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The B2B Marketing Trend Tracker 2024: What trends are we seeing from client-side and agency-side marketers?

The fundamentals of good marketing arguably never change. After all, delivering a targeted, personalized message that actually helps a customer is unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon. However, the world never stops spinning, and each year sees new technologies, ideas, fears and opportunities enter the fold. In response to this, we see marketing itself continue to evolve, with certain “trends” coming in or out of favor.

Of course, with so much content on seemingly everything, it can be difficult to ascertain which of these trends are actually being taken seriously by marketers, and which ones are fads, niches, or intellectual exercises.

With that in mind, we produce the annual B2B Marketing Trend Tracker survey. This survey asks both client-side and agency-side marketers how focused they are on a series of “trends” that we see dominate the marketing headlines. This report is based on the results of that survey, and provides an honest look at what marketers actually care about.

First things first. Who did we survey?

60% of respondents were client-side, with 38% agency-side (remaining selected other). In terms of location, 49.1% of our respondents were based in the UK, with 15.6% in Europe, 20% in the US and 15% across the rest of the world.

Throughout this report, you’ll see that we focus on agency marketers and client-side marketers as separate entities. Historically, agencies have tended to be on the cutting edge of marketing, so can provide an idea of where client-side thinking might be heading in the near future (although this is anything but an exact science).

How does the survey work?

The only final thing to note before we head into the analysis is to provide a quick overview of how the survey works. In short, we provide a list of 19 trends (including definitions) and ask the same question each time: how focused are you on the following trend in 2024? Respondents can then answer: very highly focused; highly focused; somewhat focused; barely focused; or, lastly, not at all focused.

The rankings you’ll see throughout this report indicate which trends received the highest percentage of respondents that said they are “very highly focused”. Where there is a tie, we looked at the percentage of respondents that merely said “highly focused” to confirm the ranking.

It’s worth saying at this point that we acknowledge that the Trend Tracker compares apples to oranges to a degree. After all, a trend might be a technology, or it might be a much broader strategy like ABM. This report is designed to see what marketers are focusing on. What that is, is really up to them.

So, what’s on the up?

Let’s start by looking at the combined agency-side and client-side results. The following chart demonstrates the current ranking, as well as how this has changed year-on-year:

Growth marketing: Back from the dead?

In 2021, growth marketing, which we defined as “strategies and positioning of marketing as the engine-room of business growth” reached number one in our Trend Tracker. In 2022, it held onto the crown, as marketers continued to assert themselves as an actual driver of business goals, and distance themselves from the outdated notion of marketing being a cost function.

In 2023, however, we saw this topic drop to fifth place. At the time, we wrote that: “An explanation [for this drop off] can be offered by the fact that growth marketing was foremost in so many people’s minds in 2022 as businesses and economies sought to slingshot out of the disruptions and acceleration of the pandemic. And, while the world is of course still very much living in the changes brought by this unprecedented event, business itself has had a time to take a calmer view, rather than flinging all hands to the growth pump.”

So, could it be that the positivity is coming back? Well according to marketers, then signs are positive, and growth very much appears to be on the agenda.

Omnichannel marketing: More than just multichannel

We defined omnichannel marketing as “the utilization of all marketing channels in a cohesive way to deliver your message at all touch points”. Critically, this is not the same as multichannel marketing, which could arguably be seen as less sophisticated approach. Whilst omnichannel sees marketing create journeys that span multiple channels to deliver one cohesive experience (which hopefully ends in a sale), multichannel might be seen as the more scattergun approach – using all available channels to try and achieve the same result.

Omnichannel marketing has risen one place into second place in this year’s Trend Tracker. This suggests the increasing sophistication of marketers, and the awareness that it’s not enough to be “doing something with socials”. Today’s marketers are focused on integrating their channels in an organized, effective way that is aimed at delivering growth.

Want to learn how to deliver a seamless omnichannel customer experience for your B2B audience? Why not check out this video, in which our CX Expert, Barbara Stewart, walks you through everything you need to know.

