This year is all about data.
As the Web makes more and more information about users available—from tracking their searches and interactions online to providing demographic, geographic and psychographic details about them—marketers will have an increasing wealth of data they can put to use.
Having such access presents opportunities as well as challenges. Now that such information is readily available, marketers can craft personalized messages to deliver to target audiences across platforms, from tablets to smartphones to social networks.
But it also means investing in IT systems at a time when budgets are still being scrutinized, as well as hiring more analytics specialists who also understand marketing.
BtoB asked marketers what they see as big trends in a year dominated by Big Data. Here are five key ones they say to watch:
B2b marketers say Big Data makes it possible to market to their customers as individuals, not just business decision-makers.
“We have more and more data and analytics to help us get to know our customers as people so we can market to them in a way that is much more personalized,” said John Kennedy, VP-corporate marketing at IBM Corp.
“In the b2b world, we are able to understand our customers as people when they are at work, understand how they make decisions, and provide information and services to help them become more competitive and run smarter enterprises.”
IBM, which in recent years has acquired marketing automation and analytics companies including Coremetrics, Unica and Vivisimo, uses its own technology to analyze data and deliver targeted campaigns, as well as to help its customers do the same.
Kevin Cox, VP-corporate marketing at Actian Corp., a database analytics company, offers this advice to marketers about Big Data: “A wealth of information that can be applied to every facet of your business is now available and accessible. And the more digitized your business, the more powerful this data is. Start by supporting all your important decisions with data analysis.”
As companies implement marketing automation systems and other technologies to improve their marketing, they are seeking a new breed of experts who understand technology and marketing. That has led to the rise of the marketing technologist, an emerging position at b2b companies.
“Marketing IT experts are a fairly new role at Motorola,” said Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions, who was promoted this year from CMO to a new position in which he is in charge of all marketing and IT at the company.
Last fall, Motorola created a new group that integrated a group of about a dozen marketing technology experts with another of about the same number of IT people to work exclusively on marketing IT platforms.
The group reports directly to Conrado and is responsible for customer data; external and internal websites; and social and collaboration platforms.
SAP recently created a business information role in the marketing department to bridge the gap between marketing and IT.
“It's a tough person to hire; they have to be IT-savvy but also understand the business side,” said Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP. “A traditional IT person knows bits and bytes but doesn't know the business side of marketing. A marketing person who understands technology fills a unique role.”
Social media is becoming a mainstay at b2b companies, but now the pressure is on marketers to show that it works in order to get funding from senior management.
“The challenge is proving ROI,” said Sharon Crost, integrated marketing and social media manager at Hitachi Data Systems. “If we can prove that Twitter enables a sale, it helps us get our budget.”
HDS has increased its use of social media as a lead-gen tool. One of its campaigns, “Be a Star,” generated more than 9,000 social media engagements and more than 300 qualified leads.
Cisco Systems integrates social media into all its marketing activities. “It is very important to evangelize every success within the company,” said Petra Neiger, senior manager of digital and social media marketing at Cisco.
Cisco recently used social media to register users for an event and achieved a social reach of more than 7.5 million users within a week. “The ultimate goal is to increase the share of voice using social reach,” Neiger said.
While marketers are still debating whether mobile apps or mobile websites are the best use of their marketing dollars, many in b2b are finding success integrating both with live events.
“We're seeing tremendous success with attendees downloading mobile apps at events,” said Scott Schenker, VP-global events at SAP.
At its Sapphire Now user conference in Madrid in November, SAP set up a booth where users could view and download custom apps SAP had built for customers, and it also created a mobile event app with personalized agendas, information about on-site activities, city maps and the ability to communicate with conference attendees.
On SAP's mobile-enabled website, users could stream live content from the event, watch replays of sessions, conduct video chat sessions with SAP experts and watch online demos.
“A regular debate we have is whether we should force people to register to get [mobile] content,” Schenker said. “From an attendee perspective, we say "No.' We measure the best we can without interrupting the attendee experience.”
Some of the metrics SAP uses are mobile app downloads, video views and page impressions.
As b2b marketers strive to deliver more content and engage more directly with users on social media networks, mobile devices and other platforms, they are cultivating and training in-house subject matter experts to drive influence in the marketplace.
Hewlett-Packard Co. implemented a “social media makeover” program last year with several such experts, including technical and product development people.
For example, it updated Facebook and Twitter profiles, took professional photos and conducted social media training for some of its top thought leaders.
“We are getting our "stars' to engage with influencers and drive digital influence,” said Alex Flagg, manager of social media and digital content enablement at HP Business Enterprise.
One of its stars—Christian Verstraete, chief technologist for HP cloud solutions—had an 84% increase in average views per blog post, a 278% increase in retweets and 300% increase in social media mentions after a social media makeover last year.
Cisco, HDS and IBM are also leveraging subject matter experts in their content marketing programs.