A recent B2B marketing study by B2B International paints an interesting picture of the current marketing challenges US businesses are encountering, the strategies they are employing, and what they could be doing more of in the future.
The findings also provide comparisons with similar businesses in the UK and Germany.
Business and Marketing Challenges in the US
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of US companies selected innovation as one of their top 5 current business challenges, followed by building market share (57%), countering the competition (45%), and increasing brand awareness (43%), according to the research, which assessed businesses with a mean revenue of $6 billion.
As for challenges specific to marketing, 56% of businesses expressed difficulties building their brand and developing effective communication strategies, and 31% said they are concerned about business growth, such as attracting new customers and penetrating new market segments.
The Use of Marketing Strategies and Research
The top 2 marketing strategies employed are market/customer segmentation and value marketing, indicating the current focus on (1) prioritizing audiences to reap greater benefits and (2) better addressing the value needs of the market.
Only 27% of US companies are carrying out competitor analysis or benchmarking, despite "countering the competition" having been cited as a top business concern.
The top 3 types of research US businesses consider most useful for this year and next are branding research, market assessment, and competitor research.
Those choices suggest that companies are not losing sight of one of their biggest assets—their brands—and the need for intelligence on the markets they serve and the competitive threats.
Comparisons With UK and German Businesses
Branding is top of mind to a significant proportion of those surveyed, and so it is not surprising that 58% of US firms have a B2B brand program in place for measuring the strength of their brands—a higher proportion than their counterparts in Europe.
Interestingly, despite more often having a brand program in place, US companies are the least confident in the strength of their unique selling point (USP)—i.e. their core proposition that differentiates their products from those of the competition.
The survey respondents in the US rated the strength of their brand's USP a weak score of only 5.8 out of 10 on average. That lack of confidence could be due to various factors, such as an insufficiently distinct brand position or compelling value propositions, competitors' encroaching on a similar brand position, or a lack of targeting at priority audiences that value the USP.
The USP strength score was significantly higher in the UK, although still mediocre at 6.5; arguably, a USP is sufficiently distinct and impactful only if it scores at least 8 out of 10.
Segmentation is a relative weakness of US firms, with only 42% of businesses in the US using a sophisticated segmentation that goes beyond simple demographics and firmographics for segmenting their customers. That is in stark contrast to their peers in Germany, where over 60% segment their customers on the likes of behaviors and needs.
Though innovation is the top business challenge for the year ahead, the focus for US marketers is on branding, value marketing, and segmentation.
For companies embracing all of these initiatives, segmentation should be first on the agenda, followed by the development of customer value propositions for each segment that are underpinned by a unique selling point. Only then should companies turn to building the brand, at which point any increases in brand value are equivalent to money on the bottom line.
About the research: The study was based on an online survey conducted by B2B International in the US and Europe with 226 B2B decision-makers and influencers.
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