Customer experience: From trend to mission-critical?

Last year, CX placed sixth in our Trend Tracker, and this year has climbed up to third place. In many ways, this might not be surprising. After all, of course customer experience, which we defined as “the management and curation of the customer at every stage of the buyer journey, both on and offline, and by marketing and any other customer-facing function or team” is at the forefront of marketers’ minds.

However, let’s not forget that ensuring a great customer experience wasn’t always on marketers’ immediate agenda. Some of the more forward-looking marketers were certainly thinking about this, but many others fell foul to the pitfall of being caught in the task wheel of marketing activities. Fortunately, the continued high placement of CX suggests to us that CX is no longer even seen as a trend. It has now established itself as a fundamental pillar of good marketing.

It’s worth noting, however, that customer success, which we defined as “ensuring your customers achieve desired outcomes when using your products or solutions, and are less likely to churn” has fallen two places in fourth position.  However, the percentage of respondents that said they are very highly focused on it this year compared to last year, is virtually identical! The ranking has slipped purely because those trends that rank higher (growth marketing, omnichannel marketing and customer experience) are just receiving even more focus. Customer success, therefore, cannot be said to be receiving less focus this year.

ABM: Continuing its rise to the center of marketing strategy?

In order to account for the continual evolution or sub-categorization of account-based marketing (ABM), the trend we offered to participants was “account-based strategies (ABM, ABX, ABG, etc)”, which we defined as “marketing activity focused on specific accounts, or groups of accounts.”

This trend climbed three places into fifth position with 32.9% of marketers claiming that they’re very highly focused on it this year.

Of course, ABM is not a new strategy, but we feel the need to keep it in the annual Trend Tracker survey, as it enables us to keep track of how increasingly popular this strategy is becoming. Clearly, taking a highly targeted and personalized approach for key accounts is only becoming more popular, and suggests that marketers are continuing to take a much more effective approach to their marketing, as opposed to relying more heavily on traditional “spray and pray” tactics.

Learn how you can use ABM to drive sales and marketing alignment by watching this video. Here, our ABM Expert, Robert Norum, walks you through everything you need to know.

AI higher up on the agenda

In this year’s Trend Tracker, we took the decision to split AI into two subcategories:

  • AI: Technology that uses artificial intelligence primarily to analyse data and make predictions.
  • Generative AI: Technology that uses artificial intelligence to generate content, creative or ideas (i.e. ChatGPT, Bard, Midjourney, etc)

The purpose of this was to split AI into the two areas which we feel are being spoken about most frequently in the world of B2B. Generative AI was a new entry, but finished in eighth place, with 25.9% of marketers claiming that they’re very highly focused on it this year.

AI alone, however, was not a new entry, and was included in last year’s Trend Tracker report. This particular form of AI ranked 11th place this year, representing a five-place jump on the previous year. It’s clear, therefore, that generative AI in particular is where marketers’ main focus is going when it comes to AI this year.

Which trends are going down?

So far, we’ve discussed the trends that are dominating marketers’ thinking this year, but what about those trends that are falling off the radar?

Sales enablement: The beginning of the end, or just losing its shine?

Sales enablement, which we defined as “providing sales with the resources they need to have valuable conversations with customers” ranks sixth in this year’s report, down from first place in last year’s report, in which 43.8% of marketers claimed they were very highly focused on it. This year, by comparison, only 29.5% of marketers are very highly focused on it. That’s a pretty significant drop, but one that needs more analysis.

As we’ll see later in this report, sales enablement is still receiving a good amount of investment, so what’s the reason for this enigma?

Customer data platforms: Chugging along

When customer data platforms (CDPs) first starting getting attention in the industry, some industry commentators were quick to herald them as panacea for all data ailments.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time a technology has promised much, but under-delivered. That’s not to say that CDPs don’t have value. Of course they do. But, as the Trend Tracker demonstrates, they certainly haven’t taken off in the way that we might first have thought. Perhaps they will, but this latest Trend Tracker report suggests that they certainly won’t be at the absolute forefront of marketers’ plans this year.

