (think niche marketing) as a middle of the funnel educational and entertainment tactic,” said Sharma.
Vic Vaswani, head of growth marketing at innovation- and technology-focused venture firm FedTech, agreed the pandemic pushed B2B buyers to learn to make larger purchases through online channels. In response, he suggested B2B marketers should take the lead to help buyers make more informed buying decisions, and leverage intent data to deliver the right content across the right digital touchpoints through the buyer journey. For instance, content syndication during the research-phase, and dynamic content supported by email, retargeting and events (on-demand and live) during the nurture-phase. “Building a solid education flow to help research-stage buyers will be critical — especially if you use Account-Based Marketing (ABM),” he added.
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Lead Generation at a Time of Event Evolution
The role of events is changing too. Sharma said her team now views digital events as more of an awareness and brand-building tactic, and less as a lead-gen channel. So where are the leads coming from? Social media is emerging as an effective lead generation channel, according to Jurgen Desmedt, head of marketing at Europe-based CDP vendor NGDATA.
“Next to our owned channels, social advertising has become the most effective way for us to reach new audiences,” he said. Social channels are replacing the leads that were often generated through events and sales interactions, which are not going back to where they were. "There is a lot of hesitation to make commitments in this era of uncertainty both from — sponsors and participants."
Sharma eschews broad one-size-fits-all marketing strategies in already competitive and noisy B2B digital marketing sphere. She said her team avoids "LinkedIn spamming" at all costs. She’s right — with eMarketer pegging LinkedIn as the single largest platform for B2B display ad spends — more than $2 billion, or almost 32% of display ad revenue on the supplier side in 2023 — there's going to be a lot of crowding and noise. Desmedt agreed, saying mass marketing is no longer possible. His go-to strategy to reach new audiences online is with relevant, targeted segment-specific content that resonates.
While leveraging the hyper-targeting capabilities platforms such as LinkedIn are able to offer — especially as the use of third-party cookies for targeted advertising goes off the radar — marketers will need to push the boundaries of what’s possible on social and community advertising and marketing. Not just in terms of creatives and execution, but also in how they fit in with the larger, consistent brand experience they are creating across multiple channels, platforms and devices.
Innovation as Part of the B2B Customer Engagement Experience
Experimentation will become a bigger part of B2B marketing strategies. Will the need for relevance and the diversity of buyer behavior across digital channels push B2B marketers to experiment with options such as mobile apps, community marketing, AR/VR, chatbots, and audio/video/visual search in 2022? And how closely do these experiments need to be woven into the larger engagement and experience strategy?
Vaswani’s team, for instance, is connecting the dots between mobile, video and community, leveraging one to propel the other. “In 2020, 63% of mobile traffic was video traffic. We are looking to go in heavily not just on advertising on mobile streaming channels, but also test out other avenues like Twitch, where, as a brand, we can engage with the community, make donations, create online events, deliver how-to videos, and represent what we stand for with our audience.”
Desmedt’s team is experimenting with channels like Instagram as a way to create presence and awareness in a changed B2B industry where more people work remotely. "Presence on these channels is not as much about nurturing leads as creating brand presence and unveiling the human side behind a logo." While experimentation has its value, he cautions, not every trend is worth exploring. For instance, while video content is a central focus and his team is investing in sound-off video on mobile devices for B2B buyers, a sound-on platform such as TikTok, despite its popularity, may not be a good fit for a B2B brand. “There has to be proven added value from a trend to make it worth investing marketing dollars in them,” he added.
Sharma sees voice search as an emergent technology worth experimenting with — specially to address on-the-go customers who prefer minimal physical contact with devices due to the pandemic. “It is a key element we will weave into our 2022 marketing plans as well as mobile ads plan. We’ve already seen success with inbound leads using chatbots in 2021 — I plan to scale that program, while investing in the building blocks of robotics, AI, and ML for a stellar online experience for couch B2B buyers who prefer a digital-led, frictionless buying experience,” she said.
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If Planning Changes, So Will Performance Evaluation
Conversations and conversions seem to be the new keywords for marketing performance as we head into 2022.
Vaswani said that while marketing-specific KPIs are important, his focus is on aligning marketing goals to business goals and cementing the role of growth marketing as a revenue-generator. “My team's two main KPIs on which we will measure performance will be ‘marketing-sourced conversions’ and ‘marketing-influenced wins’.”
Conversations are gaining in importance in B2B marketing, said Desmedt, noting it’s increasingly forming the basis of marketing evaluation for them. “How quickly we responded, how long the conversation lasted; when and why did it speed up, slow down, pause or end?” Instead of prospects going through a set funnel, they will focus on ongoing conversations through the journey — from exploration to consideration, conversion and beyond (adoption and customer success). To make the conversation more effective, they are mixing in different teams into the conversation — not just marketing. “For us, marketing performance is less about campaign and sales, and more about the level of interaction and engagement of prospects, clients and their lifetime value.”