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B2B Marketing Trends for 2017

As we shake off the champagne hangovers and get rocking on our 2017 marketing plans, a number of trends have emerged that will shape the way we go about our marketing efforts for clients this year and beyond.  Digital marketing as a whole is constantly changing, and we’re relied upon on a daily basis to have a pulse for how that impacts our clients and what we should do about it.

With that in mind, I’ve identified some B2B marketing trends that I think will be top of mind for our clients as we kick off 2017.  These are topics that drove a lot of our planning discussions at the end of last year, and we expect them to continue well into this year and beyond.

The first trend involves the growth of ABM and CPL programs.  Gone are the days of buying massive lists at super cheap prices, blasting out emails and hoping that at least a few of them are legitimate email addresses.  While this extremely broad (and questionably legal) approach might have worked back in the day, sending emails out to random people in the modern era can backfire greatly and have a significant negative impact on your brand.

Instead, companies like Madison Logic and Integrate have ushered in an era of account based marketing (ABM) through the use of cost per lead (CPL) programs, allowing companies to specify the exact criteria they have for Leads and only pay for leads that meet that specific criteria.  No, these aren’t leads that cost pennies like the lists of old would.  You’re paying for quality, and depending on the criteria you use, these can cost as little as $30 or as much as a few hundred dollars each.

But this ability to be hyper-focused in your lead-gen is often worth it.  If you can specify, say, that you’re looking for a lead at a company with $500M+ in annual revenue, that is a Director of Marketing, that has budget for new marketing automation software—and only get Leads that match that criteria—they’re often already considered marketing qualified and are worth the hefty price.  You can even provide a specific list of companies and only get leads from those, which is what ABM is all about.

Given this growth, we have to be able to determine how vendors set themselves apart, and what added value they bring (like TCI Marketing Services delivering LinkedIn profile links for every lead) that our clients will care about most.  But we also have to think more about the content that’s used to acquire these leads, as different assets should be used to attract different types of individuals.  Marketing teams are becoming more comfortable paying a pretty penny for quality leads, so we have to continue to vet out vendors and adjust lead criteria and content promotion as programs run their course.

The next trend that we’re seeing is the increased importance of accountability and tracking of display programs. In 2016, it felt like every new day brought some new sort of scandal in the world of paid media.  One day we were hearing about Facebook misreporting engagement numbers, the next it’s Twitter inflating video ad views.  And let’s not forget about the biggest ad fraud ever.  It was a rough year to be a marketer when it felt like you didn’t know who (or what metric) to trust.

Yet I think this paves the way for even more accountability in 2017.  Companies are going to be hyper-sensitive to the effectiveness of tracking and are going to expect accountability in two ways.  For one, they’ll expect their vendors to be more accountable, cutting them less slack when programs prove to be expensive and inefficient.  But it also means that things like ‘view through conversions’ are going to be less acceptable, as we instead rely on channels that can do more than just generate brand awareness.

Beyond that, I think we’ll continue to see our organic strategies shifting to align with Google’s mobile first focus.  Let’s first take a second to admit just how much Google controls in our universe.  Not only do we scramble every time there’s an algorithm update that impacts search rankings, but we’re also at their mercy when it comes to the massive budgets that many companies allocate towards AdWords efforts.  Some days it feels like I’ve been staring at AdWords editor for hours on end, or tapping my fingers while I wait…and wait…and wait for the web interface to load.  But I digress…

A lot has changed when it comes to Googles SERPs.  In early 2016, we saw them remove the right rail ads in favor of showing up to four ads above organic results.  They’ve gone back and forth about including tweets and Twitter cards in search results.  And they’ve started to introduce Top Stories in desktop search results.  All of this revolves around their mobile-first focus, and aligning the user experience on mobile with that on desktop.

But one of the things that we’ve focused on the most is the Answer Box results—and how to appear in them.  Google wants to keep people on the search results page, and one way to do that is to provide answers and information to people right then and there instead of requiring them to click through.  So we’ve been working with our clients to adjust pages and create copy that has an opportunity to capture this answer box for a variety of different target keywords.

As 2017 goes on, it’ll be our responsibility to continue to monitor changes from Google and adjust our strategies on the fly to accommodate these changes.  SEO has changed so much over the past 10 years, and the changes show no signs of stopping.  Only if we’re dynamic in our strategies and creative about our ways to address these new challenges will we continue to stay at the forefront of organic search optimization.

Another trend I think we’ll continue to see is increasingly closer alignment between Sales and Marketing processes.  The ongoing battle between sales and marketing has been well documented over the years—as has the discussion about whether it’s low quality leads or low quality sales reps that are impacting sales (“The leads are weak? You’re weak.”).  But it’s getting better.  From what we’ve seen, teams are absolutely more willing to work together to be successful, and we’ve been brought in on a multitude of accounts to help facilitate better processes between sales and marketing.

For many companies, it used to be all about quantity.  But increased visibility into sales processes and a focus on developing qualification criteria that sales and marketing agree on has helped improve the relationship between these two sides of the house.  It’s become blatantly apparent that teams must be in close alignment in order to be successful.

And we expect that relationship to improve even further in 2017 and beyond.  Open workspaces, collaborative policies, integrated teams—these are all things that continue to make working together a priority.  As an agency, we have become a part of that team as well.  We continue to provide subjective advice as a third party, working to help make each organization successful as a whole.  We help to facilitate change and to drive processes that will result in increased visibility into what makes companies successful, and use this knowledge to help grow revenue.

Lastly, if there’s one thing we expect to be a trend for B2B marketers in 2017 more than anything else, it’s marketing attribution.  We saw this coming years ago, which is why we developed the Data Weld platform to help our clients prove and improve marketing ROI.  Marketers are becoming increasingly pressured to justify the effectiveness of their efforts—and this won’t stop any time soon.

Gone are the days where we can throw up some display ads and call it a day, not knowing if people are actually looking at them and not reporting on whether they’re impacting conversions.  Nowadays, every single dollar we spend has to be justified, and we have to be able to know where money is best spent depending on the goals we want to achieve.  And we have to be able to show it, using smarter marketing attribution to close the loop on any marketing campaign we run.

As we think about the various marketing programs we’ll be launching this year, reporting, analytics, and attribution will undoubtedly be essential components of them.  Just as creative development and messaging are important, so too must be the behind the scenes metrics that allow us to measure success and optimize campaigns while they’re running.  We’ve had numerous clients leverage these tools in the past, gaining great insight into what’s driving revenue, and we expect this shift towards better marketing attribution to be top of mind for most clients moving forward.

That’s it for our top B2B marketing trends for 2017.  Cheers to another great year!

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