Again, they have clear value to offer, so this certainly isn’t a recommendation to ignore them!

Employer branding / employee experience: Understandably low!

Undoubtedly, having a strong employer brand is good for business. After all, the best people want to work for the best companies, and if your company has a bad reputation, or even just lacks a good one, you could struggle to attract the best people. This is all the more important when we consider that the war for talent has continued to rage over the past few years, with no clear end in sight.

However, whilst marketing has an important role to play here, it’s also a responsibility shared with HR. Also, let’s be realistic. Marketers are largely focused on driving growth by acquiring and retaining customers. Whilst people are critical to doing that, it’s unlikely that employee experience is ever going to be the number one focus area of any marketer! That’s not to say it’s not important, but it’s fair to say that we would be surprised if employer branding ever ranked first place in the Trend Tracker.

Ecommerce: Ready to explode, but when?

There’s no doubt that ecommerce is a huge topic in B2B. As marketing and business generally continue to migrate almost entirely online, it feels like the next logical step is to simplify and ‘B2Cify’ the sales process and move to an online selling model. In fact, some sources state that the global B2B ecommerce market is actually larger than its B2C equivalent already.

Of course, the question remains around whether or not it will ever be possible to simplify complicated service agreements into an ecommerce-friendly format. The only thing we can do is watch this space.

For now, however, it’s clear that ecommerce is fairly low on most B2B marketers’ agendas, ranking 13th in this year’s Trend Tracker.

Web 3.0., NFTs and the metaverse: Bottom of the agenda

In last year’s report, we included three separate options for survey respondents to vote on: Web 3.0., NFTs and the metaverse.

These finished 17th, 18th and 19th, respectively – the three final places in our ranking. In order to save our respondents two clicks, we grouped them all together for this year’s survey, with just 3.5% of respondents claiming they’re very highly focused on it this year.

If anything, 3.5% feels high, such is the fall from grace that we’ve seen on these topics in recent months. Of course, the technology around NFTs and the metaverse are here to stay. Similarly, Web 3.0. is still coming. However, it feels fair to comment that the hype has passed, and applications for NFTs and the metaverse feel fairly limited, now that the initial excitement has worn off.

Clearly, these areas just aren’t on the agenda for marketers this year. Of course, that’s not to say that this will be the case forever.

New entries: How did they perform?

Each year, ensuring the Trend Tracker remains valuable involves a delicate balance of the following:

  1. Removing the deadwood. In other words, deleting those trends that consistently perform poorly in the survey, and therefore suggest that marketers aren’t all that focused on them, and are unlikely to be so any time soon.
  2. Keeping in the heavy hitters. After a certain point, something stops becoming a “trend” and transforms into “best practice”. However, it’s important to keep an eye on some regular high-performing trends, as it allows us to see them either establish themselves as such, or watch their gradual downfall.
  3. Adding fresh trends. It’s also critical that we keep our ears to the ground and continue to add in new trends as they emerge or re-emerge. For instance, something may have been all the rage 10 years ago, then fallen off, and now made a surprising come back…

Physical events are one such area

Pre-covid, physical events often became the centerpiece of a B2B marketing strategy – the thing that all other activities were built around or worked towards.

Sadly, a certain virus put a stop to this, with marketers being forced to either switch off their physical events altogether, or move towards a digital-only strategy. In the long-term, one could argue that this helped the physical events world innovate, with a huge amount of focus being put onto hybrid events, as we emerged from lockdown.

Of course, what ‘hybrid’ meant depended entirely on the company in question, but it does appear now that physical events feel like a safer bet once again. According to the Trend Tracker, at least, it appears that a quarter of marketers are very highly focused on them this year, so let’s see how that materialises in the coming months.

