Here’s What 25 B2B Marketers Think Are the Key Trends in 2016

I was delighted when B2B Marketing Zone – a website and newsletter that I devour – asked me to be one of 25 contributors to its “B2B Marketing Trends for 2016” e-book.

I love this content concept, and it’s an idea more B2B marketers could adopt. Contact influencers in your market – or even your own customers or subject matter experts – and ask them for short paragraphs on a topic, then combine that content into an e-book.

Then do what Tom Pick and Tony Karrer of B2B Marketing Zone did – make it easy for people to compose posts like this one and share the book through their social networks. Your contributors will be flattered to be included and you will get to tap into their often substantial followings.

The authors identified three powerful trends driving B2B marketing right now:

–Changing buyer expectations fueled by the availability of rich information and ease of access and purchase;

–Pressure to demonstrate ROI as marketers learn to do more with less; and

–New tech tools and big data so that we can no longer say half our budget is wasted but we don’t know which half.

I picked a few quotes from the e-book that I really like. Download a free copy and find your own favorites.

Moran“2016 will be the year where B2B marketers finally realize that, while they can always make more content, their customers can’t make any more time.” – Mike Moran (l.)

“Every B2B site should produce cornerstone reference content that is comprehensive and authoritative; something that people link to and return to read again and again.” – Steve Rayson

“A buyer persona is not a zombie—but a profile based on your understanding of a real customer and their real needs.” – Ambal Balakrishnan

Williams“It’s time for B2B marketers to let go of their obsession with perfect production values and get on with just putting good content out there for customers and prospects.” – Elizabeth Williams (l.)

“Channels and tactics will come last, not first anymore, at last.” – J-P De Clerck

“Is 2016 the year of B2B brands finding a personality and sense of humor?” – Michael Brenner

Andrews“With marketing now responsible for helping to nurture and advance the buyer through 70% of the purchase cycle, there are monumental inefficiencies if the sales team is knocking on cold doors rather than closing sales-qualified, warm leads.” – Debra Andrews (l.)

“If you have 30 reps, each sharing just five pieces of content per week, that’s an opportunity to get your message out 7,200 times!” – Shannon Pham

“[Workforce brand ambassador programs are] a win/win. The company benefits from more authentic communication, and employees build personal brands.” – Cheryl Burgess

“The average click through rate is 0.1%, banners don’t work anymore and people are much more likely to trust peer to peer recommendations than traditional advertising.” – Joe Fields

Neufeld“No longer will marketers schedule an email campaign for Wednesday morning at 10 AM. Rather, marketers will configure an email campaign and technology will determine the best time and day to deliver the message.” – Brian Neufeld (l.)

“The 2015 Annuitas B2B Enterprise study found that only 7.5 % of respondents reported the skill set of marketing personnel was highly effective. Clearly, we need to do better.” – Erika Goldwater

“If your marketing is great but your product is bad, that, ultimately, means your marketing is bad, too.” – Carla Johnson

And my own contribution:

I believe B2B marketers have finally realized that merely throwing content into the ether is both expensive and wasteful. They’re adopting buyer personas, content targeting and matching content to stages of the buying cycle. I think content marketing will continue to be a huge growth area for B2B in the coming years but we’re going to get a lot smarter about how we invest our resources. Marketers are beginning to realize the buyers are people, not demographic segments, and they are appealing more to the motivations that influence human behavior.

Recommended Reading – 7/9/15

Ninja Guide to Content Creation: Top 10 Writing Tools – Content Marketing Institute

If you’ve ever experienced writers block, struggled to come up with a creative headline, fussed over keywords or just been out of ideas, then this post is well worth your time. Each of Robert Morris’ 10 tips points to a Web-based tool that will get you out of the starting blocks faster, improve your writing and boost your search engine visibility. We had never heard of most of these tools, and bet you haven’t either.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Comments That Open Doors with Popular Bloggers – Boost Blog Traffic

Commenting on popular blogs is a great way to catch the eye of influential people, but what makes for a great comment? Kevin Duncan must know a little about this topic because his post on Boost Blog Traffic drew 275 comments of its own! He offers commonsense advice, such as clearly identify who you are, reading a post thoroughly before commenting, keeping your comment short and moving the discussion forward. Sounds simple, but if it is, then why do so few people do it?

What 4.8 Million Tweets Say About the Best Time to Tweet – Buffer Social

People have been arguing about the best time to send tweets practically since the dawn of Twitter. The team at Buffer happens to have a lot of data on this, so they analyzed 4.8 million tweets sent by 10,000 profiles and shared the results. They found, on average:

  • Early morning tweets get the most clicks;
  • Evenings and late-night tweets get the most favorites and retweets
  • The most popular time to tweet and the best times to tweet for engagement differ across time zones, so it’s still important to experiment.
  • The best overall time to tweet is between noon and 1 PM.

