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Blurring lines and deepening layers

One of the challenges for all of us in marketing today is how rapidly the terrain is changing. Once neat dividing lines are blurring - for example,...

One of the challenges for all of us in marketing today is how rapidly the terrain is changing. Once neat dividing lines are blurring - for example, for the last few years at Cannes it has been advertising agencies picking up the PR awards, and much of Marketing best practice on Twitter looks suspiciously like Customer Service to me. There are more crossovers still: a question might be what is the influence of Leadership and HR on B2B marketing success in the social web? Given the role of credible experts, knowledge workers, information sharing and 'thought leadership' in great B2B social activity, I'd say high to very high.

And as you know yourself, it's not just that the disciplines are blurring. So are the technologies and channels. If my key decision makers are using their smartphones to access an expert forum to stay up to date is that Mobile or Social? Which budget does it come from?

Whose job is it to make it happen? And what the heck is Digital in a marketplace where digital is increasingly not a single thing or channel but more a layer on top of everything else?

As B2B marketers, you could argue that none of this matters. The world changes but the process doesn't: formulate strategy, set goals, understand target market, develop programme/campaign/process, execute, measure. In this mode, you can rest easy.

I think that'd be foolish. Some of the characteristics of this recent period of flux look set to stay and do fundamentally change the business of B2B marketing.

Three key dynamics stand out for me:

  • Change velocity
  • Tech DNA
  • Communities over campaigns

Change velocity

In short, the pace of today's media means that there are advantages available to those who can move most quickly and effectively. The velocity that your organisation, your marketing programme or specific campaign can respond to changes in the environment, the better you will do. As I argue in my book Culture Shock, in 21st century business our ability to change in realtime is absolutely critical to success.

In practical terms, how much budget have I left as contingency to jump on opportunities? How willing is my boss to support me in making last minute changes and how open to those am I with my team and agency partners? How far out am I trying to plan and is that realistic?

Tech DNA

If technology is important and here to stay then it looks like having a culture and marketing approach that values tech might be a good idea. So much of B2B marketing best practice - at least in the field - is horrifyingly ancient and out of date. Yes, telemarketing and events still have a role to play, but how digitally-savvy is your marketing strategy and is there work to do on your people to make that change?

Have you made the shift to thinking about digital in the mix rather than at the end, and if not how will you?

Communities over campaigns

Finally, although the world has changed B2C and B2B marketers alike still seem addicted to the campaign mindset - the fancy launch, the spike of engagement, and then the tailing off and moving on. But a world characterised by communities of loosely and tightly knit influencers, making decisions in groups, requires a more sustained drip drip approach. B2B marketers have an unusually big opportunity here as you're the size of your audiences/prospects lend themselves more easily to high quality conversations and relationship building.

So how well does your strategy do this? How is social and digital and mobile (however we define them) building an asset of an engaged, relevant community?

In a changed world, these three levers give B2B marketers opportunities to thrive and possibilities to experiment with.


Will McInnes is MD of social business consultancy NixonMcInnes and author of Culture Shock: a handbook for progressive business in the 21st century.