Forget the doom and gloom: 3 reasons why 2018 is B2B's year

Recent news suggests 2018 is off to a bleak start, but for B2B marketers, it's going to be a year of bravery and experimentation, argues LinkedIn's Tom Pepper 

If recent news is to be believed, 2018 has got off to a bleak start, and I’m not just talking about the weather. Latest iterations of the IPA Bellwether Report and the Advertising Association/WARC Expenditure Report – both highly-regarded litmus tests of the advertising industry – signal a negative year ahead, spearheaded by slow ad spend growth.

According to the IPA, 15.2% of brands are cutting back their marketing budgets and as a consequence, UK ad spend is expected to grow at a meagre 0.3% this year.

With the UK's gloomy economic forecast and tug of war over Brexit – combined with the looming headache that is GDPR – is it really any surprise marketers find themselves in this tricky situation?

But while a bumpy road lies ahead for the industry, there are always opportunities for growth. In fact, I'm hearing a lot of positive noises from many B2B brands about their plans and budgets for the year.

What’s the secret for most of those who've managed to ring fence or grow their marketing budgets? Demonstrating how the work they do is shifting the dial for their organisation. That goes beyond just simply engagement, it means growth. Here are a few simple steps for other marketers to ensure they’re on the road to success in 2018.

1. Break down the barriers

If 2017 taught us anything, it's that the walls between sales and marketing are crumbling.

While marketing once sat firmly at the top of the funnel and sales at the bottom, the two are rapidly converging. Of course, we marketers will always have our core responsibilities, but as similar disciplines with shared business objectives, collaboration with sales teams is natural. Nonetheless, research from LinkedIn shows almost two-thirds of sales and marketing professionals report missing business opportunities as a result of poor collaboration.

Over the coming year, the best B2B marketers will continue to extend their role to reach the same aspirations as their sales teams. As well as aligning targets, nurturing customer relationships and engaging leads throughout the funnel; think about the small steps to get this collaboration off the ground: sit the two teams next to one another, encourage open conversations and schedule regular meetings.

2. Be bold when it comes to measurement

Of course, for marketing to really earn its seat in the boardroom, we need a way to showcase the impact activity is having, not only on building brand awareness, but on the business’s bottom line.

Relying on the vast array of measurement tools we have at our disposal is all too common a trap for modern marketers – from engagement and impressions to view counts and click-through rates. While traditional measurement undoubtedly still presents a good proxy for understanding who's consuming and engaging with your content, this needs to be taken a step further to reflect marketing’s real business impact.

Fortunately, measurement is the word on everyone’s lips at the moment and there has never been a better opportunity to shift the way we gauge success. Instead of only measuring the traditional marketing metrics, try quantifying the tangible business outcomes that result from marketing activity. There’s already a range of tools available to B2B marketers to help set foot on this journey.

Focusing on the contribution that marketing is making to sales and new business leads – just as the team at Lenovo are doing already – iterates marketing success in a way that the boardroom can relate to, opening up the gateway to expanded budgets this year and beyond.

3. Create content that cuts through

2017 was a standout year for creativity in B2B, culminating with B2B brands going head to head with B2C counterparts for all the best gongs at the Cannes Lions; and this needs to continue throughout all the content we’re developing in 2018.

But creativity alone isn’t the answer. Recent research from the team at LinkedIn together with BuzzSumo analysed thousands of pieces of social media content to determine what made it successful. And while there's no secret fail-safe formula, the findings revealed some interesting insights for developing the right content for the right audiences. While list posts perform particularly well for travel audiences, they’re less credible and authoritative in the legal and healthcare sectors. And while ‘snackable’ content seems all the rage, the study found the average number of shares and likes a post receives tends to increase with length.

As we teeter on the edge of a content overload, marketers need to work harder than ever to guarantee that what they are producing is reaching – and engaging – specific target audiences in the right places at the right times. Start by taking a more creative approach to content development while experimenting with different forms, lengths and channels for distribution. Online platforms provide a wealth of data and insights into audience engagement, which should be harnessed and analysed to gain a clear understanding of the content that works best for a particular business or brand.

By all accounts, 2018 is set to be a difficult year. Many said the same of 2017, yet ad spend continued to rise and outperform most industry estimates. For B2B marketers, this is going to be a year of bravery and experimentation – those willing to go against the grain, grab the opportunity by their fingertips and make the most of the exciting innovations our industry has to offer could well turn a tough start into an unforeseen career breakout.

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