How to succeed in B2B marketing in 2011

Regardless of your religious background or orientation, I feel strongly that the end of one year and the start of another should always come with a sense of hope and optimism for things to come. It’s a time to take stock and move forward with a belief that things will be better in the year ahead, and that we can learn from what’s gone before; be better, happier people who are eager to embrace everything that life throws at us.

However, in the context of economic turmoil of the last few years, I must confess that I found being optimistic about the prospect of the year ahead easier said than done. It’s hard to have a positive outlook when there’s spectre of economic Armageddon looming on the horizon – as it certainly was January 2008 and 2009.

But although we’re not exactly out of the woods economically, and undoubtedly there will be some difficult months ahead as economic growth gathers momentum, there are definitely reasons to be positive, even optimistic. This is particularly the case for marketers – and especially those in B2B.

As discussed ad infinitum in B2B Marketing over the last 18 months, marketing as a profession has been forced to undergo a profound and fundamental change – one that none of the other professions have had to endure. The changes enforced by the digitisation of marketing and the rise of social media have been more extreme in B2B than in consumer marketing, which was closer to the bleeding edge and therefore better placed to innovate and adopt new ideas.

The good news, though, is that the message is getting through. B2B marketers are changing, and thinking has changed with it. Social media is no longer regarded as fad, or a fancy additional option: it’s increasingly fundamental. Many of those brands and marketers who have failed to acknowledge this shift have disappeared – for the remainder it is surely just a matter of time.

Smart B2B marketers have recognised that just as audience behaviour has changed, so must their skillsets. Successful marketers in 2011 will be less focused on old-school notions of ‘creative’ and campaigns, and more focused on data, insight and continuous dialogue through engaging content and timely interactions (many of which are automated).

Perhaps more importantly, those marketers who succeed in the coming year – and beyond – will be those that recognise that there’s no going back: marketing has entered a new era, one which is characterised by continuous change driven by technological innovation and evolution of individuals’ communication tastes and preferences.

This new world isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the opportunities and possibilities are enormous. Now’s the time to embrace them.

To succeed in 2011, business-to-business marketers must:

•    Get your head around the data –
not direct marketing records but email data, web analytics etc. Audit your data and focus on the key metrics that will justify your investments and prove your effectiveness.

•    Think virtual – webinars, webcasts and virtual events are going to become an increasingly compelling for time-poor execs to engage with prospective suppliers. Investigate the different formats to find which best suits your needs and keep a close eye on how the format evolves.

•    Be tech-savvy – ‘new’ platforms such as marketing automation can transform how you use email and take so many of those mundane tasks off your hand. Keep an open mind on new bits of technology, large or small, and push for investment where necessary.

•    Invest in content – don’t worry about the format, but always remember content is the new creative. Research your audience to understand what they want to consume and then develop a strategy to deliver an ongoing programme.

•    Don’t forget the traditional tools altogether – email, PR, advertising and events in particular all still have their place, particularly when used in an integrated way.

Have I missed anything?