2020 B2B Marketing Trends & Predictions

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he business of marketing is becoming increasingly complex. Lines across business units are being progressively blurred – including crossovers in customer service, service delivery, supply chains, and technology.

In this article we explore this increasing complexity of marketing and delve into trends and predictions across technology, social media, branding, content, and customer experiences. We also look into who we predict to be the winners and the losers of 2020 and beyond.

Modern marketers face many disadvantages compared to their predecessors. There has never been more competition within the market and as such there has never been a greater need to differentiate. While digital marketing initially offered an advantage to early adopters, like the market itself, it is now saturated with brands shouting for attention. Where automation was on trend in 2017-2019, differentiation through customer focus and personalisation will dominate for 2020.

Technology

Technology continues to be a key driver of marketing innovation in 2020. With very few martech and advertising platforms having yet reached maturity, this continues to be an area ripe with potential to improve marketing outcomes. Account-based marketing analytics, data organisation and marketing orchestration platforms such as Marketo entered the Trough of Disillusionment on Gartner’s Marketing & Advertising Hype Cycle in 2019, and are expected to reach the Plateau of Productivity within the next 2 – 5 years. Meanwhile, native advertising, influencer and advocacy marketing and social analytics which have been wallowing in the Through of Disillusionment throughout 2019 are expected to reach their Plateau of Productivity through 2020-21. Multichannel marketing hubs such as the HubSpot Partner ecosystem are expected to move into the Slope of Enlightenment in 2020 but are still 2 – 5 years away from hitting the straps.

Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising 2019

While there is real potential in a range of recent marketing innovations, Gartner identifies AI for marketing, real-time marketing, customer journey analytics and personification as reaching their Peak of Inflated Expectations throughout 2019, with the steep drop off into disillusionment expected over the next year or two. It’s important to note that this doesn’t diminish the potential and importance of such technologies but acknowledges that the hype around these technologies – driven by product vendors – has failed to materialise into productive outcomes just yet. A more measured consideration of these technologies throughout 2020 will see value delivery over the 4 – 5 years. A large part of these inflated expectations in relation to the utility of Artificial Intelligence is the perception that AI and Machine Learning is a silver bullet for marketers.

The adage of rubbish in, rubbish out is as true as ever, and we expected to see increasing emphasis in 2020 on capturing effective data and developing representative training data sets. Marketing Master Data Management (MDM) and Implementation services emerges in 2020 as a critical – if rather boring – factor. We expect to see an increase in the number of technology service provides that focus on planning, implementation and integration services for marketing-specific technologies. In fact, we see data as a key theme for 2020. Early adopters that start to focus on unifying X-data (lagging experiential indicators) with O-data (operating data) will be able to identify key satisfaction drivers and will start to leverage this to outperform their late-adopting and laggard competitors. As marketing professionals, we understand well that the Customer Experience is king, and those that can quantify their CX will take the advantage out of the next 12 months.

Finally, on the technology front, while taking a mobile-first approach is nothing new to the industry, changes in 2019 to Google’s website performance scoring (and subsequently to SEO algorithms) refocusses this point. Websites that fail to perform effectively in the mobile domain are already starting to slip down the search result rankings, reducing organic traffic and entering into the SEO performance death spiral. Being aware of and arresting this trend in 2020 could be the difference between life and death for businesses under these increasingly gloomy economic conditions.

Social Media

While digital marketing – including social media – initially offered an advantage to early adopters, like the market itself, it quickly became saturated with brands shouting for attention to consumers tired of being advertised to. As demand for online advertising “space” has increased, so too has the cost of advertising despite a reduction in its effectiveness. It’s unlikely that there will be a slowdown in demand for advertising and it’s also unlikely that advertising platforms – including Facebook (and Insta), Twitter, and LinkedIn – will prioritise organic posts from company pages over paid ones. While digital platforms remain a critical channel, this means that unless businesses are willing to increase their advertising budget for lower returns, they will need to start focussing on fewer, higher quality, authentic, and compelling posts to boost and rely more on individuals – especially those with influence – to share company posts.

That being said, the paid influencer market has given itself a pretty bad rap considering how easy and cheap it is to buy followers and engagement these days – especially through Instagram – and how much more demanding said influencers have become. For that reason, we predict that – especially for B2B brands – there will be a shift in focus from finding external influencers to investing in turning internal stakeholders into industry relevant micro-influencers.

From a platform perspective, TikTok is the new kid on the block and currently the fastest growing social platform. It’s highly consumer focussed though and most likely simply the flavour of the month so it’s not something our B2B audience should look in to at this stage.

