Congratulations. If you’re reading this you’re probably a B2B marketer in the engineering space, which places you at what will soon be the nerve center of your company. At least, that’s how the experts at the Boston Consulting Group present it in their recently released article, “How Digital Leaders are Transforming B2B Marketing.”
Their argument follows as such: The transformation of B2C is a fait accompli. B2C’s transition occurred due to a pivot in consumer behavior from pushed information to pulled. B2B has lagged behind B2C but will follow the same path, putting marketing at the centre of this transformation. The transition has begun and the trailblazers in this space are already establishing significant advantages over their competition.
If these early movers are reaping all the rewards, the question you should ask becomes: Where is my company in its digital transformation? And, unless you’re leading the pack, the next logical question is: How can we get there?
Simply put, the consumer has changed. This really isn’t something surprising. Just considering your own online behavior. Have you tried one of these yet?
Or maybe you’re not a fan of social, so instead you pulled one of these?
We’ve known that online consumer product research has been happening for 20+ years in the world of B2C. Academics as early as 1998 were writing about the internet’s impact on consumer information search (McGauney & Mason). It’s become old hat in marketing to say, “you know, the majority of consumers will read X pieces of content before making a purchase,” with X increasing with each passing year.
BCG’s researchers have taken this a step further and found that these personal shopping tactics are in fact being replicated in the workplace. According to their report, “more than half of all B2B buyers view at least eight pieces of content during the purchase process, and an additional 30% view five to seven pieces.”
The authors also highlight the fact that today nearly 50% of B2B research is being conducted by millennials, citing a 2015 Google study. As recently as 2013 the number was half that, with millennials conducting only a quarter of their company’s B2B research. They also observed that, “Many [millennials] also exercise substantial authority over their company’s purchases.” This number is only going to increase as more and more Gen Xers graduate into roles vacated by retiring boomers and later 90s millennials enter the work force.
If you’re a marketer hoping to reach these engineers then you’re going to need to ensure your marketing strategy is aligned with their buyer journey and expectations. That means being active on the channels they care about, mobile optimized, having a wealth of helpful and easily searchable content on your site, and enough third party articles, reviews and recommendation external to your site to corroborate your own marketing claims.
Few organizations in the B2B engineering space have accomplished all the above. Mobile marketing remains one of the biggest missed opportunities in the engineering marketing space and our own research has shown engineering marketers, by their own admission, continue to find it difficult to produce engaging content on their own.
It’s going to get better, the data proves it
The first step to winning in the B2B digital space is to embrace the new reality that marketing is now a data-driven activity. Good bye Mad Men, Hello Jeff Bezos. The only problem is B2B data is inherently more complex than B2C data. Buying cycles are longer, the value of the purchases are quite often infinitely higher, and there are a handful of people influencing the purchase rather than 1 or 2. Compounding this problem is the misconception held by many managers that thanks to big data and analytics the connection between marketing activities and revenue is as simple as loading a dashboard and seeing leads in revenue out.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that marketers are frustrated with their analytical tools. The authors in the BCG study cite a Forrester Research study that found that only 26% of marketers are satisfied with their marketing analytics tools. This is corroborated by findings from the McKinsey & Company consultancy that found that the plethora of analytics tools within an organization often leads to choice-paralysis, over reliance on a single ‘sexy’ tool, and ultimately suboptimal use of the analytical tools at a marketers disposal.
If you’re struggling with your marketing data there are a handful of things you can do to kickstart the digital transformation of your data. First, its incredibly helpful to have your data housed in one place. There are a handful of Marketing Technology firms out there today that can help you with this. I personally am a fan of Hubspot and its all-in-one marketing platform, but you’ve got lots of options. Next, try and design campaigns that are going to over time build out complete profiles on your target (and existing!) customers. Automated lead nurture campaigns are a great way to do this as you’ll learn where your future customers are in their buying journey. If what you sell is going to require the input of many people from various departments then I’d also suggest you look into modern ABM platforms – and make sure they can integrate into the marketing platform you’re using to collect your data.
Prime target areas for digital transformation according to BCG
Brand – Most engineering marketers are already quite familiar with the power of brand story telling. While marketers seem to ‘get it,’ too often do we hear that their superiors do not. This is especially true in the world of manufacturing, where B2B marketing practices are quizzically stuck in the pre-internet age. If you’re a manufacturing/industrial marketer frustrated by this then BCG is here to the rescue with an amazing example from General Electric.
According to BCG, GE is embracing digital transformation and applying digital technologies to the marketing of such products as aircraft carriers and power plants. Their strategy focuses on increasing awareness around what GE does, supporting their recruiting efforts, and engaging with younger (digitally native millennial) investors. According to GE’s CMO, “For every $1.00 we spend, we get back $1.25 in value when we layer in social and earned media.”
(GEpower homepage courtesy of General Electric)
Events – BCG believes that there is a great opportunity to align your events with your digital strategy. The two often feel like they’re on opposite ends of the marketing spectrum. Forces working towards the same goal but completely apart. This doesn’t need to be the case. The two activities can be mutually reinforcing, synergizing to a better summed outcome.
One way of helping both your activities at an event and online is to leverage event apps. Many large shows these days, for example Autodesk University, develop an app to engage with their show attendees. You’ll often either be offered a promotional opportunity on the app just for being a sponsor, or you can get it without too much difficulty by asking your contact at the show. Get that promotional offer right and you’re going to boost your event foot traffic and get more traffic to your website.
Another tactic that helps with your social efforts is to offer a prize to show attendees who talk about your booth or product on social media. The great thing about this tactic is that show sponsors want to demonstrate they have an active and engaged audience so they’ll often retweet or share posts from their show, meaning you can get a ton of marketing mileage for minimal effort. This increased exposure can also be self-sustaining, driving even more potential leads to your booth.
Content – Content is at the core of marketing’s digital transformation. Just about every engineering marketing department has embraced content marketing to some extent, but there is still a lot of room for growth.
After an initial flurry of interest in social media many B2B marketers have soured on the channel’s potential. According to our 2016 survey of engineering marketing professionals, less than a quarter expect to increase their spending on social channels. This spells opportunity to a savvy marketer, because according to BCG in three quarters of B2B purchases social media played an important role. Even more impressive – that number increased to 82% of purchases by C-level executives.
A further takeaway from the study is the importance of a multi-channel approach to content and the need for content variety. Too many engineering marketers work from a top-down approach instead of reverse engineering what their target clientele wants. One reason for this is that some forms of content more readily lends themselves to the capture of customer data, for example gated white papers. While a lead generated from a white paper will easily find its way into your CRM and allow you to easily track ROI, your primary business objective isn’t easy trackability – it’s maximizing profits. If large segments of your potential customers would rather get their content via videos on YouTube or from an engineering forum, then you’re going to miss the ball by focusing on content that’s easier to track.
It’s likely you know what your current customers want but that’s less true of all those you wish were your customers. To help there you’ll need to do a little research. Luckily, that’s one thing we love to do here at ENGINEERING.com, so you’ll be able to find a ton of research on engineers and what they want in our marketing resources section. We also are about to launch our 2017 study on How Engineers Source Information, feel free to let us know what we should ask in the survey box below.
I hope you found this article useful. Feel free to jump into the comments and let me know where your company is in it's digital transformation, how it's going, and where you're going next.
Thanks for reading and sharing,