First Party Data Is The Key To Successful B2B Marketing

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Remember when a few hundred dollars in Facebook Ads virtually guaranteed viable traffic to your website? Before bots represented roughly 30% of web traffic (Source: BusinessOfApps), wasting a $1 out of every $3 spent in digital advertising (Source: Ad Age), before Cambridge Analytica and Zuckerberg’s cringeworthy congressional hearing…back when Facebook was effective. Remember the good old days?

We’ve come to learn that the reason that Facebook Ads were so effective is that a large portion of their targeting data was ill-gotten goods, or inappropriate (or in some cases, illegal) for discriminatory reasons.

While some of the decline in the effectiveness of Facebook marketing, in particular, can be blamed on a steadily decreasing level of engagement on the platform (Source: Mashable) the greater issue is the lack of good quality targeting data, especially in B2B campaigns.

While especially true for the social networking giant, the problem extends beyond Facebook. Programmatic targeting data is questionably reliable in the best of situations and even less so in B2B scenarios. Now that the demise of third-party cookies is imminent, digital advertising is about to become a lot less intelligent.

The “wild west” can’t stay wild forever. Eventually the law comes to town with new rules and regulations that forever change the way business is conducted.

Well, the law has come to the digital frontier…between GDPR, CCPA, Facebook’s many issues, and other types of exposure, getting value out of your investment into digital marketing is more challenging than ever before.

Photo: Pixabay

Why Is B2B Targeting Data Such Crap?

Unlike with B2C campaigns where the buyer’s own personal tastes are the sole factor in any buying decision, B2B marketers have to address business needs that aren’t represented by any readily available demographic or psychographic data.

Which is to say that data points like what shoes you wear, how long you’ve owned your house or car, and where you went to school, don’t shed much light on the types of B2B software your company is currently evaluating.

Sadly, there isn’t a one-stop-shop for reliable B2B ad targeting data. LinkedIn is the best option and that’s not saying much, unfortunately. Extremely high costs and underwhelming efficacy makes LinkedIn a necessary evil, rather than a go-to solution.

Which means that we’re left to our own devices…literally. What data you can acquire through your own means and import into platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. is your best asset when it comes to digital advertising campaigns.

This creates quite a conundrum for many B2B marketers who don’t already have a CRM full of potential customers to use. How do you get the attention of new people if you need a list of their email addresses to reach them in the first place?

B2B marketing is BYOD… “Bring Your Own Data”.

Photo: bongkarn thanyakijs

ABM Is So Hot Right Now

Using advertising to find potential B2B buyers isn’t very effective but there is value in using advertising to reach buyers who are already qualified.

By researching organizations that meet your sales qualification criteria, and the people in relevant roles at those companies, you can gradually build lists of people to influence with advertising. This strategy forms the core of ABM (account based marketing) practices.

The key is not just focusing on the C-level decision-makers but also the many internal influencers shaping their opinions.

Obviously, you can’t target people on Facebook by their names alone, so the majority of the effort in a typical B2B marketing campaign goes into finding creative ways to get in front of these individuals.

Think about how your own organization makes purchasing decisions…

It’s likely that senior leadership sets high-level expectations for mid-level managers to implement, who assess goals and then make recommendations for how to reach those goals. But low-level employees typically research potential solutions, making recommendations which travel up the command hierarchy, gathering support along the way.

To influence this process, sales teams need to be able to insert themselves into the self-educational process of these low-level employees, or individual contributors, before they’ve made their final recommendations.

Photo: Carl Heyerdahl

How do you acquire first party data for B2B marketing?

This is the million dollar question…often literally. When closing a deal can represent hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in revenue, the stakes are high, to put it mildly.

Ironically, you can’t just spend to win. Blasting out your message through paid marketing channels with low quality targeting data is more likely to reach a bunch of teenagers playing Fortnite than the tiny segment of the global market evaluating products like yours.

The solution is neither simple nor easy, unfortunately. You can’t buy lists, sponsor events, or go knock on doors these days. Even before COVID-19 restructured daily life, the old ways of selling B2B were slowly transforming into their digital equivalents. In 2020, this gradual transition became urgent, sweeping reform.

No, the old ways of networking to make contacts and sponsoring events to gain exposure have been replaced with myriad forms of digital storytelling. We’re all forced to communicate through screens and content is the means by which we do so.

Videos, webinars, infographics, articles, interviews, podcasts, and other forms of educational media are how we communicate with our audiences -and this puts them in control.

B2B marketing has changed from a hunting metaphor (pursuing, selling, working) to a fishing metaphor (baiting, catching, wrangling).

Our approach to marketing has to be magnetic, attracting the attention of key influencers with questions whose answers you can provide. This means producing a volume of helpful content on a wealth of relevant subject matter, each article adding a “line in the water” to our fishing metaphor.

Answering a few important questions for the right influencer will bring you a hot lead faster than any Facebook Ad, and more cost-effectively than sponsoring any event.

Just creating content and putting it on your website isn’t a recipe for success. Magnetic content should be published on high traffic (and high “Domain Authority”) websites, like digital publications, major blogs, and other platforms which have existing audiences.

Creating compelling content (preferably based on original data) and distributing it through channels with large audiences is highly effective at drawing traffic to your website.

Once someone lands on your website (if you have ad pixels installed), you’re building first party data which can be used to retarget them on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to keep them engaged. You can offer them additional information (ebooks, etc) in exchange for their contact information.

In either case you now “own” their data and can use it to reach them again and again through advertising platforms. This is your first party data because the visit happened on your website. Leveraging that data on Facebook, or other ad platforms, replaces expensive and, often, bad targeting data with high reliable targeting data that costs you nothing.

Photo: Startup Stock Photos

A step-by-step summary…

To recap, B2B marketing has been shifting from in-person strategies to digital ones for years but the COVID crisis switched this into high gear.

Reaching potential customers isn’t as simple as just running some ads. There are too many people on the web and too few ways to identify the ones you need to reach.

Instead, the lion’s share of the B2B marketing process takes place online, in the form of people reading, watching, and engaging with content. Creating great content is important, but so is getting it in front of the right people, which requires publishing in relevant, popular publications.

Producing a lot of helpful content on a variety of recognizable websites will drive traffic and increase the “Domain Authority” of your website (by adding inbound links). Converting this traffic into opportunities is, again, simply a matter of offering the right bait (website offers).

The process end-to-end, in simple bullet points, looks something like this:

  • Document your ICP (ideal customer profile).
  • Build buyer personas for decision-makers, gatekeepers, and influencers.
  • Research prospects (companies) that fit your ICP.
  • Research (on LinkedIn) individuals matching your personas at each prospect company.
  • Publish content that speaks to each persona at each step of their decision-making process.
  • Publish lead magnet content (with original data) on popular, relevant sites.
  • Link back to relevant blog posts and resources on your website.
  • Pixel-track and retarget website visitors.
  • Convert visitors into leads with compelling offers.
  • Nurture and close…

This approach blends the best of content marketing, thought leadership, inbound, and ABM strategy into a reliable and sustainable demand generation practice that can be scaled to fit any size business, from small to enterprise.

B2B is increasingly specific, specialized…niche. Data privacy concerns are also growing, making a continued dependency on third party data a direct risk to future revenue.

If you’re looking for new ways to generate leads in a post COVID world or struggling to get engagement with your digital content, this strategy may provide some food for thought.

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