While Facebook continues to come under fire around the issue of censorship, we don’t predict fundamental changes for advertisers or users of existing popular platforms in 2020 however the industry is likely set for a shakeup in 2021. From a content behaviour perspective, LinkedIn has increasingly irrelevant and sales heavy messaging from users to prospective customers. This presents a significant opportunity to brands who can introduce authenticity into their direct selling approach and refocus the sales approach from simply selling to an exchange of value.One fundamental constant in the success or failure of brands on social media is having a strategic plan for the year. If you don’t already have one, download your editable social media calendar now.

Brand

Market growth within a given customer base threatens incumbent sales growth, and as many markets are becoming increasingly saturated, their customer bases are becoming increasing despondent towards both advertising and brands. Brand differentiation and creativity therefore has never been more critical to business performance.

A strong brand helps consumers (including B2B buyers) make decisions. It informs them subconsciously – triggered by visual or auditory cues - of the quality, price and service they can expect if they make a purchase. Having a clear and actionable brand strategy will be of utmost importance in 2020.

Taking a stand to connect better with customers is one strategic approach that many brands have taken which has measured positive returns. As society becomes more polarised on important social, environmental and political issues, choosing the side your consumers lean to is a sure-fire way to become more relatable to them. Forrester predicts that 1 in 4 brands who don’t take a stand on social issues in 2020 will lose more than 1% of revenue.

Revenue and tactics aside, corporate social responsibility is an important and ethical part of commerce and its contribution to society. Businesses who choose more ethical commercial practises and who can successfully communicate this authentically to their audience will undoubtably stand out ahead of their competitors in 2020 and beyond.

Content

Trends in content for 2020 will be determined predominantly around their objectives – for example ranking in search engines versus using content to generate leads.

One recent change in Google algorithms prioritises long-form content with an average of around 2,000 words per page or per article. The intention of the change is to make researched and well-informed pieces of information more easily discoverable. Search engines are becoming much better at processing natural language and understanding content though, so while length is important for SEO, relevancy is arguably the key determining factor in performance.

From a formatting and delivery perspective – that is the type of content including eBooks, videos, infographics, etc. and the medium across which they are distributed – is unlikely to change significantly in 2020. Saturation will most likely have the biggest impact as these forms of content become much easier to create and therefore less valuable. This means that as demonstrated with the Google algorithm, relevancy to the audience will affect performance more so than ever.

Customer Experience

Customers are increasingly adopting the attitude that they’re not buying products, they’re buying solutions. In this environment, the Customer Experience – or CX – is more important than product quality. Woolworths recently found that for home delivery customers, a positive delivery driver interaction was the single more important driver of an overall positive Net Promoter Score. They found that customers were even willing to overlook small faults in packaging or product quality if the delivery driver experience was excellent. If 2019 was the warmup year, then 2020 is certainly the Year of the CX.

While there’s been a bit of hype around CX throughout 2019 via a number of professional services firms that would make us think it’s impossible to achieve without their proprietary methodology and technology, getting the basics rights is relatively simple. Using convergent & divergent Design Thinking to understand what the customer needs and then make it not just easy – but an absolute delight – to transact with.

Gartner has provided a list of the CX trends for 2020. While these should be taken with something of a grain of salt in the context of the martech hype curve, they do bear some consideration in the CX space.

The top five CX trends for 2020 can be summarised as:

  1. Artificial Intelligence. Using X- and O-data to gain deep CX insights;
  2. Virtual Customer Assistants and Chatbots. While these are typically more applicable in the B2C space, this doesn’t preclude them from having use-cases in the B2B CX.
  3. Omnichannel Customer Engagement – engaging with the customer wherever they are and providing consistent and personalised messaging.
  4. Real-Time Event-Driven Application Architecture. This is a complicated way of saying organisations should aim to implement a software environment which enables a range of different actions depending upon specific customer inputs. From an architecture perspective in 2020, cloud services utilising RESTful API’s are the way forward.
  5. Internet of Things. At risk of IoT becoming a generic buzzword, this alludes to a requirement to be tapped into every device customers interface with. This provides some of the O-data that goes into generating customer insights.

The most important thing about CX in 2020 is to get it on to the agenda. You don’t have to nail it this year, but if you’re not considering it, you’re putting yourself at danger of not meeting customer expectations and losing market share.

The Winners and The Losers of 2020

In summary, the winners of 2020 will be those businesses who take a customer-first approach in every aspect of their marketing – from the technology they use, the architecture of said technology, data management and reporting, brand differentiation, corporate social responsibility, and content.

The losers of 2020 will be those businesses who use gimmicks, smokescreens, and irrelevant messaging and who show inauthenticity in their marketing-mix. They will also be those who lack creativity and vision and who focus too much on short-term P&L reports.

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