Yet another post about 2018 B2B marketing trends? Yes, but wait—this one is different. Promise.
Most “top trends” posts either tell what the blogger thinks (good), or curate the opinions of multiple experts (better). This piece compiles and analyzes the predictions of more than 100 B2B marketing professionals as published in 10 highly-ranked posts over the past month (best!).
Those experts provided a total of 102 mentions or “votes” for 34 different specific trends or activities across seven categories. The predictions ranged from honing content marketing strategy (popular) to sales-marketing alignment (a bit old?) to artificial intelligence (perhaps too soon). Here we go…
Content Marketing Trends
Content marketing itself first started emerging a hot trend five years, at the end of 2012. Today, the practice is essentially universal. But these experts and bloggers identified seven specific trends within the realm of content marketing:
Thought Leadership: There were nine mentions of the idea of basically doing content marketing better: more strategic, focused, higher quality, longer pieces that demonstrate true thought leadership.
“High-quality thought leadership content breaks through the noise of a crowded marketplace, and it builds trust in and respect for your B2B brand…business decision makers and C-suite execs view thought leadership content as having a meaningful impact on RFP invitations, creating preference with buyers and directly contributing to sales wins.” — 2018 Trends: B2B Marketing, Edelman
More Video: Though it’s still expensive to do well, online video tools are helping to bring down production costs. It’s popular, easy to consume, mobile friendly, and with Facebook and now even LinkedIn pushing it, video (five votes) will continue to play an expanding role in B2B content marketing.
“We already know that video is a high-value medium that offers great potential for engagement from audiences. But its role in reaching consumers continues to become more prominent: By the end of 2017, 74 percent of all Internet traffic will be video-based…If your company is still holding out on video due to the costs and concerns about generating strong ROI from this channel…enhanced targeting tools should serve as encouragement to get in on the action.” — 5 Marketing Trends That Should Influence Your 2018 Budget, ContentStandard
Pay to Play: Great content won’t have any impact if no one sees it, noted three experts. So whether through native advertising, sponsored content, amplification platforms like Outbrain and nRelate, or paying publishers and influencers directly, more companies will likely be paying for expanded content distribution in 2018.
Interactive Content: Three experts predicted greater use of interactive content like online calculators, surveys, and quizzes, as well as infographics (or interactive graphics, like this one on martech tools) in order to keep site visitors engaged.
Storytelling: Brands will place more emphasis on storytelling and less on product features in order to connect with prospective buyers at an emotional level, said three B2B pros.
Two bloggers wrote that audience building will be a distinct skill in demand next year, while one predicted greater use of content repurposing to extend the life of older but still relevant content.
Marketing Technology Trends
There were 22 votes or mentions centered on four trends relating to increased use of established and emerging marketing technologies to analyze and utilize customer and buyer data.
AI / Chatbots: Eight writers believe B2B marketers will make greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) in 2018, primarily by developing chatbots or using tools like marketing automation software with embedded AI capabilities.
“For many B2B marketers…emerging technologies are incredibly abstract and the direct application is not always obvious…(still) 2018 will see many firms exploring how to leverage these emerging technologies…with various applications such as chatbots for sales and service (in addition to live chat)(and) using AI to sift through data, identify trends and provide additional client/buyer insights.” — 7 B2B Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018, circle S studio
Data-Driven Marketing: This hardly seems like a new trend, yet seven B2B prognosticators put this on their list of trends or areas of increased activity in 2018. Growing amounts of data from an increasing number of touchpoints will be combined, analyzed, and acted upon to support other trends here (such as personalization).
“Marketers are increasingly data-focused and data-driven. At our best, we are data conductors – maestros who can stand in front of our analytics dashboards like conductors stand in front of their orchestras, leading our data feeds through our campaigns and strategies, skillfully balancing the different inputs to create something truly artful.” — B2B Marketing Trends for 2018, Act-On Blog
Marketing Automation: Though marketing automation software is already widely adopted by B2B marketers, four contributors predicted more sophisticated use of these systems in the coming year, by combining automated communications with AI and expanded data sets to better target content.
Marketing Technology: Three experts said B2B marketers will greater use of marketing technology (martech) generally,from content development and optimization through distribution and analytics, in the coming year.
Content Focus Trends
17 individual mentions centered on four trends relating to more granular focus for content development and distribution in support of specific marketing strategies.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM): Seven people suggested there will be wider adoption of ABM practices in 2018, particularly for high-value products typically sold into large enterprises.
“Most B2B markets follow the 80:20 rule, where 80% of income comes from just 20% of customers. This means that Account Based Marketing (ABM), where individual campaigns are developed for ‘markets of one’ can often deliver a far greater ROI than mass market campaigns.” — The Big Trends in B2B Marketing, Circle Research
Personalization: Another six experts predicted that, whether in support of ABM or other marketing strategies, the use of personalized content—in email marketing, website content, even online advertising—will increase in 2018. One additional B2B marketing pro identified “hyper-targeting” of content as a key 2018 trend; this isn’t exactly the same as content personalization, but it’s close.
“A (recent study) looked at the reasons why B2B business were not implementing personalization and found that a lack of resources, technology and data were cited more often than not. They also found that effectiveness of content personalization strategy is resoundingly high for those who have adopted it…(content personalization) helps you to supercharge your account-based marketing initiatives and provide personalized experience based on various customer demographics including company name, industry and other data.” — 4 B2B Marketing Trends You Can’t Afford to Miss in 2018, Entrepreneur
Customer Experience: Surprisingly, only three bloggers had this on their list of 2018 trends. B2B companies are increasingly making customer experience not only an area of focus but also the responsibility of the marketing function. There’s a growing realization that insightful white papers, pithy blog posts, and slick social media graphics don’t mean much if your product is difficult to purchase, implement, or use.
