Businesses have been selling to businesses for quite some time now, but only recently has B2B marketing risen to a whole new level with advancements in online targeting, display advertising, and marketing automation. And thanks to the Web, the scale, precision, and cost-efficiency of those technologies are within reach of any B2B marketer, regardless of budget, looking to reach and educate audiences online.
However, despite the massive opportunities available and rapid pace of advancements in this discipline, what really drives success in B2B marketing can be hard to decipher. Here are seven misconceptions about what makes for truly successful B2B marketing—and ways you can steer your efforts in the right direction.
1. Branding isn't as important in B2B as it is in B2C
Actually, branding is arguably MORE important in B2B than it is in B2C. Here's why: The B2B buyer's journey has changed in the last decade, resulting in a B2B purchase process that is long and complex, and it often involves multiple decision-makers. Up to 90% of the process is done before a prospect ever engages a sales person, according to Forrester.
Against that backdrop, creating awareness through branding may be more critical in B2B than it is in B2C marketing. Yet, many B2B marketers often fall into the trap of investing only in lower-funnel lead-gen marketing programs, such as SEO, PPC, and email marketing. Those channels reach only the small portion of target audiences that are ready to engage today, whereas investments in social and targeted display advertising can offer the extended reach needed to educate the broader audience B2B marketers after.
Marketers need to deploy a balanced mix of programs to reach and educate target audiences—wherever they're consuming content online and at every stage of the buying process. So take a "full-funnel" approach that moves beyond purely lower-funnel programs to ensure you make it onto a buyer's short list.
2. Last-click measurement provides an accurate picture of where your marketing dollars are working
On average, a buyer interacts with a brand 4.3 times in the final 48 hours before making a purchase, according to Google. What does that mean? If you measure marketing value by only the last marketing touch, you risk misrepresenting marketing ROI by more than 100%.
To avoid that trap and to make more informed spending decisions, marketers can tap into systems that provide insight into every tactic's performance and use simple attribution to give credit to each channel that contributed to the purchase.
Different strategies shine along different parts of the marketing funnel, and marketers must measure success by the appropriate metrics: brand lift for top-funnel branding campaigns; leads and engagement for mid-funnel education campaigns; or conversions at the bottom of the funnel.
If you want an accurate picture of ROI, last-click attribution is not the answer.
3. Getting in front of the right company makes for successful B2B marketing
This one is only partly false. Getting in front of the right company is important, but far more important is getting in front of the right people at that company.
To put this in perspective, consider that Harte-Hanks surveyed (PDF) people involved in the decision-making process for technology products and found that in most cases only two people are involved in both the research/information gathering stage and in the final purchase decision.
Account-based or company targeting could mean that you are just as likely to reach the company's kitchen staff as you are the company's CTO or influencers; that's a huge waste of marketing dollars and efficiency, as most people within your target account have no interest in your product or service and no influence on the purchasing decision.
Targeting that fails to get your ads to exactly the right people, based on their role and seniority in the organization, falls short of enabling you to reach the audiences that really matter to your business.
4. All B2B targeting is all created equally
Getting to the right prospects—wherever they're traveling online—is now within reach of any B2B marketer via data-driven audience targeting. But is B2B targeting data reliable? No, not all of it.
Data quality in online advertising is often an issue, especially with IP address targeting or behavioral targeting. (e.g., you may actually be targeting users' ISPs when you want to be targeting specific user IP addresses). Even using registration data by itself can be inaccurate since as many as 88% a have lied on a registration form, according to a recent study.
So what's a B2B marketer to do? The best data will be from vendors that use a mix of multiple sources to ensure freshness, constant cross-checking, and data validation. To overcome limitations that are inherent in reliance on any single data-sourcing technique, data sources can and should include registration data, IP data, offline databases, crowd sourcing, and email data. Data and sourcing processes should also be submitted to third parties for auditing and validation to ensure high quality.
Only by getting data via a mix of multiple strategies and third-party validation can marketers be confident of reliable targeting data.
5. Display advertising doesn't drive leads
Should B2B marketers consider display ads worthy of fueling lead gen engines? In a word, Yes! The key question is not "does display help generate leads?" but "HOW does display help generate leads?" The path to the "how" is rooted in the powerful interplay between branding and direct response programs.
A comScore study found that prospects who viewed search marketing ads for a company were 82% more likely to buy the product in question than if they received no exposure. However, when the search ads were paired with display ads, the researchers saw a 119% lift in sales.
The time and budget invested in branding initiatives are integrally connected to the return expected on DR programs. Display advertising is infinitely versatile, with a range of full-funnel program campaign strategies such as business demographic targeting (e.g., job function, seniority, industry, company size), social ad targeting (e.g., LinkedIn and Facebook ad targeting), and retargeting (e.g., CRM retargeting, social audience retargeting, and website retargeting).
Depending on the specific display targeting approach, display can be deployed as a lead generator as well as a vehicle for influencing and educating prospects at any stage of the marketing funnel.
6. Business marketers need to stick to delivering a message to businesspeople within a business environment
Businesspeople don't suddenly take their business hats off when they leave the office. Despite the way marketers segment B2B and B2C programs, people don't segment themselves that way.
More than 80% of people check their work emails after they've left the office and 64% of businesspeople spend time on sites unrelated to their work while they're in the office. The lines are blurred, so marketers need to be able to deliver the right message, synching it with wherever their prospects are online and wherever they happen to be in the purchase cycle—and engaging those that come to their websites, landing pages, and social channels.
Marketers also need to ensure not only that their B2B programs reach target audiences wherever they're consuming information online but also that those programs be a well-integrated part of the overall marketing effort. Doing so requires massive scale and integration with existing programs and the systems that support them—to really unlock the value of your broader program.
7. Businesspeople always want personalized marketing
Personalization has been a highly effective marketing strategy for nurturing and retargeting prospects. If a relationship already exists between the prospect and the brand, personalization comes across as helpful and thoughtful.
However, personalization should take an opt-in approach. Connecting on a personalized level with prospects too high in the marketing funnel and before they have given permission, such as by providing an email, violates trust and invades privacy. A recent study found real harm to a brand if it communications are too personalized before a relationship has been created.
Imagine you worked for Microsoft and a complete stranger walked up to you and said "Hi Microsoft, how's it going?" Even if you indeed worked for Microsoft (or worse if you didn't!), you'd probably find this to be strange and uncomfortable. Best practices in advertising should be just like talking to strangers: Marketers need to introduce the brand and create a relationship before being too personal.
At the same time, marketing automation experts such as Eloqua and retargeting companies such as Criteo have shown that personalization after a prospect knows about a brand pays huge dividends. So go ahead and personalize, but only if you already have a relationship with the prospect!
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