SlideShare Secrets to Stack the Decks in Your Favor – Content Marketing Institute

SlideShare continues to be one of the best-kept secrets in B2B marketing. It’s a great way to increase the visibility of your thought-leading content by sharing slide decks that would otherwise be put on a virtual shelf. Jodi Harris runs down a set of practical tips that will make your presentations more visually appealing and useful to your audience. Those translate into bonus views and business.

 

15 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers – HubSpot Blog

HubSpot called up 15 professional content marketers and asked each one for his or her favorite content marketing habit. You’ll find it hard to disagree with any of them. Monitor conversations with customers, obsess over quality, research constantly, listen to complaints and always be curious are five useful habits they recommended. Read the post for 10 more.

 

Recent Posts: Expanding Social Authority and Enlivening Boring Predictions

This blog hasn’t been very active lately, but that’s because most of my contributions have appeared elsewhere. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve been musing about.

10 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 - Part 110 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 – Midsize Insider, Jan. 1, 2015

I go into detail on strategies to get more out of your existing social presences and where to experiment with new ones. It comes down to basic blocking and tackling, and making sharing part of your daily routine.

Organic Facebook Marketing Is Dead; Think Customer Service Instead – Midsize Insider, Dec. 22, 2014

Numerous studies have shown that organic posts by Facebook pages are reaching only a tiny fraction of the audience they used to. This may finally be a wake-up call to marketers to share Facebook responsibility with customer service and to use Facebook as a listening post and customer-retention vehicle.

Research Shows CISOs Gaining Influence Even as Challenges Mount – Midsize Insider, Dec. 15, 2014

IBM’s annual CISO survey shows that security executives are finally getting a seat at the leadership table.

20 Ways to Enliven Those Boring Year-End Predictions – LinkedIn, Dec. 16, 2014

Annual predictions are now a dime a dozen, and most are predictable, self-serving and monotonous. Instead of following the pack and issuing the same old lame set of predictions, change up your angle and approach to make them stand out. Here are 20 ideas organized into eight categories.

Rick Short, IndiumFIR B2B #20: Indium’s Awesome Engineers

In Episode 20 of the For Immediate Release B2B podcast, we speak to Rick Short, Director of Marketing Communications at Indium Corp. Indium has created a creative and successful inbound marketing campaign that connects engineers to customers to solve problems in exchange for contact information. It’s paying off so well that the company can afford to increase its focus on lead quality because it has more than enough leads in the hopper.

FIR B2B #19: Doubts about Social Media’s Lead Gen Potential

Two new surveys cast doubt on the value of social media as a lead generation vehicle. One found that the top three value propositions of social media relate to ongoing customer engagement rather than lead generation. A second found organic social media marketing and social media advertising, which have some of the lowest costs per lead, also produced the worst quality leads.

In our interview section, we speak to Don Lesem and David Wagman of IHS and Engineering360, which is one of a suite of vertical communities the B2B information provider is launching to increase customer engagement.

FIR B2B #18: John Fox on Why Marketers Need to Get Out of the Office

John Fox has led the launch or re-launch of 44 companies, resulting in double and triple-digit growth for every client served. He thinks all the talk of a radically new B2B buyer journey is overblown. The process hasn’t really changed all that much, he says in this interview, and he has provocative thoughts on what content really motivates buyers.

Engineering360 Joins Expanding World of Vertical B2B Communities

The world of online B2B news services continues to expand with the introduction of Engineering360, which owner IHS calls “the world’s largest online destination for engineers.”

Edited by David Wagman, a journalist and analyst who’s covered engineering for more than 25 years, the site features news, analysis, product research and tools, events, product catalogs, an interactive community and other resources typical of professional networks. Formerly known as IHS GlobalSpec, it was relaunched last week with an expanded news and community focused. The site is posting original news daily, most of it written by freelancers with apparently good domain knowledge. Their feature stories are mixed with a steady stream of un-bylined news shorts.

IHS Engineering360 editorial “covers the entire engineering landscape, with key areas of focus such as automation and control, electronics, energy and natural resources, general engineering, manufacturing, materials, network and computing and process equipment,” IHS said in a press release. IHS is the biggest media company I’ve never heard of. Based  in Englewood, CO, it had revenues of $1.8 billion last year providing information services for a wide variety of mostly heavy industries.

This is the latest in a series of 360 online platforms launched by IHS. Others include Electronics360.com, Janes360.com, IHSmaritime360.com, Datasheets360.com and IHSairport360.com. I’m working on getting an interview with some of the principals involved in these new communities for my FIR B2B podcast.

