7 B2B Marketing Predictions for 2018

New-year predictions are a dangerous business. I will take the risk, and just hope that at the end of 2018 no one looks back to call me on it! B2B sales and marketing are evolving quickly — as buying behavior changes, and new technologies take hold. So, there’s a lot to talk about.

New-year predictions are a dangerous business. I will take the risk, and just hope that at the end of 2018 no one looks back to call me on it! B2B sales and marketing are evolving quickly — as buying behavior changes, and new technologies take hold. So, there’s a lot to talk about. But I shall limit my predictions to just seven, and hope they provide food for thought to my fellow followers of the B2B marketing scene.

1. More Growth in Marketing Technology — and More Consolidation

Ever since Scott Brinker began tracking the marketing tech space in 2011, when he identified 150 point solutions on the market, the category’s growth has been unstoppable. In 2017, he counted 5,381 solutions, up 40% from the year prior. This is nuts. And ripe for consolidation, as buyers sit paralyzed by the deluge, and vendors scramble to stand out. I predict major M&A next year. One corollary point is that marketing executives will need to be tech savvier than ever to manage their ever-growing stacks.

2. Predictive Analytics Becomes an Essential Tool in B2B

Data and modeling are nothing new in B2B, but the tools and strategies that have entered the toolset in the last few years are setting us up for a new kind of data-driven future. Particularly in prospecting, new resources like purchase signals (“intent data”) and lookalike modeling will continue to expand marketers’ access to new audiences and provide scale to their ABM programs. Look to Lattice, Mintigo, 6Sense, Leadspace and MRP Prelytix.

3. AI Gets Real

The marketing buzzword of the year, artificial intelligence will in 2018 prove its value in speeding up data processing and applying machine learning to digital advertising, predictive analytics, responsive websites, chatbots, and all manner of customer management. Look, when Salesforce.com introduced an AI plug-in called Einstein, my point was proved.

4. Self-service Analytics

As marketing tech gets more complex, and CMOs are close to controlling tech budgets as large as CIOs, next up is the need for simplicity, and new ways for marketers to take advantage of technology without becoming total geeks. Enter self-service, which essentially means more sophisticated business intelligence tools that feature ease of use along with speed and power. IBM’s Watson may be the most famous of the bunch. But cheaper, more accessible competitors will be coming along, I reckon.

5. GDPR Will Give B2B Marketers a Break

This is certainly wishful thinking, but my gut says the EU regulators will clarify whether some exceptions — or workarounds — may be available to B2B marketers as the May 25, 2018, deadline approaches. net in the UK has prepared a useful guide for B2B marketers on how to begin their compliance efforts. Meantime, Forrester predicts that 40 percent of marketers are going to take their chances and not even try to comply.

6. Customer Experience Will Become a Key Discipline in B2B

It’s been a long time coming, but B2B marketers are finally waking up to the fact that purchase decisions are based far less on price and more on direct and indirect experience with the product, the brand and the company.   Even in B2B, where things are supposed to be so rational. Sirius Decisions has been following this topic for some years. As interest grows, so will marketing departments focus on how to deliver consistent, informative and enjoyable experiences — online and off — to customers and prospects.

7. Understanding Millennial Buying Behavior Will Be Key to Success

I’ve offered tips about marketing to Millennials before. But new data suggests that this cohort is more influential than ever. They are now responsible for researching and influencing 65 percent of purchase decisions, and in 13 percent they are the decision makers themselves. Moreover, it turns out that the first place they look for solutions is not Google search and your website, but on social media. As these people age, their influence will grow. We need to be on their wavelength.

So, those are my predictions for B2B marketing in 2018. Anyone have others to offer?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

3 Wild Marketing Predictions for 2018

All year I’ve felt like marketing was a roller coaster clicking to the top of very high hill, about to plunge down into unknown loops and curves at freefall speed. It’s just a matter of what changes and when. Here are three marketing predictions for the channels I think will change the most in 2018.

All year, this industry has felt like a roller coaster clicking to the top of very high hill, about to plunge down into unknown loops and curves at freefall speed. I see technology cycles turning, and with them change is going to come to the channels marketers rely on the most. It’s just a matter of what changes and when. Here are three marketing predictions for the channels I think will change the most in 2018.

1. Email Starts to Slip

Email is one of the most important marketing channels. Just about all Target Marketing readers rely on it for their marketing, and most said they were increasing spending on it in 2017. It’s the cornerstone of marketing automation, lead nurturing, and pretty much all loyalty marketing.

What would marketers do if a significant number of consumers stopped checking their email?

