The pace of change in the digital world has meant that the B2B buyer’s journey has become more complex.  No longer are we simply testing a one or two-channel advertising campaign, but rather we are looking at the integrated brand story delivered through multiple channels to a (hopefully) highly segmented target audiences.  This has implications for sampling, respondent engagement and methodology.

As B2B market researchers, we must all be sensitive to how the B2B world is changing and adapt and expand our approaches and techniques to continue to deliver valuable insights for our clients.  We need to understand the trends in order to both incorporate them into our research approach and help our clients identify gaps or weaknesses in their strategy.

So what are the key trends that we need to be aware of?

The rise of mulitmedia

The use of video content (and indeed audio) is increasing – and as people are becoming more familiar with it the demand is starting to seep into the business to business world.  No longer is traditional copy sufficient – increasingly it needs to be augmented by multimedia content as people demand richer content formats.  The use of video in B2B marketing has gained popularity and can result in higher engagement levels.  Video is likely to shift from a ‘nice to have’ to ‘essential’ part of B2B marketing strategy and we are likely to see increases in both live streaming and explainer videos.

And looking to the future, there is no doubt that in the consumer space virtual reality industries are growing quickly.  Whilst the impact has not yet been seen directly in B2B, in the medium term it is likely that these new technologies will continue to increase in importance when interacting with customers.  From a brand’s perspective, allowing customers to ‘experience’ the product or brand in a product simulation can be both powerful and cost effective.  Initially we are seeing increasing investment in interactive content (assessments, calculators and content hubs) and AI live chat tools to help brands communicate with customers and this is likely to develop further as technology improves.

Omnichannel approach

People use mobile devices more than they use desktops now and mobile platforms are also beginning to challenge the web as the platform of choice for business audiences.  At it’s simplest, it is essential that brands have websites that are optimised and provide a flawless user experience on any device.  But moving on, it is becoming more important that brands adopt an integrated approach to communications to ensure that a consistent message is delivered across all channels.

And to add even more complexity, the growth in the use of voice commands (now accounting for around 20% of Google srearches) is also likely to continue – marketers will need to optimise content for voice searches which will bring a unique set of issues and expectations.

Increasing personalisation

Buyers receive thousands of emails a week, and the challenge is how to gain a share of ‘voice’ amongst all the ‘noise’.  B2B customers expect something that recognises them, their interests and priorities and reflects their value to the company with messages that are both timely and relevant and they are increasingly intolerant of irrelevant marketing.

AI technology is allowing increasingly sophisticated personalisation of communication so that customers and potential customers can receive the right message at the right time.  But we know that many B2B companies do relatively little to segment their email lists despite the tools being available to manage and analyse customer behaviour.  Identifying buyer persona’s and then tailoring  the content and approach will be an integral part of delivering a customer personalised experience.

The importance of social

Traditionally focused on B2C, there is now a shift in B2B marketing towards social media as a channel to communicate with potential prospects.  LinkedIn, since its acquisition in 2016 by Microsoft, has developed a whole raft of features that are aimed at making it the most effective platform for reaching B2B audiences and Facebook appears to be responding in kind.

Most B2B decision makers will maintain active LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, and ignoring these channels as a means of engaging (potential) customers seems short-sighted.  Timely responses to their posts with relevant content may influence perceptions and behaviour later down the line.

We have seen the growth of social influencers in the consumer space in social media – and we know that they can have a huge effect on purchase decisions for their followers.  We also know that trust has been eroded – people don’t necessarily have faith in institutions anymore, but they do trust ‘people like themselves’.  Popular people in business can influence specific market segments and B2B influencer partnerships are growing.  Influencer marketing through direct customer testimonials and case studies or via subject matter experts or specialists will help expand the network of brand activists and help focus sales efforts on issues that matter to customers.

Author:  Claire Labrum, Strictly Financial