The classic novel A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens begins with these most famous words and phrases:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness……… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…
These famous words and phrases may very well describe how many B2B organizations as well as marketers and sellers felt in 2014. The year 2014 displayed unabated rapid changes in buying behaviors and in how B2B marketed and sold to B2B buyers. Undoubtedly, causing many B2B businesses to feel like they have become a chapter in A Tale Of Two Cities. Throughout the year, it was the best of times and it was the worst of time.
Here then are 4 B2B Marketing trends, based on working directly with several B2B organizations this year and qualitatively interviewing over 100 B2B buyers this year, which may lead to the best of times in 2015:
1. The Content Marketing Slow Leak
As opposed to calling this a bubble burst, what is more appropriate is the slow leak. There are two major reasons why content marketing will be under the microscope. One, the silent majority of B2B buyers turned off by the inundation of content is growing. In over 100 qualitative buyer interviews, I can tell you the complaints are getting louder. Two, content marketing has struggled now for more than three plus years to reach mass effectiveness.
As a former senior executive, I can empathize with marketing leaders who are going to face harsh questions on why an organization should continue to allocate more cash flow to content marketing when effectiveness has not kept paced. This means B2B Marketing leaders will have to get a whole lot smarter about content. Improving their Content Intelligence immensely from a focus on what to do and how to do – to that of why content is appropriate.
2. Shift From Prediction-Based Marketing To Customer Intelligence
In 2014, we saw the touting of predictive analytics, predictive marketing, predictive data, predictive scoring, data-driven prediction, and anything, which can be preceded by the word prediction. Predicting buying and human behaviors via data alone will prove to be elusive at best. An apt quote by Steven Davidson, author of the Crystal Ball is:
“Forecasting future events is often like searching for a black cat in an unlit room, that may not even be there.”
In 2015, forward thinking marketing leaders will begin to seek more in-depth and rounded customer knowledge and thus, customer intelligence. Whereby data supports knowledge, understanding, and intelligence about customers and potential buyers. Here is an important perspective offered by renowned Stanford University Psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo:
“Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behavior, more so than we recognize or acknowledge.”
When it comes to buying and human behaviors, situational variables are the most powerful influences exerted on buying decisions. A trend is emerging whereby savvy marketing leaders are grasping this important concept. A concept of understanding contextual as well as situational variables will guide them to the in-depth customer understanding they need for smarter decisions. This type of understanding comes qualitatively versus by quantitative data means only.
3. Humanizing Will Move From Concept To Discipline
Many B2B Marketing leaders have been exposed to content in 2014 from various circles calling for more personalization and humanizing of their marketing. A hallmark of 2014 has been the discovery of a transformation underway in B2B. Spurred on by the influence of digital consumerism bleeding into B2B. Which is, B2B decision-makers are putting more emphasis on emotions-based factors versus logic-based. A recent Fortune Knowledge Group study shows 55% of 720 executives surveyed are relying on subjective, hence emotional influence, as opposed to logic-based objectives or factors when making decisions.
What this means is B2B marketing leaders will have to be more disciplined in learning how to conduct Human-Centered Marketing. When it comes to humanizing branding and marketing efforts, leaders will need to do so through a disciplined process of Hearing, Understanding, and Modeling. A framework I recently referred to as H.U.M. in an article in May of 2014. Such a disciplined approach will help marketing leaders evolve from viewing humanizing in terms of a feel-good concept to a repeatable human-centered process. Putting the human, the customer, at the center of their marketing.
4. Collaboration As A Strategy
One of the most striking aspects of a recent IBM CEO Study for 2014 is how much active collaboration directly affects a corporation’s ability to outperform its’ competitors. To make collaboration a driving force in customer strategy means organizations will need to embrace radical openness and transparency. Displaying overt willingness to share information and allow access to multiple networks in order to arrive at workable solutions.
Collaboration as a strategy also means B2B organization will need to immerse themselves in the business of their customers. What we will see as a trend is more immersive-oriented research taking place to deeply understand customers. It is through this process companies will then be able to offer true collaborative immersive experiences for its’ customers.
What Will 2015 Be?
Will 2015 be the best of time or the worst of times? Only time will tell. B2B Marketing leaders can give themselves a good shot at 2015 being the best of times by embracing these trends. Customer-centricity in B2B will continue to grow as a powerful force and differentiator. It very well may mean the difference between having everything before you and having nothing before you in 2015.
I leave you with a thirty-years look at predictions given by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Labs. He has made a habit out of providing predictions for the past thirty years and here he takes us on a journey of those predictions as well as makes future predictions. Enjoy: