Here are the broad trends we see in play for 2017 that B2B organisations need to be aware of, planning for, and ready to implement.
Augmented Reality (AR) hit a cultural tipping point in 2017 thanks to the proliferative success of Pokémon Go. Whether you caught Pikachu or not, suddenly everyone could see how the technology that overlays digital content assets against our physical world could be applied in all sorts of scenarios.
B2B businesses will leverage AR’s capacity to communicate complex ideas clearly, and we anticipate growth in multi-dimensional training tools (for staff and end-users), sales kits, point-of-sale materials and event installations.
Virtual Reality will also make significant strides in 2017 but is unlikely to be adopted by B2B as a de facto technique or channel (yet). However, forward-leaning B2B organisations will start testing and learning more with this experiential platform in the new year, using it to bring product stories to life, offer compelling demonstrations or training, and most importantly, spark the imaginations of an audience exhausted by the incessant parade of interchangeable marketing content.
Bots join the team
Autonomous software bots didn’t arrive in 2016, but they certainly entered the consciousness. Already popular for simple chat applications like customer service and scheduling, bots are likely to take on more responsibilities in the B2B ecosystem in the coming 12 months, putting further pressure on B2B sales teams to add uniquely human value for prospects and customers.
Bots will optimise marketing, synthesise user research, and answer questions about helpful, decision-making content. Expect them to help B2B organisations scale with precision, and allow the shifting of operational costs to higher impact zones, such as customer experience. The
Wolf Bot of Wall Street? Could be!
Who doesn’t want to see the future and be able to act before their competitor? Joining the bots on the extended team are a range of smart systems that utilise machine learning to create predictive analytics that can feed all B2B marketing efforts.
The promise of big data has felt hollow to many businesses, who have been struggling to keep up with too many sources and too few shared truths across those sources. Predictive analytics promises to bridge that gap by crunching all that data and spitting out useful compass bearings. However, you still need to know what you want to predict and have the core systems to feed machine learning – namely a marketing automation platform and a CRM. You also need Sales and Marketing Alignment, without which you’ll waste valuable time arguing about what to forecast and how the organisation should interpret it.
More with less
Content marketing, email marketing, and to a lesser extent, social media marketing, will be digging in for the new year, but across the board, it’s expected that B2B marketers will do more with less. This is a sorely needed course correction against the standard, over-zealous investment in newer techniques or technologies.
Each of these marketing areas has matured considerably, and marketers will start working toward a world where they send one deeply contextual, hyper-personalised email, rather than numerous broad brush communications. B2B marketers will also start repurposing and remixing more of the content and social assets they already have, rather than producing new assets for the pure sake of ‘freshness’.
A digital layer to the organisation has been effective ‘hygiene’ for a number of years – that is to say, nothing new and nothing unique. However many B2B organisations still quarantine digital strategy, marketing and operations from ‘non-digital’, and wonder why it’s challenging to connect the dots. The result – chasing platforms, channels and tactics like fads, rather than figuring out how best to serve a targeted audience on their terms.
Initially, digital strategy became digital business strategy. In 2017 digital is likely to dissolve further into the whole, with B2B marketers abandoning unhelpful silos and working to focus on multi-modal basics that transcend medium or message (who, what and why).
Return on everyone’s investment
Just as B2B marketers have been striving to capture and prove Return on Marketing Investment within the organisation, so too will Sales and other stakeholders. Sales, in particular, is likely to be vulnerable to the axe, with buyers now preferring to boot-strap their way through more than 70% of the journey to purchase.
The worst possible move here is to ratchet up sales aggressiveness or competitiveness to prove worth; it’ll chase prospects away and provoke misalignment with internal objectives. Instead, sales – like marketing – will need to identify, measure and attribute business value beyond the initial revenue win. Look to measures like customer worth over time, loyalty and advocacy across a customer community. Marketing will continue to be measured against sales outcomes over time.
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