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Top 10 B2B & Inbound Marketing Predictions for 2015

As we start to settle into 2015, we are excited and optimistic about the outlook for business to business (B2B) marketers this year. There are many new opportunities on the horizon, and a wealth of sophisticated tools and resources to help marketers capitalize on those opportunities. To help with your planning and strategy brainstorming, we wanted to share our top inbound marketing predictions for the upcoming year.

Mobile/Local Growth Continues to Dominate 1. Mobile/Local Growth Continues to Dominate

Mobile’s rapid explosion will continue this year, and this will in turn fuel significant focus on local.

Mobile and local go hand in hand, as people who conduct research on their mobile devices want to then take action right away by interacting with a business in their area. As location-based apps, interactive maps and other tech tools continue to grow, hyper-local information will become something mobile users expect and businesses can provide more easily. The ability to not only identify a user’s location but also understand its context, determining whether a person is at home, in the office or even at the gym, will take personalization to the next level. This will let marketers provide the most relevant content, when and where a user needs it.

The combination of being situationally aware and having detailed insight about a person’s actions and motivations allow sophisticated apps to anticipate users’ needs proactively, providing information they need before they look for it. Marketers can then steer users toward a specific destination (online or in person) early in the decision-making process.

Cross-device tracking and syncing will play an important role in providing a seamless experience as the user changes location or switches devices. We’re quickly reaching the point where a mobile marketing strategy must even include discussion of wearable technology and how best to present context via that channel.

We will see an increasing shift to a “mobile first” mindset. In the past, marketers tried to find ways to adapt their content and services to a mobile audience after the fact, perhaps as an afterthought. Now, it is just the opposite. Marketers must have a mobile mindset from the start, using that focus to drive their strategy and then working everything else around that central hub. Being mobile-friendly is a good start but isn’t enough. You must now be mobile-centered. Google’s recent moves to highlight mobile-optimized sites in search results should motivate businesses to step up the pace in providing content designed specifically with mobile in mind.

This mobile dominance will force marketers to continually evaluate and refine their approach as they identify the best practices and most effective tactics for an audience that is on the go and viewing content on screens a few inches wide. To this end, constantly analyzing metrics to watch for trends and shifts in visitor behavior must be a top priority for marketers.

2. SEO: Alive and Well2. SEO: Alive and Well

Search engine optimization will survive, but the science behind it is changing drastically. We’ve gone way beyond keywords. Present your message based on signals and context, using all of the data we now have at our fingertips. You know who your customers or visitors are, what they do, who they are interacting with and what they want or need. And if you don’t already know this information, you should get it.

Among other things, you can determine where a particular visitor/prospect is in the buying cycle based on actions they have taken or sites or pages they have visited. You can also determine their geographic location and the device they are using.

This is all valuable insight that lets you personalize your content and target your audience, providing text and experiences tailored specifically to them. Even better, you can react to customer data in real-time, connecting with your targets at the perfect time and giving them exactly the information they need. This is much more effective than just trying to pack your text with lots of keywords.

It all boils down to relevance. It’s easy to provide relevant information with customized, specific messaging for dynamic types of content such as online ads. For the more static content that serves as your website “library,” you can provide useful content that doesn’t need constant updated by creating “evergreen” materials that won’t becoming outdated quickly. This could include things like case studies, how-to guides, glossaries, directories and similar reference materials.

3. Emphasis on Engaging Content3. Emphasis on Engaging Content—and How Personas Can Help

Creating engaging content will become increasingly important, and personas will be a helpful tool in guiding that creative process.

As we mentioned above, you must provide relevant content targeted to your specific customers or visitors. The more powerful and effective content provokes a strong emotional reaction with the reader. To know what your audience cares most about, you must know who these people are and what they care about. As B2B marketers, we may have an advantage here because B2B businesses often have one-on-one interaction with their customers and develop ongoing, lasting relationships that provide the chance to get to know these contacts well. But for prospects or customers you don’t know well, you still need a way to provide engaging content.

One of the best ways to do this is to develop customer/prospect personas. Social listening is a great tool for this. This lets you follow what your target audience is saying and doing, and gives you important clues about the issues that are important to them. Watching for complaints or pain points with their current process or provider can help you create messaging about solutions you can offer. (Social media is also a great way to keep tabs on your competitors, as well.)

