You should pay attention to the hottest B2B marketing trends of 2018, but not for the reasons you might expect. You should be wary of them.
We B2B marketers ruin everything. We jump on the bandwagon of new channels, tactics and tools, following the herd under the auspice of "marketing best practices." Then, everyone is using the hottest new marketing "hack," and it stops working due to over-saturation.
The biggest example of this is probably email lead nurturing (see Trend 2 below). Five years ago, nurturing prospective customers via email nurture tracks worked well. Now, B2B marketing orgs are investing heavily in sales and business development rep functions (SDRs and BDRs, respectfully) and chat tools as prospects ignore email outreach in greater numbers and conversion rates drop off.
To some degree, you can look at B2B marketing trends the same way you look at stocks. Buy low, sell high.
If a marketing tactic you're currently using shows up in the trend list below, it doesn't mean your organization shouldn't employ it. Depending on your buyer persona profiles or account-based marketing targets, these channels could definitely work. However, until your organization has real test data, it's wise to make any trending tactics part of a balanced demand generation strategy. The main point here is: don't buy into any B2B marketing "cure-all." Diversify your tactics and tools just like you'd diversity your investment portfolio.
B2B Marketing Trends in 2018: Where is the Herd Now?
To demonstrate the status of several B2B marketing trends, we've curated some graphs from Google Trends. These visualizations show both search volume and topic volume over time. To read the graphs, pay attention to the line. The smoother the line, the higher the volume and the more consistent the interest in the trend.
To uncover B2B marketing trends that are just beginning to rise, look for jagged lines with a general upward trend. (We'll show you one at the end of this post.) This kind of line indicates a strategy that isn't too saturated and may provide higher-than-expected ROI.
Trend 1: Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing hasn't officially peaked yet, at least not according to the visualization from Google Trends, but it's probably close. On the graph below, interest in influencer marketing between 2004 and present is displayed in blue:
Over the past two-year period, there's been a dramatic spike in interest surrounding this topic. This is likely boosted by recent studies which show influencer marketing can be a highly effective B2B marketing tactic when leveraged correctly – sometimes yielding 11 times the average ROI of display ads.
If you try to approach influencer marketing like everyone else, you'll probably find this B2B marketing tactic is too saturated to yield really high returns. In contrast, if you approach influencer marketing from the angle of gradually building authentic relationships with key experts, it can greatly enhance your demand generation efforts.
To learn more, we recommend The Beginner's Guide to Influencer Marketing.
Trend 2: The 2nd Wave of Email Marketing
Email marketing has experienced two distinct waves of popularity. The second wave peaked in 2017.
B2B marketers should continue investing in email, but ensure they're being wise about creating highly targeted email campaigns for every stage of the funnel. Using marketing automation platforms (MAP) to the fullest potential can facilitate behaviorally triggered email campaigns to connect the right prospects with the right email marketing message at the right time.
Within an omnichannel demand generation strategy, email marketing plays an important role. However, achieving remarkable returns on email requires marketers to create email marketing campaigns that are both well targeted (by funnel stage, buyer persona and prospect behavior) and complemented by other tactics and channels.
For example, successful ABM strategies require both emailing current known contacts in your database and also leveraging 3rd-party demand gen tactics to acquire net-net contacts at target accounts. Further, as I mentioned in the intro, email nurturing should be supplemented with BDR/SDR/MDR support.
Trend 3: The 2nd Wave of Social Media Marketing
The 2nd wave of social media marketing capped in 2016. LinkedIn marketing as a subset peaked a little before the second wave of social, in 2015.
Don't quit doing social media for B2B, but be wise about how you invest your resources for social and which social features you're using. B2B decision-makers still rely on LinkedIn and other networks as a tool for networking, consuming and sharing influencer content and sharing peer recommendations.
However, as specific tactics within social media marketing become saturated, you'll want change up your use of various platforms. LinkedIn, for example, is continuously releasing new capabilities, so it's a good idea to stay on top of these updates and try to leverage them before their value is decreases due to overuse.
B2B buyers want high-quality, relevant, data-backed content from sources they trust. Marketers who can use social media to distribute content to the right audiences can still experience returns on investment. Merely having a presence on social media isn't a guarantee of marketing ROI. However, demand marketers who understand how to use social media for research, listening, lead generation and lead nurturing can achieve full-funnel returns.
To learn more, we recommend The 4 Critical Roles of Social Media in Demand Generation.
Trend 4: The 2nd Wave of Podcasting
Podcasting underwent a dip in popularity after it hit the mainstream in 2004. Then, podcasting roared back with a surge in late 2014, which coincided with two major milestones in the history of podcasting. In October 2014, Ira Glass of This American Life explained how to download a podcast on Jimmy Fallon's television show. The same month, the wildly popular investigative journalism podcast Serial was released.
Podcasting hasn't yet peaked. It's a highly efficient medium with a lot of use cases. An audio file is much cheaper to produce than a video file, and podcasts can provide an opportunity to deep dive into niche topics. However, podcasting brands face the challenge of standing out with quality content and gaining traction through smart distribution tactics.
Given this recent surge in interest, one strategy to consider is promoting your team as guests on industry podcasts. Start there and consider the move to hosting your own podcast after you get some experience under your belt.
The main idea to keep in mind is that, as much as the B2B marketing world loves to single out individual marketing factors as the reason for success, effective marketing teams and strategies are typically those that intelligently incorporate a wide range of tactics and tools, and often test novel ideas before they become saturated and lose their impact.
How do your organization's demand generation efforts stack up? Download the free "Demand Marketing Assessment Guide" and worksheets to assess your organizational maturity, technology stack and more.