As we hurtle full speed towards the end of another calendar year, the usual slew of B2B marketing trends reports and views from commentators on what we as marketers need to look out for next year will pepper our social feeds and inboxes.
Publications whip out their crystal balls, check their tea leaves, and flip over a tarot card or two to see what they think’s going to happen, what’s going to change, and where our collective attention should be focused for the coming 12 months.
Which is pretty pointless when you think about it, isn’t it?
Change is constant. It’s inevitable. But it’s also totally unpredictable.
It’d be interesting to look back at some of the 2022 B2B marketing trends reports launched a year-or-so ago and see which of them mentioned the war in Ukraine, mass redundancies at giant tech firms, and/or the computer component shortages – 3 of the biggest things that ACTUALLY impacted how we had to do things as B2B marketers these last 12 months.
But these trend reports get hoovered up year after year because of 1 fact.
One undeniable fact about Marketers
We as marketers are addicted to change. We love it. We’re fascinated by it. As Ritson wrote in a recent column about ChatGPT – something else I bet nobody mentioned in their 2022 trends reports – “Marketers tend to get emotional very quickly when confronted with the exciting pornography of change”.
And in one such B2B marketing trends report, the HubSpot 2023 marketing strategy & trends report to be precise, 78% of 1,200+ respondents agreed with the statement “Marketing has changed more in the past 3 years than in the past 50”.
Which is utter bollocks if you ask me.
(And all just reinforces the negative perception many have of marketers as chasers of shiny things, detached from what is actually going on in the real world).
Maybe marketing tactics, channels, and go-to-market plans have changed considerably in the past 3 years but what marketing is as a discipline and a practice hasn’t changed in any measurable way in recent history (and isn’t likely to either).
Marketing in 7 words
Whatever your own definition of Marketing is it will probably boil down to something along the lines of the following 7 words: “positively engaging, influencing, and aiding the customer”.
No trend, fad, and/or bandwagon is going to change that. And sure, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of doing marketing changes based on the latest comings and goings but the ‘why’ of marketing doesn’t.
So instead of focusing on what’s going to change and what’s going to be trendy – and chasing the next shiny object – what would make much more sense for us as B2B marketers is to pay closer attention to those things that are constant, timeless, and don’t change (or if they do will only change very slowly).
As such, we’re delighted to present to you the “Anti-Trends” report for 2023 (which we’ll dust off every December from now on because these anti-trends aren’t going anywhere).
In no particular order (as they’re all as important as each other), these will be the 7 areas you should focus on and the big levers that can be pulled to have a direct impact on your own B2B marketing performance and effectiveness now, across 2023, and for ever more.
Anti-Trend 1: Talk to people like people.
It’s still a trap that many B2B brands fall into.
They LOVE their tech and solutions so messaging, comms, and value props wang on about “hyper converged, ultra-optimised, bleeding-edge platforms that utilise advanced AI and ML cognition to deliver first-class solutions” or some other nonsense.
It often sounds like websites and B2B content was written by a Dalek having a punch up with Deep Blue (the supercomputer, not the fish & chip shop chain) in a branch of Currys.
People don’t talk like that. But it’s people you need to talk to.
Even in B2B your customer or the individuals you need to influence will always be a person. A squishy, real-life, eating, breathing, thinking person. Like you. So, talk to them like one.
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 2: Emotion trumps logic. Always.
Because you’re talking to a person, having at least a rudimentary understanding of how their brain works (or doesn’t in some cases) through psychology and behavioural science will stand you in good stead.
Whether they admit (or know) it, a person will always have an emotional response first. Sometimes that emotional response is so fleeting that people don’t even realise they’ve had it, but emotion will always come first. Then people will seek to justify or nullify that emotional response with a logical argument or reasoning.
Scared about a ransomware attack? You should be, because the average cost of a ransomware attack is $4.6m. Emotion first, justified by logic (a relevant stat).
And this emotion-first way of thinking feeds into other areas of psychology and behavioural science that can be tapped for customer engagement and marketing goodness: Gamification, Risk-Aversion, Satisficing, Pricing structures, Game Theory, Cognitive biases etc. The list is more or less endless.
Understand how humans think and you’ll understand how to market to them.
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 3: Promote benefits, don’t sell features
Sell the sizzle, not the steak. People (and remember, it’s always people you’re marketing to) don’t really care what your product/solutions/platform does or how it does it.
