I don’t usually bother with the traditional “predictions for next year” piece at this time of year. But I happened to write one in response to a question at the Focus online community last week. So I figured I’d share it here as well.
Summary: 2011 will see continued adjustment as B2B lead generators experiment with the opportunities provided by new media.
1. Marketing automation hits an inflection point, or maybe two. Mainstream B2B marketers will purchase marketing automation systems in large numbers, having finally heard about it often enough to believe it’s worthwhile. But many buyers will be following the herd without understanding why, and as a result will not invest in the training, program development and process change necessary for success. This will eventually lead to a backlash against marketing automation, although that might not happen until after 2011.
2. Training and support will be critical success factors. Whether or not they use marketing automation systems, marketers will increasingly rely on external training, consultants and agencies to help them take advantage of the new possibilities opened by changes in media and buying patterns. Companies that aggressively seek help in improving their skills will succeed; those who try to learn everything for themselves by trial-and-error will increasingly fall behind the industry. Marketing automation vendors will move beyond current efforts at generic industry education to provide one-on-one assistance to their clients via their own staff, partners, and built-in system features that automatically review client work, recommend changes and sometimes implement them automatically. (Current examples: Hubspot’s Web site grader for SEO, Omniture Test & Target for landing page optimization, Google AdWords for keyword and copy testing.)
3. Integration will be the new mantra. Marketers will struggle to incorporate an ever-expanding array of online marketing options: not just Web sites and email, but social, mobile, location-based, game-based, app-based, video-based, and perhaps even base-based. Growing complexity will lead them to seek integrated solutions that provide a unified dashboard to view and manage all these media. Vendors will scramble to fill this need. Competitors will include existing marketing automation and CRM systems seeking to use their existing functions as a base, and entirely new systems that provide a consistent interface to access many different products transparently via their APIs.
4. SMB systems will lead the way. Systems built for small businesses will set the standard for ease of use, integration, automation and feedback. Lessons learned from these systems will be applied by their developers and observant competitors to help marketers at larger companies as well. But enterprise marketers have additional needs related to scalability, content sharing and user rights management, which SMB systems are not designed to address. Selling to enterprises is also very different from selling to SMBs. So the SMB vendors themselves won’t necessarily succeed at moving upwards to larger clients.
5. Social marketing inches forward. Did you really think I’d talk about trends without mentioning social media? Marketers in 2011 will still be confused about how to make best use of the many opportunities presented by social media. Better tools will emerge to simplify and integrate social monitoring, response and value measurement. Like most new channels, social will at first be treated as a separate specialty. But advanced firms will increasingly see it as one of many channels to be managed, measured and eventually integrated with the rest of their marketing programs. Social extensions to traditional marketing automation systems will make this easier.
6. The content explosion implodes: marketers will rein in runaway content generation by adopting a more systematic approach to understanding the types of content needed for different customer personas at different stages in the buying cycle. Content management and delivery systems will be mapped against these persona/stage models to simplify delivery of the right content in the right situation. Marketers will develop small, reusable content “bites” that can be assembled into custom messages, thereby both reducing the need for new content and enabling more appropriate customer treatments. Marketers will also be increasingly insistent on measuring the impact of their messages, so they can use the results to improve the quality of their messages and targeting. Since this measurement will draw on data from multiple systems, including sales and Web behaviors, it will occur in measurement systems that are outside the delivery systems themselves.
7. Last call for last click attribution: marketers will seriously address the need to show the relationship between their efforts and revenue. This will force them to abandon last-click attribution in favor of methods that address the impact of all treatments delivered to each lead. Different vendors and analysts will propose different techniques to do this, but no single standard will emerge before the end of 2011.