tangled fishing net with a fish caught
PHOTO: Vikas Anand Dev

Over the years, B2B marketing has gone from one extreme to the other. Before marketers embraced tech, B2B campaigns were largely built on gut feelings and guesswork. Now that they've welcomed tech with open arms, marketers are wasting time using every tool and metric under the sun.

Today’s B2B marketers have to wear dozens of hats to accomplish even the simplest tasks. But with a bit of strategy, marketers can find that elusive middle ground.

Blame Short-Term Thinking

B2B marketing complexity starts at the top. Many CMOs find themselves forced to focus on demand generation from day one. Startups and VC-funded firms don’t have the time or patience for fuzzy concepts like branding. Instead, they focus on short-term provable gains that limit their long-term success.

As every salesperson knows, it’s easier to sell a product with a solid brand behind it than it is to sell something built by an unknown firm. Salespeople who aren’t backed by a strong brand must not only convince prospects of the value of the product, they also have to sell the trustworthiness of the company. Brands that stand for nothing put their frontline teams in awkward positions.

B2B buyers don’t make impulse decisions. Companies that overemphasize demand generation find themselves making short-term fixes during the sales cycle. Before long, sales teams have dozens of marketing decks and hundreds of pieces of content at their disposal — with no idea how they all fit together.

In today’s world of sales/marketing alignment, those missed connections can spell disaster. But with so many demands and so little time, what can marketers do to correct the imbalance?

Related Article: Bridging the Marketing-Sales Gap With Content Marketing Strategies

The Core of B2B Marketing Complications

The complication of B2B marketing boils down to three factors: martech, digital media and buyer personas.

Although martech can increase efficiency, B2B marketers often underestimate the implementation and training these tools require. To make the most of automation tools like Pardot or Marketo, marketers need at least one full-time data person to analyze campaign performance. Effective martech integration requires organizational commitment, not just buy-in from a few select team members.

CMOs who fall in love with multiple tools can end up shelling out between 20% and 30% of their budgets while delivering little or no value to their brand. According to Forrester, CMOs will spend more than $122 billion on martech by 2022. Marketing executives who waste their department’s piece of the pie may not get a chance to correct course.

Digital media, too, has increased the complexity of B2B marketing. Programmatic platforms promise to put the right message in front of the right person, but the reality is rarely that simple. And as social media platforms proliferate, marketers without a clear concept of their audience feel pressured to stay on top of them all.

To meet those challenges, B2B marketers have embraced personas. But overreliance on personas creates its own problems: the dilution of brand stories, the collection of meaningless customer data, and the misrepresentation of the company’s customer base, to name a few. Personalized messages that lack context may garner clicks, but they’re not likely to keep leads engaged all the way to the sale.

Put those three culprits together, and what do they create? A wall of complexity that even the most experienced B2B marketers struggle to surmount.

Related Article: Simplify and Increase the Complexity of Your MarTech Stack at the Same Time

Bring B2B Campaigns Back to What Matters

B2B marketing may never be an easy discipline, but it does not have to be as complex as new influences have made it. By following a few best practices, marketers can reclaim their niche and start getting more from their time, budgets and teams.

1. Get on the same page about your brand story

A brand story is a two-way street. The story a customer hears isn’t necessarily the same one a company tells. B2B agency Renegade defines a brand as “a collection of perceptions built over time.”

Reach out to customers to learn the perceptions they have of your company. What if they aren’t hearing the story you’re telling? Either shift the story you’re telling to match the one they’re hearing, or add a tweak to connect the dots.

Sometimes, a new brand slogan is all it takes. Mars’ “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign shifted Snickers’ story from that of candy bar to mood-boosting snack.

Related Article: Test Your Narrative Strength

2. Establish and stick to a brand voice

Employees, customers and prospects need a solid sense of the company’s personality. If there isn’t consistency within and between the content a company puts out, stakeholders start to wonder how well they really know the firm.

Enterprise consultancy Deloitte has offices around the world, but that doesn’t stop it from sounding like a single brand. Compare its 2019 and 2018 Global Impact Reports: Both are positive and uplifting in their tone and imagery. To create a sense of simplicity, the company kept text to a minimum and used soft yet engaging sounds.

3. Streamline performance metrics

How marketing performance is measured matters. Rather than present executives with dozens of different metrics on every stakeholder group, keep things simple with blended metrics.

Take customers. A blend of net promoter score, new testimonials gained, renewal rates, and actual referrals offers a clear picture of overall satisfaction. Prospect performance can be assessed by blending a share of voice, overall site traffic, and sales qualified leads. To assess marketing employees’ satisfaction, a blended metric might consist of eNPS, retention rate, and participation rate in corporate advocacy programs.

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

4. Use personas sparingly

Too many marketing personas can create unnecessary confusion, but the problem isn’t with the personas themselves. Marketers need a clear concept of who their audience is and what their needs are.

Rather than build a persona for every potential customer, consolidate them into one or two core profiles. Include notes on how real-world customers’ attributes may differ. Get granular only in areas where it makes sense for your product or service: Knowing the average number of pets its customers have at home probably wouldn’t help Coca-Cola sell more soft drinks, for example.

New tools and platforms will continue to muddy the waters of B2B marketing. Marketing leaders need to choose carefully. By starting with their brand purpose and working from that foundation, marketers can do more with less. And that’s a change employees, customers, prospects and executives can all appreciate.