They only really care about themselves (tapping some psychology and behavioural science here) and how your product/solution/platform makes their lives easier, simpler, and/or better.
No one cared that an Ipod had 3gb of storage. The average person on the street doesn’t even know what a gigabyte is, let alone why 3 of them is of any use. They did care that an Ipod put 1,000 songs in their pocket though.
The same is true in B2B. Don’t sell what the thing does, promote why it makes your customer’s life better.
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 4: You are not your target audience
It doesn’t matter what you or anyone else in your company thinks or feels about your marketing. Whether you, your boss, your CEO, or Doris in the canteen likes something or not means absolutely nothing. Why? Because you aren’t your target audience.
Everything your marketing is and does needs to be viewed through the eyes of your customer at an individual level to understand whether it’ll work or not.
You need to be the representative of your customer in your organisation. You need to get under the skin of these individuals, understand what makes them tick, and then bake that goodness into how you present your company to the market.
Desk-based research will get you so far but getting out into the wild, talking to these people, and asking them questions is where the gold is found. If you’re not doing that already, start. And start quickly.
You’ll learn more in an hour with one of your customers than you will in a week sat with your sales or account management team.
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 5: Diagnosis, strategy, tactics (in that order)
Lots of B2B brands will get to a point and think “Crikey, we need to do some marketing! Let’s whip up some LinkedIn campaigns and bash out a newsletter quickly”. Which, in terms of doing any GOOD marketing is putting the cart waaaaaaaay before the horse.
Before you start to “do” marketing you’ve got to understand 2 things: Firstly, your market (diagnosis). Secondly, what good looks like for marketing (strategy).
Diagnosis is foundational to good marketing, but it’s often overlooked. You need to understand the shape, size, and scale of the market you operate in before you attempt any marketing. Without diagnosis you’re essentially flying blind and relying more on luck than judgement.
Strategy is then the application of the diagnosis as context for your own marketing activity. It’s marrying what you know about the market to what you’re good at to find and then exploit the gaps competitors are leaving unserved.
Only then should you move to the tactics.
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 6: Any B2B marketing is only as good as it’s execution
This is fairly simple but something that often gets forgotten.
You can have the most amazing, brilliant, mind-blowing idea for your marketing but if it just ends up as a few organic posts on LinkedIn, an email or two to your database that hasn’t been updated in a few years, and an orphaned page on your website, it’s all a bit pointless.
There is no such thing as “build it and they will come” in B2B marketing (or any marketing for that matter).
You’ve got to get your messages, campaigns, and activities out there and in the face of the customers you need to see it. There are lots of ways you can do that – for free or with investment – but remember one other important thing: fish where the fish are.
This is all fed by an effective market diagnosis and strategy plus your understanding that you are not your target audience to select the right channels, mechanisms, and distribution tools to get the right marketing messages in front of the right people at the right time.
Easier said than done, sure. But with the right amount of planning, considered forethought and well-defined approach you’ll increase your chances of landing those whoppers. (And maybe winning some awards, which we break down in this blog).
Which leads us on to…
Anti-Trend 7: Balance the short term and long term
A lot of what is considered marketing in B2B circles isn’t. It’s largely short-term sales activation.
Whilst sales activation is clearly important, it’s all driven by quarterly targets and a pressure to deliver NOW that leads to a short-termist, tactics-first approach to marketing. This flies in the face of what we know in B2B where sales cycles are long, buying is done by committee and decisions take time to be made.
There’s the age-old stat that only 5% of your market is buying at any one time. So, if you’re solely focused on engaging those buyers you end up fishing in a small pond that everyone else is fishing in at the same time.
Instead, there needs to be balance between short-term sales activation and long-term brand building. That way when the time comes for one of the remaining 95% to buy, the aim is that they don’t even enter the small pond but jump straight into your keep net (to completely torture this fishing metaphor).
Binet and Field wrote the book on this short/long term balance, quite literally. They have proven through extensive research that a 60/40 split (or thereabouts) of marketing budgets for short and long-term marketing activity is optimum to deliver growth.
And that’s what we all want at the end of the day, isn’t it.
So, there we have it. The 7 Anti-trends you need to keep in mind and make very good friends with as you navigate a new year (and every other year that follows it) in B2B marketing.
These are the things that aren’t going to change anytime soon and will always underpin marketing done right. Hitch your wagon to these particular horses and you’ll go far.
And we know this isn’t an exhaustive list, either. There will probably (or more likely definitely) be more.
All the best for 2023 and beyond.