Like all industries, B2B digital marketing is constantly changing. Inbound marketing has become well established and won’t be going anywhere any time soon. But the way we create content, and the ways we aim to deliver better marketing are markedly different than they were even five years ago. Such is the nature of changing B2B marketing trends.
We’re currently in the midst of several important transformations, most of which are grounded in technological developments and changing SEO trends. In this blog, we discuss some of the most important current developments.
1. End-to-end personalisation
As technology gets smarter, so does marketing. Today, both B2B and B2C consumers increasingly expect the marketing material they consume to be personalised. Gone are the days when a simple template email would suffice.
Personalisation means that the content of marketing material is tailored to individual users, customised for their unique interests, activity and interactions with your organisation. You’ll notice we use the term ‘marketing material’ instead of email. As time passes, we’ll start to see personalised user experiences begin to influence a customer’s interaction with your company, at every stage of their journey from awareness to conversion, and the ongoing customer relationship from there onwards.
The most significant transformation in this field, however, comes with the ability to automate data analysis using AI and machine learning. Techniques like clustering and natural language processing (NLP) mean algorithms are getting increasingly sophisticated at analysing consumer data. And by learning more about the customer, we’re also discovering new and innovative ways to tailor marketing material more closely to their needs, tastes and preferences.
2. Long form content is on the up
In the digital world, there’s a long-held mantra that content should be short, immediate and to the point. After many years, this logic is starting to become a little more nuanced – and long form content is becoming more popular for marketers who are looking to achieve more with their SEO efforts. Content getting longer and more detailed is one of the clearest B2B marketing trends that we’re currently seeing.
The main reason for this is that it ranks well. Google has more recently come to favour long form content on the assumption that the information within it is more analytical, useful and valuable than its shorter counterparts.
When you publish long form content, you’ll likely experience very slightly different results to what you’re used to. The sheer length of the content is always likely to put off a certain type of reader – those that want quick answers to easy questions. But as marketers, these readers are generally less useful to us anyway. What you’ll be left with is a smaller, more focused group of readers with a genuine interest in your ideas, who are willing to make a time investment for valuable information.
But it’s not just Google that’s beginning to prefer long form content. Readers who feel buried under the weight of endless content are increasingly finding that long-form content is better researched, more analytic and more informative. Regardless of the time it takes to read, it’s far more likely to have value than something that’s shorter. Google likes it, readers like it – and B2B marketers are loving it.
3. AI drives new levels of customer experience
Powered by artificial intelligence, chatbots can be used to automate basic customer service requests, meaning customers can solve simple queries for themselves without having to speak to the business.
These have recently become quite prolific on B2B websites, but there’s every opportunity for the technology to develop and find new uses in the new year. So far, it’s been used as a tool to aid user experience and optimize customer service. In future, there’s potential for it to develop into a direct marketing tool.
Could artificial intelligence identify what marketing materials to direct the user to, based on their queries? Could it combine this with identity resolution technology, creating an increasingly pesonalised user experience? The possibilities for this new technology to revolutionise B2B marketing are vast.
4. Is gated content out?
Well, probably not quite yet. But steadily, B2B marketers are moving away from the old methods of locking valuable content behind a contact form and hoping customers take the bait.
With gated content, you can only ever see one side of the picture – the amount of people who filled in the form. What you’ll never see is the potential viewers who gave up on seeing the contact form. That’s why it’s so difficult to compare a gated vs purely inbound approach. Recently marketers have begun to realise that the lead form may not be their best friend. After all, how many of the people that even submit their contact details can be relied upon as genuine leads? How many can even be relied upon to give their contact details? When you start to look into it, you begin to realise the evidence in support of lead forms is at best shaky.
It’s a big leap in the dark to get rid of gated content. It’s a big shift in mindset to suddenly decide you’re going to give away valuable content for free now. But if you think about it – is that not the whole point of inbound marketing? Is this not what we’ve been doing with our blogs, social posts and website copy for years now? Our mantra as marketers has always been if we create something valuable then the leads will start to come in. It makes total sense that nowadays this rule is being applied to more content and marketing than ever before.
5. Voice-generated SEO
In the last few years, the rise of Siri, Alexa and Cortana has begun a fundamental revolution in online searches and SEO. More and more people are turning to voice searches as a simple and convenient way of answering their questions. Today, the effects on SEO are limited – but we’re certainly starting to see promising movements that it’ll affect the industry more and more in coming years.
Recently, Google rolled out the Speakable schema markup, which was the first sign that voice searches were beginning to make an impact on the SEO world. In essence, it allowed content creators to mark up or ‘nominate’ sections of their content that would be eligible for a response to a voice search. Typically, that means direct answers to specific queries, in a fairly succinct manner. After that, Google would use its own algorithms to choose how useful the ‘nominees’ were for the voice search. In practice, the whole thing looks and sounds a lot like getting a featured snippet.
Today, marking content up for voice searches is something that marketers can do to give a helpful boost to the right kind of content. It’s very much still in development. But with the direction of travel for voice-based technology, it’s almost certain that it’ll only continue to grow in importance over time.
The future of B2B marketing trends
These trends suggest that exciting prospects are ahead for B2B marketers over the coming years. But it’s only when the strengths of each emerging trend are combined into a broader inbound strategy that the real potential of the future begins to emerge.
Until now, the marketing material different people consume has been largely similar, with personalisation focusing more on the products and services they’re directed towards. The marketing of the future will increasingly use emerging technology to find out more about each potential customer, making the resultant marketing experience more detailed, more personal – and more effective. The question is – will you be making the most of it when it does?