It’s a scary thought … But look at your own email habits and tell me you’re not at least a little bit worried about it.

I get more email than ever before, and honestly read less. I bet you feel the same. Talking to marketers, I’ve heard a few times now that email, although still totally viable for marketing, is starting to get a little bit weaker. I’ve heard marketers say open rates are slipping, along with clickthroughs and conversions.

I think this is the year we’ll begin to see significant weakness in email as a marketing channel, and marketers will get serious about looking at other options that might replace it. (for example, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatApp.)

2. Non-text Search Becomes a Force

The only marketing channel that challenges the ubiquity of email is search. SEO and paid search ads are both absolutely essential to online marketing today … and they are both completely based in the current world of text search as we know it.

Amazon’s three best sellers in electronics this holiday season are the Echo smart speaker based on the Alexa voice assistant, the Echo Dot based on that same Alexa voice assistant, and the Fire TV Stick with Alexa voice remote. And there are a bunch of other smart speakers and voice assistants waiting to be unwrapped Christmas morning.

These devices are used extensively for search, interpreting the user’s speech with AI to go find the right answer. Those answers are far more limited than a page full of search results, though. Generally you just hear AI’s pick for your top result.

As this kind of voice-based interaction becomes more mainstream, it is going to have a huge impact on the search ecosystem.Image-based search is also coming online, and could have an even bigger impact.

I don’t know exactly what those changes will look like, but it’s certainly going to constrict search results, and perhaps dramatically alter how paid search ads are delivered. And the AI behind those results could be even more important than we’re expecting.

3. We’ll Begin Writing to Convince AI Gatekeepers

We keep thinking of artificial intelligence as something marketers are going to use to optimize marketing. But, when you look at applications like voice assistants, it becomes clear that AI is going to play a huge role in “optimizing” the information audiences consume.

This role may not be too different to the role Google plays today, but there’s an entire SEO industry dedicated to convincing Google that your content belongs fairly high up the search engine results page. The fight to “convince” this kind of gate keeper is only going to get more intense when the algorithm is a natural-language learning machine that’s only going to output the one result it thinks works best.

Right now, many writers feel challenged to write for their readers and optimize for search at the same time. We may soon find ourselves optimizing language to make that text AI friendly as well.

 

In 2018, New Challenges for SEO Await

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

voice search
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ruth Hartnup

Moving into the digital age has left me regretting my tradition of breaking out the new desk calendar during the last weeks of the year. I have kept both daily and weekly calendars for many years; and each year, I would spend an hour or two moving birthdays and significant dates to the new calendar. I also used the time to pause and reflect on what the new year would bring. The blank pages in the calendar were always an invitation to set lofty goals and make large plans.

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

At the start of 2017, three strong trends/challenges stood out:

  • The imperative for faster site speed
  • The need to put mobile first in all SEO plans
  • The push for secure sites

How have these played out? Did site owners move on these imperatives? What new imperatives await in 2018?

Site Owners Are Still Working on Making Their Sites Faster

Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is. If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.

The SEO literature is filled with information on how to speed up the venerable desktop search, but the frontier is mobile. It is a frontier that is increasingly settled by those who have understood the linkage of speed to success in search, usability and conversion.

Achievements are being made. But just as world records will fall in the 2018 Olympics, so, too, will site owners achieve even greater speed in 2018.

To stay in the game in 2018, don’t let up; continue to seek improvements on site speed.

Mobile Is First, It Hears a Voice

The continued growth of mobile is now being fueled by voice searches. Faster than fingers and perfectly adapted for multi-tasking searchers, voice-driven mobile searches will be a major trend in 2018.

Voice search is showing strong adoption by younger searchers, the digital natives, who think off of the box on the desktop.

Highlighted in my 2017 analysis, the need to go fast and mobile is still an imperative in 2108. This has not changed. Mobile is still a fast-hot trend.

The use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP) has been growing, but there are still significant challenges for creating these thin, fast pages for feature-rich commerce sites. The use and applications for AMP will continue to grow and improve over the next year.

Google has recently announced that starting in February 2018, it will be enforcing content parity for AMP users. Some site owners looking for the proverbial easy way out have been creating teaser pages that are AMP that require that user to click again to get all of the page content.

An example might be a news site that gives just a single paragraph on the AMPed page, but forces the user, who wants to see the entire story, to click again.

AMP was developed as a means of creating fast, lean pages — not teaser pages. In 2018, expect to see Google continue to protect the integrity of the AMP initiative by insisting that AMP users play by the rules.

As an SEO Trend, Secure Sites Have Jumped the Shark

A quick breeze through search results will show you that most top-ranked sites are now secure. If your site is still not secure, a pity to you and your impaired search results.

