If companies are to thrive in this digital age — where buyers, empowered by technology, are in control — what should B2B marketing leadership do to evolve and survive the current pace of change?
Evolution is one of those great marketing clichés. The progression of man from ape to Homo sapien in five simple steps is one of those popular images most of us are guilty of using at one point to illustrate progressive change. But cliché also implies recognizable. Ask anyone to describe Charles Darwin's theory in one short sentence, and you will hear, "Well, it's about the survival of the fittest."
It's interesting to note, on the 154th anniversary month of the first publication of On the Origin of Species, that this description doesn't quite go far enough. What Darwin said was, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." (Image source: Wikipedia shows the only image in the original publication of On the Origin of Species — Darwin's handwritten diagram showing how characteristics diverge over time.)
Listen up, B2B marketing leadership, this means you.
Stacey and I caught up last week, and she peppered me with some interesting questions about the business value of thought leadership, how to organize/staff around thought leadership, and what are the leadership/governance models that work. We thought it would be fun to write up our chat in the form of a (rather lengthy) Q&A, shared with you below.
Reading through it, I think it's important to approach thought leadership as an organization, and not just a marketing activity or program. True thought leadership happens when the market talks back, and you get to exchange valuable insight with other leading thinkers on the topic. Kinda like Stacey and I do here.
Yet B2B CMOs can't continue to rely on measures like brand awareness, trade show scans, or website traffic to demonstrate the benefit their departments deliver. Those who do will be shown to the door as CEOs and CFOs raise the bar on accountability -- and getting the right attention here is a substantial challenge when so few execs rely on marketing data in their decision making (see figure to the right.)
For B2B marketers, June 30th can have a ‘last day of school’ feel about it. It’s a chance to catch our breath after a full slate of Q1’s kick-offs and launches and Q2’s promotions, tradeshows and roadshows. But, like today’s kids, who no longer while away the summer playing in the woods or frolicking in the pool, today’s B2B marketers need to use the summer to improve: to build new skills, expand our horizons, and prepare for the new adventures that await us in the fall. Think of it as Marketing Summer Camp.
If I were the Activities Director at Camp B2B, I’d build a program of reflection, assessment, and improvement with a focus on::
People: Make learning a priority.
Pipeline: Take a hard look at marketing’s contribution to the revenue pipeline.
Process: Identify your conversion weak spots and remediate.
You can no longer segment your business customers into those who use social media for business purposes and those who do not. Why not? Because according to Forrester’s newest B2B Social Technographics® numbers, fully 100% of business decision-makers use social media for work purposes. Other stunningly high numbers: 98% of business decision-makers are Spectators (they read blogs, watch videos, or listen to podcasts), 79% are Joiners (they maintain a profile on social networking sites), and 75% are Critics (they comment on blogs and post ratings and reviews), all in the context of their business activities.
Therefore, it’s no longer a question of whether you should use social, but how. B2B marketing executives no longer need convincing to invest in social. However, social marketing efforts are maturing beyond experimentation — where measuring results is secondary — to science. At this more advanced stage of maturity, marketers need to understand exactly how and when their customers are using social and target them differently in each stage of the customer life cycle.
Your customers don’t make blanket use of “social media,” “social networks,” or “communities” in general. Instead, they use specific social networks and communities for specific goals, both personal and business-related. The communities your customers visit for personal reasons are not always the ones they use for business purposes.
For business purposes, the No. 1 and No. 2 communities aren’t specific public social networks but “niche” communities focused on specific objectives. For example, business technology buyers might visit IT Central Station or Spiceworks to learn more about multiple competing technologies at once; alternatively, they might visit a community managed by a single brand, such as the Cisco Communities or SAP Community Network (SCN).
Digital channels, online social activity, and mobile technology give business buyers unprecedented purchasing power. Just look around your next sales or customer meeting, count the number of smartphones and tablets, and see if you disagree.
To capture the attention of the perpetually-connected business buyer, we see B2B CMOs taking on significantly broader, and often unfamiliar, responsibilities. To learn exactly how top marketers respond to these new world challenges, Forrester teamed with the BMA to conduct a joint study about the pace of change, skills required, and degree of collaboration needed to deliver the always-on experiences business buyers now expect.
Internet, search marketing, digital advertising, sales enablement, social media, video, online communities, mobile, predictive analytics, content curation . . . Is it even possible for the pace of change in marketing activity to continue to accelerate? According to top marketing leaders in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, absolutely. So get ready, folks, the rocket ride isn't over.
During the month of May, Forrester and the BMA collaborated to entice and persuade 117 CMOs and senior VPs at firms roughly split between companies with fewer than 5,000 employees and those with 5,000 or more — to respond to attitudinal questions about the pace of change, the role of marketing, evolving skill sets, and the degree of collaboration between marketing and peer functions.
Last month, together with the ITSMA and VisionEdge Marketing (VEM), Forrester launched a research study to understand whether business-to-business (B2B) marketers have become more proficient in using marketing metrics and analytics to inform marketing decisions, predict buyer behavior, improve marketing performance, and help their firms better analyze markets and forecast trends.
This is the 12th year that VEM has undertaken this research, and we were pleased to be a part of such a rich legacy. The 2013 MPM Survey captured input from more than 400 respondents, helping us uncover valuable insights on the performance measurement and management challenges marketers face today.
Depending on which side you stand on the executive debate about how to assess the value of marketing to your organization, the findings of this year's study may (or may not) surprise you.
Even though marketing measurement has become more automated and operationally commonplace, B2B marketers continue to struggle to prove marketing's contribution to the business instead of using metrics and performance management to improve it. One of the most telling findings that leads us to this conclusion is the percentage of executive peers reported to use marketing data to make strategic decisions — as revealed by marketers themselves.
In the run-up to Forrester’s Forum For Marketing Leaders EMEA next week, I also had a chance to connect with Arthur Calderwood, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Sales Operations at SITA, in advance of his Marketer Spotlight presentation one day one of our event. Arthur will be speaking about how at SITA he blends experiences, products, and messaging to achieve the brand vision. Check out a preview of Arthur’s session in the below Q&A, or join me in London, May 21-22, to hear SITA’s full story.
Q: Does content and thought leadership play a more important role in B2B branding today? At what stage in the customer lifecycle does content make the biggest impact?
A: Content is critical in building credibility and also as a way to differentiate versus your competitors. But from a B2B perspective you have to be sure you are or can be seen as a credible thought leader with the right expertise to deliver valuable content and opinion. Many companies end up writing pieces which are often too generic, do not deliver real value and unfortunately blend into the mass of other communication on the same topic. Strategically you need to carefully pick the topics you will address, possibly partner with another credible source on the topic, conduct some primary research and be willing to take a stand in the discussion. At SITA we have, for the air transport industry, run a series of annual trend surveys and reports (Airline IT Trends, Airport IT Trends, Baggage & Passenger Self Service trends). These provide us with a platform to write content, released through all channels, to engage the market. They are fortunately unique in our market and have established SITA as a credible source for this type of know-how.