Platform fatigue. IP targeting's limitations. Challenges of evaluating campaign performance. The impact of economic uncertainty. The disappearance of in-person events...
B2B marketers are facing a host of unresolved data-related issues and questions. Here are some answers.
1. Do B2B marketers suffer from platform fatigue? If so, what's the remedy?
Absolutely they do. A common theme for B2B marketers is that the number of platforms they have to log in to is astonishing and, honestly, cumbersome.
There are platforms for advertising; you've got demand-side platforms (DSPs); search platforms; social and analytics platforms, publisher direct, data management platforms (DMPs), customer data platforms (CDPs), sales automation platforms (Marketo, Eloqua, etc.), measurement dashboards (Tableau, Domo, etc.) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
But B2B marketers don't have the leisure of being able to walk away from interacting with a multitude of platforms as they execute on a comprehensive marketing strategy.
One of the main drawbacks of using all of those platforms is that you end up with bits of valuable data that are siloed in each platform. Savvier marketers use data science practices to gain valuable insights from the data at their disposal; however, those siloed data fragments can be hard to take advantage of.
In a lot of cases, brands rely on their agency to produce reports from those platforms, but that tends to blur what's actually happening—i.e., digital marketing insights from DSPs/publishers versus what marketing analysts see within their systems. This is where the ability to extract and tie all of this data to a common identity space creates data portability for B2B marketers and ultimately enables fragmented data sets to be joined. As a result, business-critical insights can be extracted in a timely manner.
2. How can B2B marketers circumvent the limitations of IP targeting?
If you think about IP-based targeting, a number of restrictions make it difficult for a B2B marketer to identify and precisely engage end users. Most notably, IP targeting does not enable a B2B marketer to reach a specific persona; rather, IP-based targeting will target everyone working at a specific business (e.g., sitting behind a common corporate IP address), regardless of role or seniority.
There are also inherent challenges with IP targeting when the majority of the workforce is no longer working from a physical office, exactly like what we're experiencing now as a result of the global pandemic, which has drastically shifted the way employees work.
To combat these limitations to both accuracy and scale, B2B marketers can do a few things:
- Enlist the help of a partner that can help build account-based marketing (ABM) audiences across numerous high-quality data providers, and segment those audiences in such a way that they (B2B marketers) can target not only accounts but also role-based attributes, such as seniority or job function.
- Consider layering in B2B intent data, which allows B2B marketers to discover accounts that are currently in-market for the products they are looking to sell. Those intent signals can be used both to refine target lists generated by the sales team and to expand to additional accounts so that they include, for example, accounts that are currently evaluating competitive solutions and which may not have been on a target list previously.
- Engage in meaningful data partnerships to power not only targeting efforts but also internal analytics and data science efforts, as well. Being able to identify and execute data collaborations, specifically second-party data collaboration, is paramount: It enables B2B marketers to better "know" their end user, and it accentuates data privacy and security when done in a safe, closed environment
3. What are the primary data-related differences between B2C and B2B marketers?
There are fundamental, inarguable differences between B2C and B2B marketers and their respective data. To name one: B2B data is even more siloed than consumer data.
If you're a consumer marketer, you often get your data from a website or your CRM team; but either way, it's centralized. B2B marketers, on the other hand, must navigate the complexities of working with a large marketing team, sales team, business-intelligence/analytics team. and the organizational fragmentation that goes along with it all.
Let's say a B2B marketers want to run a programmatic campaign; to do so effectively, they need to extract and unify data from multiple sources. And a typical process may require them to get data from the website, which is owned by IT; CRM files, owned by the sales department; data, owned by data science and analytics teams; and so on.
Even if the B2B marketers are able to get the data they need, that B2B data is still orders of magnitude smaller than their B2C counterparts'. That makes sense, if you think about it. For example, the number of decision-makers in a B2B setting who might sign off on a large contract can include a handful of executives. Contrast that to a consumer who can decide to purchase a smartphone and proceeds to purchase that smartphone tomorrow with little or no oversight.
In the B2B setting, marketers are dealing with potentially thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of individuals, whereas in the consumer example marketers are dealing with potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions of individuals.
B2B marketing is also different, and in a way disadvantaged, when working with marketing service providers, like DSPs or publishers. That's because such platforms aren't designed with B2B media strategies in mind.