Today, having a secure site is a must if you want to enjoy the fruits of holding top spots in the search results. It is no longer trending. It has gone mainstream.

What New Challenges Lie Ahead for 2018?

For 2018, the question is the answer. As voice search grows, the language and syntax of search is changing. Search queries are no longer just short syntactically challenged typed Boolean strings.

Increasingly, queries are conversational questions: “Where is the nearest supermarket?” This query might be spoken into a handheld device or even a nearby digital assistant.

In response to this new line of questioning, Google now features question-and-answer snippets in the search engine results page. These featured snippets include links to the source of the answer. This is highly prized real estate, and search marketers will be well-served in 2018 to focus on having quality content that answers questions.

In 2018, the changing SERP page cannot be overlooked. Google recently expanded the length of the descriptions that appear in the results to provide more descriptive and useful information for users. This is a key must-do assignment for 2018. Review what Google is presenting in the results page for your key performing pages. Look at the snippet. If it generated by Google, consider if it is what you really want to see. For key pages, give them a rub and scrub, buff them up a bit so that they perform better and watch the results.

From this view, 2018 will be more challenges, but the results will be incremental. It is time to review your individual responses to this changing industry and turn the page to the new year with new, big plans in mind.

The Most Important Digital Marketing Goals and Tactics for 2018

As we’re putting a bright holiday bow on the year that was, most marketers have put some thought into what they need to do in 2018. Here’s what some see as the most important digital marketing goals, challenges, tactics and more for the year ahead.

As we’re putting a bright holiday bow on the year that was, most marketers have put some thought into what they need to do in 2018. Here’s what some see as the most important digital marketing goals, challenges, tactics and more for the year ahead.

This data comes from Ascend2’s “2018 Digital Marketing Plans” survey summary report based on responses from 271 marketers in November 2017.

93% Increasing Digital Budgets

One key finding of the Ascend2 research is that digital marketing budgets are overwhelmingly going up. A combined 93 percent of respondents are seeing budget increasing at least marginally, and 41 percent are seeing significant increases.2018 Digital Marketing Budget Movement

And that’s not so surprising when you see that 94 percent of respondents also feel that digital marketing has become increasingly effective.

2018 Digital Marketing Effectiveness

Digital Marketing Goals

With those changing budgets, though, marketers goals have remained pretty similar.

The Ascend2 survey pool skews a little bit toward B2B, with 43 percent of respondents saying they’re primarily B2B marketers, 35 percent B2C and 22 percent marketing to both equally. That breakdown is important as we look at responses to the “most important marketing objectives,” which put lead gen and sales revenue at the top of the priorities list.

2018 Most Important Digital Marketing Goals

Many of those objectives are also on the list of greatest challenges to these marketers in 2018.

2018 Digital Marketing Challenges

Here’s how those goals and challenges compare:2018 Digital Marketing Objectives vs. Challenges

Most Effective Digital Marketing Tactics

With those objective and challenges in mind, what tactics do marketers expect will be most effective for them in 2018? Social media, content marketing and marketing tech lead the list.2018 Most Effective Digital Marketing Tactics

Some of those also show up on the list of most challenging tactics:2018 Most Difficult Digital Marketing Tactics

And here’s how those compare:2018 Most Effective Digital Marketing Tactics vs. Most Difficult

3 Takeaways

That’s a lot of raw data, and there is more available in the Ascend2 research. What does it tell us?

For starters, I do worry when I see so much more emphasis put on lead generation as an objective than customer experience. CX is on the list, but it’s clearly a lower priority.

Maybe that has to do with the B2B bias, but in 2018, I think it’s going to be critical for both B2C and B2B marketers to emphasize customer experience. We’re seeing experience as a more important indicator of customer success, and repeat business, than simple conversion metrics like lead gen.

When we look at the tactics, we have to recognize social media as a tactic that is seen as both effective and not too difficult to pull off. It jumps right out of that last chart, and is a powerful argument for getting into this tactic if you haven’t already. Compare that to data management, which is seen as less effective and more difficult. (Although I don’t see how you’re doing most of the rest of what’s on that list if you don’t have the data capabilities … Unless marketers are thinking of the data as something the provider handles, which is somewhat the case with social media advertising.)

And finally, I see marketing technology coming in as less effective than it is difficult, although only by a few percentages. To me, the tech is essential, much like data, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to get too much further in digital marketing without real mastery of the tech space.

Have you started looking ahead to 2018? If so, how do these results compare to your own analysis? What goals and tactics and more important to you for the year ahead, and most challenging? Let me know in the comments.