Website analytics and other data you have available about your customers and visitors can also help you in creating a profile of your ideal prospects and customers.

Once you define and develop personas, you can then proceed with personalization tactics to tailor your content for your specific target audiences.

4. Earned Link Building Becomes More Important4. Earned Link Building Becomes More Important

Businesses will realize just how much earned links are worth, for both SEO and building brand recognition and trust.

As the name implies, these are links you have earned. You didn’t create them or pay for them to be included somewhere. Instead, they happened because you impressed someone with your actions, products or services. And now they want other people to know about it.

These types of links can be found in a wide variety of forms, ranging from online reviews to social media mentions.

Earned links are valuable because they serve as objective, third-party endorsements that are inherently seen as more trustworthy than those created by a brand. From an SEO standpoint, earned links are viewed more favorably by search engines.

You may not actively create these links, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily happen all on their own. You still play a major role in the process by creating high-quality content and targeting valuable influencers or thought leaders who would be interested in that content and ideally will want to tell people about it. Ideally, those targets have large online followings. Tip: writing about someone or their company is a surefire way to ensure they will notice that content and want to share that mention.

To help entice link sharing, try hosting a contest or offering some sort of free resources that people will want to share with their readers. Infographics are great for this purpose, as they tend to be popular and are easily shareable.

To earn valuable links, you must create quality content, execute it well via a carefully planned strategy and encourage brand advocates or industry influencers to read and share it.

Social Networks Play a Bigger Role5. Social Networks Play a Bigger Role

In the B2B realm, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular social media venues because they tend to offer the most rewards and opportunities for marketers in this sector. We don’t see that changing this year, but do see big things happening on those two networks that will be good news for marketers.

Twitter has been toying with a number of new features recently, many of them designed to let users make their timelines and tweets more interesting. Expanded video sharing options and the ability to tag photos are now available, and Twitter said it plans to offer more new features along those lines soon. More relevant to marketers, Twitter has also said they are working on ways to filter or rearrange the timeline setup so more relevant content gets more prominent visibility.

On the advertising front, they’ve got a feature called Quick Promote on the horizon which is similar to the “boost post” feature on Facebook.

LinkedIn has been strongly focused on B2B marketers, and internal documents made public last summer revealed that the company has big plans for B2B, with a goal of expanding that area in a major way as a critical part of its vision of becoming a $1 billion business by 2017. To that end, LinkedIn acquired Bizo, a digital marketing company with a focus on B2B audiences, last year. This would help support LinkedIn’s goal of building an integrated marketing and sales platform that offers a simple and effective way for B2B marketers to reach audiences, nurture prospects, and acquire customers.

There’s been a clear shift in LinkedIn’s positioning overall. Job searching functions are now relegated to the background, while information sharing features are taking center stage.

LinkedIn just unveiled a new, simplified look for homepages that will be rolled out to users in the near future. The important takeaway for marketers is the emphasis on content sharing and discussions. This is a fitting follow-up to the release of the publishing platform. The platform is designed to get people to create content, share it and engage in conversations about it, all without ever leaving the site.

One or more people representing your brand should be posting Pulse updates, and also commenting on others. By engaging in dialogues rather than just disseminating comments, you engage readers and promote a community feeling while also exposing your company leaders to a much wider potential audience. Ideally, you will become the go-to authority in your field, and people will eagerly check LinkedIn on a regular basis to see your latest insights.

While the content sharing and publishing opportunities are attractive, don’t overlook the valuable advertising opportunities LinkedIn offers. One way they stand out above other social networks is by offering detailed professional data about members, allowing you to target audiences according to work-related criteria, job titles or industry credentials.

Facebook doesn’t tend to be as big of a factor in the B2B marketing realm as it is in the consumer-focused sector, but some recent Facebook changes to search and local search are worth considering because they may impact your business pages on that channel. The new search function doesn’t prioritize local search results, which seems to be a big oversight (or missed opportunity) considering the popularity of Facebook among mobile users.