American Express Dreams Up a Potential Win-Win-Win

Here’s an example of a B2B2C initiative that looks like a potential winner for all parties involved.

American Express OPEN, the hugely popular community for small businesses sponsored by the credit card company, and Etsy are partnering ahead of Small Business Saturday on Nov. 29 to encourage small business boutiques  to support local Etsy sellers by hosting Trunk Shows.

According to a press release, “These events provide online sellers with the opportunity to put their products in front of customers in a traditional retail setting. For boutique owners, the trunk show is a chance to increase foot traffic into their store by providing diverse product all while supporting a local artisan in their community.” Each boutique that agrees to host a Trunk Show gets $75 worth of credits to buy supplies and a chance to win a $5,000 design consultation from Rue Magazine.

I’ve long been impressed by American Express OPEN. In addition to representing a large financial commitment on AmEx’s part, the community is a great example of a B2B initiative that really gets close to the customer. Small Business Saturday, which Amex invented four years ago, is one example of the energy and creativity that Amex has put into courting this audience. The Trunk Show idea is not only innovative, but it potentially benefits American Express, its small business merchants and independent crafters. That’s a rare win-win-win.

Marketo Tells How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation

Marketo: How to Use Social Media for Lead GenerationI often cite marketing automation vendor Marketo as a shining example of a company that gives away great information as a way to promote its business. Marketo recently contacted several B2B social media marketing pros to get their tips on how to generate leads with social platforms.

They report encouraging results. For example, 58% of marketers who have used social media for more than three years say it has helped boost sales. The marketers quoted here (I’m one of them) offer advice on how to create unique content that stimulates engagement, which is the currency of social media marketing.

Check out “How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation.” It’s a quick read and I think you’ll find some useful takeaways.

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Constant Contact Colocates with Small Business Customers

Great companies go beyond just providing a product or service. They think of themselves as partners in the success of their customers. Three companies that do an outstanding job of advocating for the small business customer are American Express (with its Open Forum small business community and annual Small Business Saturday promotion, among other things), Intuit and Constant Contact, the Massachusetts-based e-mail marketing company.

I often use Constant Contact’s Twitter and Facebook profiles as models for other B2B companies to follow. About 90% of the content the company posts in social networks is intended to help customers succeed in small business marketing. Less than 10% promotes Constant Contact products. It’s like that in the company’s remarkable Pinterest account as well.

Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation LoftNow the company is taking customer advocacy to the next level with the launch of the Small Business Innovation Loft. That’s a physical space within the company’s Waltham, Mass. offices were startups can set up shop for four months at no cost and get $10,000 to spend on marketing activities. They also get free meeting space and priority support from Constant Contact’s support team. This press release has more.

Innovation labs aren’t new, but they are usually sponsored by venture capital firms or real estate companies that hope to cash in on them. In contrast, won’t take equity in the startups it nurtures. The value to the company comes from the promotional benefit and the word-of-mouth awareness that will develop as some of these companies invariably succeed and set off on their own. What better way to put your money where your mouth is?

Constant Contact makes it a point to get inside the minds of its customers and understand their ambitions, fears and motivations. That’s the secret of content marketing, however you define it. Check out this clever year-end video the company put together to celebrate its customers.

A Nice Collection of B2B Marketing Stats and Videos

Earnest is a U.K.-based B2B marketing agency that says its mission is, “to chase out the humdrum and bring a lot of love and passion to B2B marketing.” Its work certainly bears out that goal. Earnest’s B2B campaigns have a lot of B2C energy inside them. Its research and how-to presentations on SlideShare are an excellent resource for companies that want to get into content marketing.

Here’s its latest collection of recent trends and statistics: This is the year that was in B2B Marketing crunched. Be sure to check out the links to some of the year’s best B2B videos on slide 37. You can also download the presentation as a PowerPoint if you want to borrow a few of these stats.

I’ve Been Writing A Lot Lately, Just Not Here

I only update this blog occasionally because most of my writing these days appears on other people’s websites. But my blog is still my home base. Here’s a round up of what I’ve been scribbling about elsewhere of later.

Social is the Future of Search (Profitecture Blog)

BuzzFeed HQ

(Photo credit: Scott Beale)

What could possibly unseat Google as the king of the Web? The answer might be incubating in fast-growing media operations like BuzzFeed (right) and Upworthy. These publishers eschew search optimization in favor of creating content that people want to share. From an SEO perspective, they do a lot of things wrong. And they’re killing it online at the moment.

Marketing’s big miss (BtoB magazine)

A new McKinsey & Co. report reveals a startling disconnect between B2B companies and their customers that should give every marketer pause to reflect on his or her priorities. The research shows that the themes that B2B companies emphasize in their marketing messages are wildly inconsistent with the factors that B2B buyers care about most.

