The scale and growth of digital media has always been fueled by two types of people: innovators and followers.

Innovators embrace emerging channels and technologies, and take risks by investing in experimentation to learn and get a leg up on their competition.

Followers wait until a new technology or channel has been thoroughly vetted in the market and is less risky, but consequently, they're always playing catch up with the innovators.

That's why innovation is becoming a core element of every segment of every market. Regardless of your industry, if you don't innovate, your business will grow stale─and your competition may catch up or surpass you.

Moreover, account-based marketing (ABM) as a strategy has grown in popularity in recent years, as always, embraced early on by innovators with followers gradually jumping on the bandwagon.

The gap between the innovators and followers exists in ABM as it does with most new digital marketing strategies, according to a recent report from Sirius Decisions. However, though 92% of marketers recognized the importance of ABM with regard to their overall marketing efforts, only 20% had a full program in place—although 52% were piloting programs.

Old Concept, New Digital Strategy

The gap may narrow more quickly with ABM because even though ABM is a new digital strategy, it's not a new concept. ABM is as old as direct marketing itself.

Back in the "olden days," a B2B marketer would select the top 10-1000 prospects to target, and then go to a list broker and purchase phone numbers and mailing addresses to reach those prospects. The B2B marketer would send a brochure or an engraved pen (or both) and follow up with a series of phone calls. It was outbound marketing at its most intrusive, but it was successful enough that sales and marketing teams used this template for decades.

In old-school ABM, data came from very limited sources and was very limited in scope (name, address, and perhaps the magazine to which they subscribe if you rented the list from a publisher or broker). The data wasn't much to go on.  

Today, with a changing landscape that includes both tremendous hikes in postage and the enforcement of Do Not Call lists, marketers have been forced to be creative with their approach to ABM. Innovators have embraced the challenge and put data and programmatic to work for them in their ABM strategies.

Account-Based Marketing Today

Today's B2B data is vast and constantly changing. Also, that data tells marketers nearly everything they could want to know about their prospective buyers. In the past, B2B marketers built their target account lists once a year, updating it perhaps quarterly, but now innovators update target lists weekly.

You read that right: Target account lists are updated weekly.

Why? Because data is fluid, and buying cycles are finite. Corporate decision makers who are in need of a product or service will enter the research phase of their customer journey, and they'll be there for a few days. Then they're on to the next phase, where they're sharing what they've learned with stakeholders, and moving closer to their purchase decision.

If you're only updating target accounts annually or even just quarterly, you're missing your window of opportunity.

The Innovative Marketer's Approach to ABM

Innovative marketers who harness B2B data well can identify the signals that tell them when buyers are in market. Those marketers then can surface to those buyers the content they need to inform that phase of their customer journey.

For example, if a prospect is consuming content about "offshore manufacturing partners" and "circuit board assembly in China," and your business manufactures circuit boards in China for US companies, you've probably just identified a new target account. But those signals are in flux, moving through cycles all over the Internet, all the time. That's why updating targets at least weekly is a best-practice.

Along with data, innovators are taking a multichannel, multidevice approach to reaching their target accounts.

Though there's still a place in the marketing plan for mailing out branded flash drives, the best way to reach accounts is digitally and in real time. Data can create the road map that tells marketers when and where to engage their prospects, whether that's on their tablet, on their work computer, or on their mobile handset.

Data also can inform channels and creatives. Some prospects are best reached via social media; others via video. Rich media may be the best way to engage some targets, but native ads may work better for others.

Innovative ABM and Branding

What's also new and critical in innovative ABM is the addition of branding. Though B2B has historically been a direct response discipline, branding is becoming increasingly important.

McKinsey & Company points out that B2Bs underestimate the value of branding, which is a mistake.

A strong value proposition and brand image can make a buyer feel much more confident about a costly purchase decision that's important to both their company goals and their job security. So as you engage target accounts with invitations to download content, sign up for newsletters or schedule free consultations, interject your interactions with messages that focus on your brand.

* * *

Innovators will have the upper hand in ABM as they do in everything.

By putting data and digital channels to good use, innovators will be getting their messages in front of target accounts at the moment those prospects raise their hands. They'll engage those users with brand messages and strong calls-to-action, shortening their sales cycles and improving their bottom line.

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Why Innovation Matters in Account-Based Marketing

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image of Sonjoy Ganguly

Sonjoy Ganguly is senior vice-president of product management at Madison Logic, a provider of B2B marketing solutions.

LinkedIn: Sonjoy Ganguly