For sharing content, Facebook will become a much more challenging atmosphere in the wake of changes that just went into effect to weed out promotional posts in users’ news feeds. Businesses will see a big drop in visibility for their posts, unless of course they pay for promoted posts.

6. Video Gains Prominence as a Story-Sharing Tool6. Video Gains Prominence as a Story-Sharing Tool

As with other types of content, the trend with video will be an emphasis on emotional connections and good storytelling. Feel-good, positive messaging not only engages viewers quickly, but this type of content is also most likely to go viral. Marketers will look for ways to put their brand’s unique personality into the videos, such as showing fun “behind the scenes” glimpses of their staff on the job or by encouraging customers to submit their own videos spotlighting the company products or sharing stories related to the brand.

User-generated content of that type will continue to be popular. That will go a step further, however, with brands choosing a few select influencers or brand ambassadors that can tell their story or represent their brand in video format.

Based on lessons learned, marketers will realize the need to rethink the way they share videos to align more with their goals. Sharing videos on social media by embedding them right into a post may garner likes and views, but likely won’t drive much traffic to your website. If the goal is to direct visitors to your site, a better strategy would be to share a still image from the video, building a clickable link into the image so viewers will go to your site to see the clip.

More businesses will focus on creating a collection of videos to serve as a resource library on their website. New tools make it quick, easy and inexpensive to create videos, and this type of content is popular with visitors. Videos can be used for a wide range of purposes, but are a natural choice for concepts that must be demonstrated or explained. This video archive can then serve as a resource from which you can pull to enhance other types of content such as blog posts or social media updates.

Marketers will benefit from enhanced and expanded metrics. Google recently announced changes to AdWords for Video reports, with the performance and engagement dashboard now offering insight on both paid and organic video performance. Among other things, users will now be able to determine how much impact a particular video is having on their overall YouTube growth.

Marketing Automation Expands7. Marketing Automation Expands

Automation will encompass a much broader scope of tasks, as providers expand their existing offerings by adding new services and features, primarily in the form of apps or other easy and convenient tools. These apps will emphasize mobile-friendly tactics, such as incorporating geographic data that can trigger location-based content and offers.

Marketing automation vendors will strive to be comprehensive solutions, taking the traditional CRM and email aspects and blending in SEO, lead scoring, analytics and other elements that allow for a real-time approach. With content management added to the mix, this will let businesses deliver the most relevant and timely messages to their audience, boosting open/response rates.

This is an area where B2B marketers have been in the forefront, embracing and mastering automation tools to a much greater degree than their B2C counterparts, a trend that will continue to hold true, although as automation products becoming more user-friendly, widespread adoption will increase across the board.

One of the major themes in all aspects of marketing this year will be personalization, and that will hold true in automation as these systems will draw upon data and analytics to provide a highly personalized approach. Content can be shared based on a particular contact’s interests and needs, and can be selected or scheduled based on where the person is in the buying or decision-making process. Real-time lead scoring will further support the customized approach.

Incorporating predictive analytics will help automation systems anticipate and prepare for interactions with prospects and customers. These services will develop and refine algorithms that allow them to evaluate a particular person’s actions and habits (purchases, browsing history, demographic profile, etc.) that will help determine not only how best to interact with them now, but also how to anticipate what they may do in the future.

As automation programs strive to be an all-in-one total solution, those analytics and data resources will be used for all tasks. Transactional and periodic “checking in” emails will be tailored according to a recipient’s individual history, habits and preferences. Likewise, social media posts and interactions will also be guided by data about specific contacts or audiences.

PPC Evolves8. Traditional PPC Evolves

Traditional pay-per-click advertising will evolve, with a particular emphasis on improved targeting for smarter spending. With large volumes of data now easily accessible even to smaller B2B companies, all marketers will be able to customize their messaging and campaigns. Using behavioral and demographic insights, you will be able to create highly customized campaigns that are most likely to engage your target customers.

One of the best things about PPC is the amount of direct control you have over all aspects of your ad campaign. You can decide how your ads look, where they appear, who sees them and how much you spend on those ads. Adjustments can be made quickly and easily, so you can react immediately if you need to switch tactics or change your ads.

