As we get ready for 2017, the rate of change for any business is as fast as it has ever been. As readers of content—we choose, view and read very selectively. We are impatient viewers of all types of content. Buyers have been developing a cynical eye toward marketing for decades and that distrust has grown exponentially in the past five years. And, it’s not just the former model hawking her line of beauty products when we know she’s had extensive and expensive cosmetic surgery, or the star of a major television series pitching a car we don’t believe he ever drives. It has gone beyond that; we don’t trust banks or even a neighbor to play by the basic rules of a society. We are skeptical of charts and graphs and statistics from scientists. We don’t trust a video or photo to be unedited. We question everything.
Although sweeping anxiety and distrust is a problem that needs addressed in the bigger picture of our lives, this writing is taking a look at the business side of things. Where do we go from here? How do we move our businesses forward when everything has changed, there is so much competition, and the ground is still moving?
It’s true that there are all kinds of products now to help companies make very accurate predictions about buying behavior—even B2B business buying. There are about 1500 such marketing technology companies in about 40 categories and they themselves are all trying to sell you on how they are the best. And many are very good—but can be very expensive if done right. Most of these technologies are out of budget reach for SMEs because it’s not just the technology that’s expensive—it’s the people, training and resources you have to commit to it to make it work, keeping it working, and provide the management to oversee that it is working.
According to research by Harvard Business Review into 350 mid-market B2B companies (except for companies in software industry) the “adoption rate of marketing technology is very low: companies use just 2 out of the 9 major marketing technology programs”.
Wow. That was depressing. But there are a few things that work and you can afford. And the irony is that these are the same marketing strategies that worked a hundred years ago—they are just done a bit differently. Here’s my list of technologies that are essential for today’s 2017 marketer:
Hire a Dedicated Person to Do Business Development Support. If you don’t do this, it won’t happen. You need to pay someone with experience (not a college intern working for free) to do this job because it is an important part of business development (not marketing). Marketing is the “stuff” you do to develop new business and keep customers coming back. If you are budget conscience or a small business, it’s fine to use a contractor.
For a lot of people, the word “marketing” brings up visions of obscure and hazy 100 dollar bills swirling down the drain. The problem is time and expectations—little of one and a lot of the other. Sales are concrete—they may bring in actual dollars within a minute or a month; but marketing is “out there” and a little fuzzy and fluffy for many. Call it what it is: business development support. I suggest that if we change the title of the job, more people in your organization will place a higher importance on it.
Increased focus on customer experience. Customer experience is the heart of marketing for every industry. While it has always been a marketing focus, today’s businesses—at least the successful ones—have embraced customer-centric philosophies to create effective marketing strategies and positive digital transformations. Gartner predicts that 89 percent of companies believe that customer experience will be their primary basis for competition.
This means you have to think about the mobile experience in your website and all content. Everything you do online has to look great on a mobile device. If you haven’t updated your website in a 3-4 years, chances are it’s out of date.
Analytics. Over a century ago advertising pioneer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Today, good marketers do know which half isn’t working; the key is analytics and the basics are free. Google Analytics is used on over 80% of small and mid-market websites. It’s a place to start. As you get more sophisticated, you may find a need for the paid version or other tools such as Adobe Analytics.
Personalized Everything. Personalizing is not just for consumer products and services. For some businesses, this will mean ensuring touch points are specific and individual. For others, it’s simply streamlining the purchasing process and making it more responsive.
Documented and Strategic Plan for Quality Content. According to Joe Pulizzi, a content specialist at the Content Marketing Institute, research tells us that those organizations that have a plan, and review it consistently, are more likely to be successful. Even though you (the expert reading this) might think this is basic, it’s not. “We are still too focused on campaigns and talking about our products, instead of truly driving value outside the products and services we offer.”
Influencer Marketing. This has been important for a while but in the last year this strategy has vaulted into the top five. Influencer marketing focuses on using leaders or other influencers to drive a company’s message to a broader market. In many cases, companies pay influencers to get the word out for them, but for some types of companies it can be done organically. It requires a creative and bold approach though, and that makes many companies uncomfortable.
Conversion Optimization. This means that you make the extra effort to get people who come to your website (or wherever you are engaging with them) to do what you want them to do as much as possible. At the very least you want to capture their email address. Typically only about 3% of people coming from an online ad will fill out a website form; with conversion optimization that can be doubled to roughly 6%. With outstanding offers, marketing apps, a compelling e-book, or a quality download, some companies have found conversion rates of 10 or 12%. The point is that you can’t just put up a website or send and email and hope. Try harder to get people to convert. There are some free tools. Try Wordstream’s free Landing Page Grader. That said, nothing makes me back off a web page faster than to have a giant ad popup in my face (I am looking at you Forbes) or forced email-demands.
Better Email. Email marketing is the 800-pound gorilla of digital marketing. You need valuable content tailored to the person’s interests but don’t expect overnight results. It takes more than one touch to capture interest but email marketing is powerful because you’re staying in front of customers and prospects who have said that they want to hear from you. Free or inexpensive tools for SMEs: MailChimp and Constant Contact
Search Engine Marketing. Search Engine Marketing includes both paid search ads, like Google AdWords, and search engine optimization (SEO) to try to get high organic search listings for your website content. Your marketing person will know (should know) how to make this work for you. Tools: Google AdWords WordStream and Wordtracker.
Selected Social Media. Personally, I am not a believer that social media is for every company. Make a plan and use SM wisely and selectively. It won’t work without a specific plan. Random posting about things no one cares about is a waste of your time and … well, everyone’s time.
More Video Content, Pod-casting and Live Streaming. Streaming video has a place in the B2B world – just be selective. This puts a burden on your content and your marketing person. As with all content these days, we need fewer pre-conceived, scheduled-in-advance pieces of content and more present-focused video streaming opportunities.
Begin now to rethink and re-tool your content marketing strategies. If you do. you will be well ahead of the competition as we roll through 2017. The most successful content marketers will be the ones who use the right technologies in an innovative way. Keep your users in mind with your new tactics, don’t be afraid to take risks, and make adjustments as needed as you continue down your new path.