Social Media Marketing Trends
Social media marketing itself began emerging as a hot trend at the end of 2008. Almost a decade ago? Time flies. Like content marketing, it’s a mature and widely adopted practice today. But the evolving capabilities of existing platforms and continuing emergence of new tools keep this space interesting and dynamic. A dozen citations honed in on five specific trends under the social media marketing umbrella.
Facebook Marketing: It’s long been established that Facebook is a highly effective marketing platform in the B2C space, for local bars and restaurants, musicians, and fashion brands among others. But for B2B marketers? A handful of experts, at least, say yes; Facebook’s targeting capabilities now make it worthwhile for promoting content, events, and services.
“In order to effectively use social media and move the needle, brands need to focus on the right channels and invest money into these platforms. Facebook and Instagram are both strong options because of their high engagement rates, robust targeting options, and popularity with younger demographics.” — What Are Experts Prioritizing in 2018 B2B Marketing Budgets?, KoMarketing
LinkedIn Marketing: Three pundits predicted greater use of LinkedIn, a B2B marketing stalwart, in 2018, specifically citing enhancements to the platform since the Microsoft purchase (though ignoring the fact Groups have been screwed up).
“A fine-tuned social strategy will be the new norm in 2018, as businesses have years of data that show which platforms work best and where their customers are actually present online. But instead of slashing spend for social media altogether, however, companies will more wisely allocate their resources toward a single platform, such as LinkedIn. By doubling down on what they know will work, their investments are more likely to pay off.” — 11 Exciting B2B Marketing Trends You Need to Know for 2018, Brafton
Two B2B influencers cited paid social as a trend, though 1) that’s already been a trend for at least a couple of years, and 2) given the extent to which the largest social networks have scaled back organic reach paid is really the only option, this development seems past the “trend” stage. Two others mentioned Instagram (for B2B—really?) and one called out WhatsApp.
Influencer Marketing Trends
This was one of THE hot trends for 2017, so with increased adoption there’s bit less buzz about the practice for 2018. Still, eight votes / mentions went to various aspects here.
Paid Influencer Marketing: Four influencers believe there will be more of this done in 2018. Bloggers and others who’ve built an audience and authority in their fields are cashing in, and B2B vendors (at least some) are happy to pay for the exposure this can bring.
“In 2018, marketers will be forced to conduct research that identifies top influencers among their target audiences, and they’ll need to make sure money is allocated to fund these influencer campaigns. If you don’t build relationships with your audience’s top influencers, it leaves the door open for your competitors to gain an advantage.” — 5 Marketing Trends That Should Influence Your 2018 Budget, ContentStandard
Two experts each commented on increased use of organic influencer marketing in the coming year and more outreach to micro-influencers.
“While influencer relations are big, and everyone is focusing on influencers and micro-influencers, there’s going to be a push for real engagement, real influence…With the FTC cracking down, with the realization that too much of what is out there is paid and that’s it – no real affinity or love – there’s going to be a shift for real connections, real influencers that will be smaller footprints but have a real affinity and connection.”— 20 Insightful PR and Marketing Predictions for 2018, Sword and the Script
Tactical Marketing Trends
Search Marketing: Not so much trends as shifts in budget emphasis, two experts predicted larger investments in SEO next year and two others expect a pick up in paid search spending. Both developments are based on continuing changes by Google in terms of its core search algorithm, display page layout, and improved AdWords targeting, as well as the increasing importance of mobile and voice search.
“The rapid rise of voice and local search, rich card SERPS and smartphone usage continues to feed into Google’s latest algorithm updates, making the search engine a virtual mirror of human behavior. These developments mean that organic, natural language is going to perform best in the future.” — 11 Exciting B2B Marketing Trends You Need to Know for 2018, Brafton
“AdWords is showing more innovation, making it another area to focus on for your search marketing efforts. Most of the innovation centers on mobile, but a few new options use machine learning to add value and significance. Focus your efforts specifically on your building blocks like headlines, descriptions, logo, and images.” — B2B Marketing Trends for 2018, KEO Marketing
Old School Marketing Tactics: Three contributors pointed to an increased focus on traditional tactics like live events (trade shows, corporate events, sponsorships, road shows, etc.) and print direct mail. Events work because face to face interaction still builds familiarity and trust that digital channels can’t match. And direct mail may work simply because it’s much less cluttered channel than in the past.
GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new regulation taking effect in May 2018 which governs individual data can be collected, used, and exported outside the European Union. If your company does business in Europe, this is an essential trend to address, as two bloggers noted.
One expert each cited mobile (each new year has been “the year of mobile” since…2006?), “micro moments,” and expanded use of remarketing as 2018 B2B marketing trends.
Marketing Operations Trends
Finally, there were half a dozen mentions of trends relating to marketing operations, including sales-marketing alignment (seems a tad old for a “trend”), a greater focus on marketing efficiency (in line with increased martech spending), and more marketing coordination with HR for recruiting (makes a lot of sense, especially for tech positions).
So, overall, what do these 30+ trends in B2B marketing tell us? That quality content matters. That martech and strategies it supports (ABM, content personalization, automation) will play an increasing important role. And that new developments are creating new opportunities and challenges in areas we thought we knew well (SEO, event marketing, social media). That’s what keeps B2B marketing a fascinating profession.
What trends are you predicting for 2018?