Brand performance: Too big to tackle?

We defined brand performance as “actively tracking and acting upon the power of your organization’s brand.”

There’s no denying that this is a huge topic in the world of B2B, and one that often comes up when speaking to the world’s most senior marketers. Unfortunately, tracking the impact of brand (particularly in the short-term) can be an incredibly complicated and difficult thing to achieve for any marketing team.

Want to learn more about the Propolis Community Index? Learn more here.

Influencer marketing: Supposedly having a moment in the sun?

In 2023, we saw something of a comeback from influencer marketing in the world of B2B. When people think of influencers, the image that often springs to mind is one of a glamorous Instagram model promoting fast fashion, but B2B certainly has its own “big names” on social media who can help certain products, services or ideas take off. Admittedly, they might not be quite as glamorous, but the reach they have and the ability to connect with their audience can still be a valuable channel for marketing teams (when used properly).

Regardless, influencer marketing, which we defined as “The use of (or collaboration with) popular individuals in a given field to promote a brand’s products or services” finished last place in this year’s Trend Tracker, with just 2.9% of marketers claiming that they’re very highly focused on it this year.

Agency and client-side marketers are aligned… mostly

The first thing to note is that the top five spots are the same for both client-side and agency-side marketers. In order of focus, these are: growth marketing; omnichannel marketing; customer experience; customer success and account-based strategy (ABM, ABX, ABG, etc).

That suggests that marketers, regardless of what world they’re in, are holding the same core tenets at the center of their marketing strategies. Without trying to unload too many buzzwords, agency and client-side marketers are clearly focused on being customer-obsessed marketers that deliver personalized campaigns across multiple channels in a joined-up way, all focused around delivering clear, demonstrable growth. What a mouthful.

However, there are some differences between the two. Agencies, for instance appear to be much more heavily focused on AI. Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, agencies pride themselves at being at the forefront of marketing, and so is it any wonder that this latest tech is receiving more focus from them?

On the flip-side, client-side marketers appear to be focusing a lot of their time and energy on something rather more traditional: physical events. This trend sees 26.9% of client-side marketers saying that they’re very highly focused on it this year, compared to just 16.9% of agency-side marketers.

There are other differences of course (as you can see in the tables), but these appear to be the most significant points of difference between the two sides.

Sales enablement receives a surprising amount of budget allocation

This year, we decided to add a few more questions into the mix, to gain an added level of depth. With that in mind, we also asked: “which three trends do you find the most challenging?”, “which three trends will you spend the most budget on in 2024?” and “approximately speaking, how do you expect your budget to change in the new financial year?”

With that in mind, it appears that just 42.8% of marketers are expecting their budget to increase, with 20.8% expecting it to decrease. With many budgets being cut, it’s perhaps not surprising then that growth marketing, account-based strategies and omnichannel marketing – three of the five biggest trends – are eating up a significant amount of marketers’ budgets in 2024.

What’s slightly more interesting then, is that sales enablement ranked second in terms of budget allocation, despite ranking just eight in the combined agency and client-side results.

This mismatch between focus and budget suggests that this topic is still going strong, but, perhaps – just perhaps – it’s one that marketers now understand well enough to not necessarily have to focus quite as much time and thought into. Undoubtedly, sales enablement is an extremely powerful tool in any marketer’s toolkit, and so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so much budget is going into this strategy.

Final thoughts

So, what have we learned from this year’s Trend Tracker? Well, the tables speak for themselves. Agency and client-side marketers are aligned on their core goals.

2024 is all about driving growth through marketing, and doing that by delivering customer-centric communications via an omnichannel approach. For many, ABM appears to be the vehicle to do just that.

Whilst there are some differences in agency and client-side focus, the top five focus areas are aligned, suggesting a marketplace that is more aligned than it’s ever been before.

Oh, and let’s not forget. NFTs and the metaverse still haven’t taken off. Let’s see how they fare in 2025…

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