An Insider’s Perspective on Marketing in 2014

December 3rd, 2013

At Sales Engine, we're pretty excited about our new Chief Content Officer, Dave Wolpert. Recently, I took a few minutes of his time to get his insights on what trends he expects to see in BtoB digital marketing in the coming year.

What should be the easiest part of planning a 2014 marketing strategy for BtoBs?
Marketing strategy is never easy. But the most important part should be acknowledging that content must play the lead role in that strategy. Your prospects no longer follow a linear buying process tightly controlled by a sales executive. Today, prospects typically do quite a bit of research before making first contact with your sales team. They read white papers, watch webinars, peruse your website, read product reviews and much more. That’s content.

Content marketing, as a field, really has become the new marketing in a BtoB context. Once companies embrace that philosophically, the tighter-focused strategy question becomes, How can I best use content to generate leads?

In 2014, some companies may be adopting a content marketing strategy for the first time. If they can only focus on one content type, what do you see as the most valuable?
It’s best to deliver your messages in multiple formats because different people prefer to consume different kinds of content. Some people prefer to watch online videos while others prefer to read white papers, for instance. But many companies find it challenging to produce multiple forms of content due to a lack of in-house expertise or budget constraints.

I would advise companies just starting out with content marketing not to get wrapped around the axle about the content format. What really matters is that you’re producing something that engages a prospect, whatever it is. I’ve seen an infographic deliver as many leads as a 15-page white paper. If you know what interests your target audience, create something—anything—that speaks to it. Ultimately, that’s what will drive leads.

What made infographics such a “big thing” in 2013? Do you see them evolving in some way in 2014?
I don’t foresee infographics evolving radically, but expect to see far more of them in 2014. The key business benefit of infographics is that they’re more likely to get promoted on social media (that is, “go viral”) than, say, a blog post containing nothing but text. This social promotion can help you rope in new audiences. People like pictures, people like facts in bite-sized pieces, and most people appreciate design. Done right, an infographic nicely combines those elements.

But a pretty picture is not enough. To be used successfully in BtoB marketing programs, the data the infographic conveys must be relevant to your target audience and provide some useful information.

Where are BtoBs most likely to struggle in their 2014 demand gen planning and execution?
On the planning side, the most common problem I’ve seen will continue to be the biggest problem in 2014: failing to uncover early on what your customers most care about. Without that insight, your content will fail to resonate with prospects and won’t drive sales.

On the execution side, there are two big challenges. One is adaptation. Companies need to learn fast and pivot fast when necessary. Marketing automation software can help tremendously in this respect by tracking which content assets your prospects like and which ones they don’t. If the content is engaging your prospects, create more content like that. If it’s not working, try something else.

The other execution challenge is setting appropriate expectations for nurturing and the number of marketing touch points required to move a potential customer to an opportunity stage. It never happens that a prospect downloads a single white paper and immediately becomes your customer. In most cases, it takes several offers of different kinds of content over time before a prospect moves down the sales funnel. Again, marketing automation software and good campaign execution skill can make all the difference here.

How do you see BtoB organizations’ use of social media, as part of their overall digital strategy, changing in 2014? Do you see a change in the prioritization of channels?
Social media is still a relatively new frontier for most BtoB organizations, and it’s changing all the time. Companies are still experimenting with it and learning what works and what doesn’t.

I expect LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, and to a lesser extent Facebook will continue to be the dominant BtoB social channels in 2014. Pinterest might become more interesting, too, as companies experiment with new ways to tap its vast audience. But I think Google+ will be the fastest-growing BtoB social channel in 2014. According to the Content Marketing Institute, BtoB use of Google+ jumped from 39 percent in 2012 to 55 percent in 2013.

Google+ will probably climb even higher in importance for BtoB organizations in 2014, for two reasons. The first is an SEO issue. Google will most likely continue to evolve its search algorithm to favor companies and individuals with large numbers of connections on Google+. The second reason is that I suspect professionals will increasingly view Google+ as a sort of “Facebook for adults.” If you want to reach business customers, this is where they’ll be in the largest numbers (and on LinkedIn, of course).