Marketing is on the front lines of the battle for market share, relevance, and revenue. The relentless competitive and internal pressures drive marketing practitioners to find and hone new tools and techniques that will give them a market advantage.
There was a time, not so long ago, when print ads, press releases, trade shows, sales collateral, and the occasional corporate video were the primary tools of the B2B marketer. Innovation centered around better ways to create and use these vehicles to accelerate success. There was also a time when marketing and sales operated in distinct silos with little interaction. Those times are gone and almost forgotten.
Today’s successful B2B marketers have created a new culture of change and innovation driven by instant communications, new streams of data, and new ways to connect with, and influence, potential customers. And marketing and sales functions are now intertwined and forever-linked to create seamless and consistent customer experiences.
Just think about the marketing titles of today that did not exist five years ago — or perhaps were in early use in innovative companies:
- Demand generation specialist
- Marketing automation manager
- Social media expert
- Content marketing manager
- Customer success manager
- Search media producer
- Growth hacker
- Inbound marketing manager
- Customer data analyst
- Digital marketing director
And think about the corresponding changes in the desired skill sets for today’s B2B marketers who are expected to be both creative AND analytical.
Accompanying the changes in marketing skills and techniques is an expanding universe of tools and apps that give the marketer new ways to understand, predict, integrate, and connect. These new marketing ‘engines’ are disrupting traditional marketing thinking and approaches to success. And, since nothing happens in a vacuum there are corresponding changes in how society is responding to the new era of digital marketing. Here are a four of the most disruptive trends every B2B marketer must know about.
1. Data-driven marketing
The most fundamental agent of change in B2B marketing is readily available data; huge new streams of market, lead and customer behavioral data. The ability to analyze, interpret, and make decisions based on that information is at the heart of current B2B marketing. All of the trends listed in this post result from the treasure trove of data.
Data-driven marketing understands the power of understanding customer needs and behavior to create better experiences and outcomes. Successful B2B marketers are leveraging integrated data from multiple touch points to give their visitors, users, and customers relevant and timely information. It is also, fundamentally, more efficient since marketing actions are now more meaningful and actionable.
Data-driven marketing is also about metrics, measurement, and analysis. In addition to customer information there are now incredibly rich data troves coming from CRMs and other business data that can be correlated and combined with marketing data to provide new insights and measurement.
2. Marketing platforms
Cloud-based marketing platforms are the new management tool for today’s B2B marketer. There are hundreds of choices starting with established brands such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and Infusionsoft, to up-an-comers like Greenrope and Hatchbuck. These are integrated tool suites that include many of the typical marketing activities—email, social media, digital advertising, landing pages, SEO/SEM, lead qualification—giving you a unified interface for creating, testing and and monitoring. They also include CRM functionality or make it easy to set-up two-way data sharing with popular CRMs.
These platforms have as their foundation a database of visitor, lead, and customer behavior—from landing page visits to email opens. This data-driven approach gives marketers the ability to correlate and cluster this information to spawn automatic activities in response to attributes and behaviors. For example, rather than sending the same email to everyone or showing the same web content to all visitors marketing automation allows the creation and automatic presentation of relevant content and meaningful follow-up activities.
Marketing platforms are also about metrics and measurement. These systems can report on individual campaign results along with rolled up results. Dashboards graphically display results and trends.
For more information on these platforms see my posts on marketing automation.
3. Artificial and augmented intelligence
AI and machine learning have their genesis in big data. The fundamental capability of today’s AI-driven technologies is to learn patterns by analyzing available data and then to use that learning to make predictions or choices when analyzing new data. AI is already changing traditional marketing in many ways and has the ability to make marketing automation even more automated, without much human involvement. Here are some of the new AI-driven capabilities you should learn about.
- Attribution analysis. Remember when your only measurement was ‘last click?’ Today’s attribution tools let you see more of the customer journeys than ever before. And that makes it easier to understand which of your marketing program elements are most effective and why.
- Chatbots. These AI-driven bots allow you to engage with visitors to your site 24/7 with the ability to understand user questions and provide relevant responses. These chat tools are powered by natural language understanding (NLU), natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG) technology—and, of course, a Q&A database. Think how this can be used in every aspect of your customer engagement. Responses can even be personalized based on the data you have on the customer.
- Predictive analysis. This technology helps you prioritize spending and focus by predicting which visitors/users are likely to become customers. The same underlying technology can be used to select the right pricing or make other useful predictions based on data analysis. The machine learns from existing data and then makes high confidence predictions on new data.
- Hyperpersonalization. AI makes it possible to realize the dream of microsegmentation, or even automated one-to-one marketing. This can mean custom web content for each visitor or customer; custom responses based on customer profiles or purchase history; and even personalized, custom email or texts in response to user activity.
Read my blog post on artificial intelligence for more detail on how AI is changing marketing thinking and practices along with more specific examples. Also, my friend, Magnus Unemyr, has written a fantastic book on AI and data-driven marketing that gives a marketers perspective on AI and includes a comprehensive list of AI-powered marketing tools.
4. GDPR and privacy
Consultants are making bank advising their clients about how to respond to GDPR but, in short, GDPR restricts how marketers can capture and use personal information. Here is my summary of how GDPR might affect you. Consult your own legal staff and experts to determine the impact of this legislation on your business since there are many details that even the experts are confused about. And, it is important to note that GDPR has teeth. The fines for non-compliance are huge (starting at € 20,000,000 for each offense).
- No longer can you harvest email addresses using lead magnets and then automatically add them to your newsletter mailing list. Permission to send email must be explicitly granted by the individual. (How will this change the practice of list rentals, for one example?)
- All personal data you hold must be available for review by the individual and the individual has the right to edit or delete the data.
GDPR is the most prominent government-led privacy initiatives. In the light of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal (and other publicized data abuses) we can expect more regulation and privacy standards. Marketers must now rethink how they capture, store and use personally identifiable data.
I have highlighted a few of the significant and disruptive trends. There are likely others that will be even more relevant to your particular market, industry, or customer base. Fundamentally, marketing is more about applied technology and data-driven strategy than ever before. Keeping pace with the changes, and the opportunities they provide is an ongoing challenge.