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B2B marketing is shifting gears. Do you feel it?

Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer of global agency Stein IAS, says B2B marketing is entering its post-modern phase

For some time now, I’ve had a sense that B2B marketing is on the move. My sense grows stronger all the time. Having been in this business for 30-plus years, worked with so many top-notch senior marketers and brands, and competed with so many top-notch global agencies, I trust my sense.

Starting back in 2007, Stein IAS led a major brand activation initiative for Silverpop (acquired in 2014 by IBM) on its acquisition of a company called Vtrenz. An early entrant into the newly minted marketing automation space, Vtrenz was competing with another couple of upstarts that are now B2B mainstays – Eloqua and Marketo. (That same year, Stein IAS launched its first serious campaigns leveraging marketing automation.)

You know where this story is headed: marketing automation traversed initial ups and downs to become one of the foundational technologies that have driven the shift from outbound to inbound marketing – and that triggered the full-bore “technolification” of B2B marketing.

And so the era of “Modern Marketing” was in full swing, as was a period of transformation in B2B marketing that is still very much underway. But as can be the case, when one era transcends another, what was great about the preceding era can be forgotten (or even vilified).

Technology! Accountability! Segmentation! Buyer journeys! Data! More data! Marketing/sales alignment! MQLs! SQOs! These became the battle cries as we charged forward into this brave new world of “Modern Marketing.” As they should have done. Charging forward, though, did we leave something behind?

The digital and technology-powered toolset that came available to us added much-needed science, credibility and attribution to the B2B marketing mindset. Which in turn made marketing more important and more strategic to B2B companies all the way up to the CEOs.

But what we may indeed have left behind suggests leads me to the shift I am seeing, which is powerfully articulated in a recent and widely shared post by my friend Milan Martin, president of Grey SF:

“…it seems more and more that the promise of the bright, shiny object to drive overnight success overshadows our intellect, and we find ourselves chasing customers through the gnarly ecosystem of the Internet versus working to attract them and give them reason to love us.

All the re-marketing, data modeling, programmatic planning and algorithmic fancy footwork in the world doesn’t mean a darn thing without that juicy piece at the center of things that makes a human being care, feel, laugh, cry, fear and want.

“Let's not get distracted by the delivery mechanics. Yes, technology plays an immensely valuable role in our world and our industry today. But it’s much closer to the ‘how’ than the ‘why’ of what we do.”

And there’s the shift: the need to re-balance so that the “delivery mechanisms,” which are increasingly amazing, don’t subvert “why of what we do” – namely, the ideas and experiences that make people care about and prefer brands.

In my and Stein IAS view, modern marketing is entering a “post-modern” stage. Digital and technological ubiquity exists. It is being mastered; it’s potential is being harnessed. In a post-modern world, the “juicy piece at the center of things” will return to the foreground in connected experiences that make the buyer journey, dare I say, delightful.

I’ll be speaking about this on Dec. 6 at B2B Marketing’s CXcellence event in Chicago. Here’s a registration link if can make it. We’ll post a video afterwards if you cannot.