Short on content? Repackage (BtoB magazine)

A lot of marketers are frustrated by the perceived need to turn out a lot of content, but the problem is much more manageable if you reuse and repackage creatively. Here are some ideas for how to get more mileage out of the stuff you already have.

Rewarding Bad Behavior (Godfrey Blog)

Marketing and sales organizations at most B2B companies have a relationship that can be politely described as strained. Sales complains that marketing gives them lousy leads while marketers charge that sales wouldn’t know a good lead is it bit them on the nose.

Both sides are correct. That’s because many organizations reward their sales and marketing people for the wrong things. Improve lead quality and a lot of the bad karma disappears.

Altimeter’s Brian Solis: ‘It’s the Customer Experience, Stupid’ (Huffington Post)

Brian Solis at Upload Lisboa, Portugal.

Brian Solis (right) is one of the most consistently provocative and perceptive analysts in the world of new media and social business. I caught up with him shortly before his Pivot conference in October to find out what’s on his mind. He believes few CEOs know how dramatically their businesses will change as a result of customer empowerment. And he thinks any business can enchant its customers. Even one that makes hammers.

Five Important Differences Between Paid and Earned Media (Profitecture Blog)

Many marketers treat social or “earned” media the same way they treat advertising and direct mail, but the two forms of media are very different. Earned media is more valuable because people volunteer to share your information. This benefits small and patient companies disproportionately. If you talk at customers in earned the channels the way you do in paid channels, your results will probably disappoint you.

 

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Bidding Fond Farewell to BtoB Magazine

BtoB_logoI was sad to learn this week that BtoB magazine, which has existed under various brands for nearly 100 years, will be swallowed by Advertising Age at the end of the year. I have worked with BtoB for nearly seven years, publishing about 120 columns and articles during that time. The staff has always been a joy to work with, and BtoB has played a critical role in my own education about the transformation of media. It’s the most important publishing brand I’ve been affiliated with during my eight years as an independent consultant, and I’m truly sorry to see it go.

My association with BtoB began as a happy accident. Shortly after going on my own in late 2005 I encountered the then-editor-in-chief, Ellis Booker. Ellis had worked for me at Computerworld years before and our mutual geekiness had cemented a friendship. At the time I reconnected with Ellis I was becoming fascinated by the changes in the publishing world driven by social media. I pitched him pretty hard on stepping up BtoB‘s focus on that area. Ellis has always been a forward-looking guy, so he began to feed me some assignments, which I tackled with zeal. Here was a chance to learn by talking to practitioners on the leading edge and earn a few bucks and a byline in the process.

In late 2006 Ellis offered me a monthly column on the editorial page called “New Channels.” I’m still writing it more than six years later. I’ve never been paid for it, but I would probably pay BtoB for the privilege.

New Channels gave me an opportunity to share what I was learning with more than 30,000 subscribers and perhaps to materially impact the way B2B companies were thinking about social media adoption. I sweated every one of the 450 words I was allocated each month and still think it was some of my best writing of the past six years. When you have so little space to say something, you have to focus and minimize waste. Length limits are a great way to improve your writing.

Looking back on some of those early columns dramatizes the speed with which things have changed. In 2007 I remarked on how big brands were embracing blogging and YouTube, completely unaware of the impending arrival of social networks. In 2006 I wrote about Microsoft’s Port 25 blog, which invited its critics in the Linux community to heap abuse on it in a Microsoft-branded channel. Thanks to Facebook, such interactions are common today across hundreds of brands.

John Obrecht took over from Ellis in 2010 and was kind enough to ask me to continue writing the column. I understand John will be leaving Crain Communications when BtoB shuts down. If you want a top-notch business editor and writer who understands B2B markets, be sure to give John a call. He’s in Chicago and hopes to stay there.

Gillin_at_BtoB_eventOver the years I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many of BtoB‘s social media-related projects. I’ve helped judge its Social Media Awards for the last four years and also contributed to the annual Interactive Marketing Guide since 2010. I’ve been privileged to be on the stage for the past four years to present awards to some remarkable companies that are innovating with social media and to participate in numerous other BtoB events. The association with the BtoB brand has been invaluable to me. Despite all my blogging, books and contributions to other websites, the BtoB magazine association is the one people still mention most often when I meet them.

Many readers of my blog probably know that I also maintain a blog called Newspaper Death Watch, where I’ve commented on the massive changes sweeping through the newspaper industry for more than six years. BtoB is a victim of those same forces. The advertising market for business publications is in free fall, and since most of the magazine’s advertisers are themselves B2B media companies, BtoB has suffered along with everybody else. Crain Communications is notable for its commitment to print publishing. It sustained a print presence for BtoB long after most publishers probably would have opted to go online-only. The decision to shutter the brand isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

 

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