'Just where has the year gone?' will be the inevitable question banded about offices and marketing departments up and down the country between now and the end of the year.
And once the accompanying eye roll to this question has settled in its sockets I don't think anyone ever expects a genuine response, it's more of a hang it out there, introspective musing.
One of those rhetorical questions (like 'Why did I just do that?') that typically gets followed by some internal dialogue, stern words to the mirror and a promise to do things differently next year. How many actually follow through on this end of year self help? Not that many in my experience, a lot of B2B marketers will resume business as normal come mid Jan 2014 but can they afford to roll out more of the same? In short, no. If 2013 has been a year of transition and recovery, 2014 will be a year of step change and evolution and it will be the marketing teams that start to embrace this that will win out. So what leads me to this punchy viewpoint?
The times they are-a-changing...
So, we've run a series of quarterly breakfast briefings this year specifically designed to bring senior B2B marketers together to chew the bacon fat and share challenges, pains, opportunities and coffee. We've been overwhelmed by the appetite for these sessions as we've welcomed B2B brands from all walks of life. The major trend from these sessions this year has been a growing sense of optimism and ambition rightly laced with an undercurrent of caution. Most have agreed the toughest times are gone but not forgotten as a defiant and resilient community of B2B Marketers look to a brighter future but with the occasional nervous glance in the rear view mirror. What else? Well, we've seen strong representation at the briefings from the more traditional and stayed sectors such as legal and construction. This must point a big fat index finger to a step change and movement within B2B? Add to this numerous stories of iPad wielding board members pushing a top down agenda for change and innovation around marketing strategy and you can't help but feel tides are a turning. Underpinning all of this is a crop of senior B2B marketers that are ambitious, digitally savvy and 'well up for it' – as one excited breakfast briefer proclaimed. If you then throw into the mix the bucket loads of research and stats being kicked out from the industry around 2014 predictions and you can't help but feel we're in for an exciting year.
OK, time for me to stick my predictive oar into the waters of 2014. I'm going to focus on more evolutionary and human themes than the shiny new things that are likely to appear in digital. Slightly odd considering Purestone is largely a digital agency but to be honest there's tons of stuff in the B2B ether about the potential next big thing in digital. Be that the rising relevance of Vine or the fact little data will be falling out of the backside of big data. Anyway, I think that we'll see B2B marketers having to engage a more 'whole-brained' approach to their strategies and campaigns. During recent austere times we've had to hunker down, get dirty, do more with less and ensure our backsides are covered. Marketing teams have embraced and then sweated content marketing strategies to the enth degree, self-publishing content through every feasible channel. It's been more about left sided thinking i.e. analytical, logical, rational and measured.
With an improving outlook I think we will see this tempered with more from the creative and emotional side of our B2B brains.Campaigns will begin to push boundaries, challenge and provoke whilst still retaining one solid foot in delivering ROI and transparency. Savvy marketers will acknowledge that to deliver stand out and differentiation in a time of content saturation they'll need to change things up. B2B audiences have been and will continue to be 'consumerised'. The environmental and social changes to our professional lives resulting from tech and digital innovation has inadvertently changed our expectations and needs as B2B consumers. We don't want flat and lifeless PDF case studies, we want digestible stories served up in a rich, personalised and interactive format. It will be the B2B brands that acknowledge and embrace the changing dynamic of its audiences that will deliver the stand out results in 2014 and beyond.