In following the themes we’ve already established for 2015, this is another area where personalization, mobile and local will play major roles. Location targeting will let you focus on people in specific geographic areas, and also those using certain devices. Your PPC campaigns will take hyper-targeting to levels you couldn’t have imagined just a short time ago, letting you come as close as possible to interacting with prospects in real time, showing them an ad that helps them make a decision, at the exact time and place when they need that information.

Businesses will also increasingly realize how valuable PPC can be as a testing ground to try out various tactics and receive almost instant feedback. This is a great way to do a trial run with specific messaging or keywords before incorporating them into your other marketing channels. The immediate data available from your PPC ads lets you make decisions quickly, and the insight you gain there can inform your SEO strategies or other tactics.

9. Programmatic Advertising Earns More Fans9. Programmatic Advertising Earns More Fans

More B2B marketers will appreciate the advantages of programmatic advertising as they have a greater understanding of how it works, and why it can be a smart move for them. This process of buying and selling digital ads in an automated way has many upsides for advertisers. Namely, it is efficient, easy to manage and can offer a much greater ROI as opposed to traditional ad buying thanks to targeting options.

In this environment of immediacy where everyone wants to do things in real-time, it’s not such a surprise that programmatic is growing in popularity. Real-time bidding is a critical component of programmatic buying, and helps marketers get the best value for their advertising budgets. This also lets them evaluate the return on investment immediately so they can quickly adjust their ads or buying strategy if needed.  Real-time bidding lets businesses make ad-buying decisions based on prospects’ recent online behavior, which can be a good indicator of what is important to them right at that moment.

This is another example where increased targeting capabilities are driving a trend. Using sophisticated algorithms to guide the buying process, businesses can zero in on very narrow target groups and show them ads that will best interest them. Mobile’s impact will be felt here too, and mobile programmatic spending will outpace desktop this year.

Within the programmatic realm, private marketplaces that just recently emerged will expand and thrive this year, as businesses see the value in premium advertising opportunities where they can be highly selective about the media outlets or channels where they advertise.

Businesses will benefit from an increase in sophisticated tools to help reduce fraud and ensure optimum viewability.

For those anxious about the unpredictable nature of the bidding process, direct-guaranteed programmatic will offer an attractive solution to marketers who like the automated efficiency of programmatic but want to be able to lock in their advertising partners and pricing in advance.

Native Advertising Spending Increases10. Native Advertising Spending Increases

Marketers will increase spending on native advertising as many see the value of investing in creating this form of content.

Native advertising is sometimes referred to as in-stream advertising, but it may be easiest to think of it as sponsored content. The name comes from the idea that it is supposed to look like it belongs on the site and fits it with the other editorial materials. Native advertising can take a number of different forms, from recommendation widgets to article-like content.

Marketers like native advertising because it works. Data clearly shows that native advertising has higher viewership and conversion rates than banner ads or other common forms of online advertising.

A hurdle in the growth of native advertising in the online world is the confusion and differing opinions as to exactly what it is and what it should look like. As more brands tested the waters on this type of content, marketers in general became more comfortable with how it could be presented and ways that it could be used effectively. That has helped marketers overcome much of their skepticism, and this continued widespread acceptance will lead to a significant increase in native ads this year.

One of the biggest challenges for marketers was trying to figure out how to scale native advertising for campaigns that included many different venues and publishers. So a trend this year will be more evergreen or general content that can be used or easily adapted for a broad audience. This is a much more cost-efficient strategy than developing custom content for each channel.

Native ads will take a number of different formats, with one of the most popular being social media in-feed ads, which are an affordable and easy-to-implement option that is especially attractive to smaller businesses. For marketers with the available resources, video ads will become a more popular form of native content.

Automated strategies will make native advertising more affordable overall, and also make this a more attractive option for businesses with limited staff or resources. Smarter tools will also allow for better ad targeting, further improving the ROI of this type of advertising.

 

We know all of these developments are exciting, but it can also be intimidating to try and figure out how best to seize the many new and expanding opportunities for B2B marketers. KEO Marketing can help with any of these areas, or can handle the planning and execution of your entire marketing strategy.

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    About Sheila Kloefkorn
With more than 20 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing,, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.

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