Whereas a B2C marketer may wish to reach a "tech enthusiast," for example, and can do so with relative ease by running a campaign through a DSP or publisher, it's more complicated for a B2B marketer. B2B marketers are keen on reaching a "persona," or "account" (a company they desire to engage); they need to be able to understand whom they've connected with in the sales funnel. Much of that functionality is not available through platforms and systems built on consumer behavior versus company behavior or the personas that sit within a company.
4. What challenges do B2B marketers face when evaluating campaign performance?
This actually touches on another major challenge that B2B marketers face when compared to their consumer counterparts. One of the biggest barriers to evaluating campaign performance for B2B marketers is the fact that most analytics platforms available are designed with consumer marketers in mind. These platforms don't account for the unique marketing funnel in B2B where you are not focused on finding an individual or a household, but rather you are focused on finding the buying committee inside an organization composed of very different people who may be in very distinct geographies. Additionally the data required to understand how well a campaign performs typically derives from a CRM or marketing automation system, (i.e., opportunities, leads, revenue, product, etc.) which helps.
Let's say I'm a B2B marketer and I happen to target "Pieter" with an ad to buy my product. But perhaps Pieter is not the sole decision maker; and he may not hold the purse strings. So instead, he tells his colleague, "Rene" about the ad/product, and Rene ultimately converts. Now, the typical measurement solution will say that, because Pieter did not engage with the ad, and neither did his household, the ad impression is considered a "failure" even though it wasn't. Additionally, many analytics platforms aren't built to reflect the longer and more complex sales cycles for B2B marketers, which averages six months on the short end, to a year-and-a-half on the long end.
5. How has the global pandemic and economic uncertainty impacted B2B marketers?
I've seen core changes.
First, let's rewind back to January, pre-COVID-19 and pre-recession or economic uncertainty, and revisit our previous example with Pieter; then, fast-forward a few months:
- Eight months ago, if I wanted to target Pieter with an ad for a LiveRamp solution, I knew with some degree of certainty that he would be working at the office. He would be tied to his employer's IP address and corporate network. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume I could use IP targeting to reach Pieter or his relevant colleagues with my ad.
- Come March, however, most everyone we'd want to reach shifted to working primarily from home. An entire professional segment of the US population went from going into an office every day to working from their kitchen table, rendering IP targeting virtually useless.
Although several possible workarounds can address that problem, the most straightforward solution is to tap technology partners that can marry an individual's "consumer" persona and their "professional" persona to create a 360-degree view of the person that can then be used to inform and empower personalized ad experiences regardless of a person's work location.
The other thing worth mentioning here is that B2B marketers are under intense pressure to demonstrate return on ad spend. That need has always been present, of course, but it's even more relevant during a recession, when every marketing dollar needs to lead to measurable and accountable benefit.
To that end, the most successful B2B marketers we see are the ones who focus on and fortify relationships with their sales leaders. If they are able to align their marketing objectives and demonstrate success tied to the sales KPIs used by their sales leadership, they will be in a position of strength when executing their marketing strategy.
That's to say if B2B marketers can demonstrate increased bookings, deal velocity, etc., and prove their contribution to the funnel, they are less likely to come under budget or performance scrutiny, which intensifies during an economic downturn.
B2B marketers, therefore, must attain greater efficiency in finding the right audiences online at scale.
6. B2B marketers allocate large portions of their budget to live events. How has that specifically changed in the wake of widespread stay-at-home orders?
At the start of this year, many of us had planned to attend large conferences where we would meet with current and prospective customers and even meet some new potential customers walking the halls. That personal engagement is invaluable and can deliver a big boon to business, which is often why these tentpole events attract a lot of B2B marketing dollars.
Today, every event for the remainder of 2020 has been canceled or moved to virtual; the corresponding opportunity for a lot of B2B marketers has potentially been reduced to near zero. That dramatically changes how B2B marketers should think about how they spend their event budget and drive a positive outcome for their sales team.
As a result, we're seeing a lot of those budgets shift to more programmatic or digital campaigns. There's even been an uptick (20-30%) in CTV and addressable TV buys. This situation isn't unique to B2B of course, but it's indicative and reflective of the fact that people are spending more time than ever getting their content on screens at home.
The same is true with any direct mail campaigns that may have been slated for this year. With most employers asking employees to stay home until late fall or even early 2021, sending a mailer to a corporate address is going to be a fruitless exercise. As a result, a lot of those budgets are being redirected toward programmatic channels to discover and nurture leads.