Last week, I attended the BMA15 conference in Chicago, hosted by the Association of National Advertisers, along with 900 other B2B marketing professionals. And while B2B marketing used to seem like B2C marketing’s lame little brother, guess who just got their braces off?

It turns out a B2B consumer is a consumer, too – and buys just as many products and services.

Over the course of the three days we dove into big and forward-looking concepts. A few highlights for B2B Marketers who missed it:

The Customer Rules.
(Yes, even in B2B.) We talk about this all the time at Prophet, but at the conference I found that a shocking number of B2B companies aren’t thinking about their customers’ customer. Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” And to build a successful one you have to obsess over your customers. Understand what makes them tick outside of the connection they have with your brand. Innovate around those passions, and you’ll win.

Digital is the new normal.
(This goes without saying, I know). But a few interesting stats from Google’s Jim Lecinski:

  • 81% of non-C-suite professionals have influence on purchases
  • 42% of all B2B searches are mobile
  • 70% of decision makers use video as part of the buying process

It’s clear that B2B marketing professionals are behind when it comes to digital. It’s surprisingly difficult for some of the more concrete B2B businesses (no pun intended) to make the case for digital (both from an executive and audience perspective). But the ones that are using it (The GE and Dow AgroSciences of the world, for example) are breaking through in a major way and will help lead the case for change. My favorite case study? 3M at SxSw. Really cool stuff.

The rise of technology-driven marketer.
We’ve all seen this ugly chart. Well, its implications for marketers are even uglier. With more than 2000 marketing technology vendors out there, it’s especially difficult for those who don’t know who these vendors are, what they do, how to leverage their services, or better yet, how to manage them. It’s imperative to not only understand them and the role they play in the organization, but how to manage them in a cohesive way. Luckily, there are tools (yeah!) to help manage the sea of technology.

B2B marketing needs to look/think more like B2C.
It’s not about product specs anymore – it’s about emotionalizing your brand, understanding your core buyer and marketing to them as people. Like I said earlier – the B2B customer is a customer, too. Bottom line, marketers need to communicate (and provide) solutions that make customers’ lives better. As Russell Stokes, CEO of GE Transportation said: “In B2B marketing especially, you must come with solutions bigger than problems in order to drive change.”

Data is king.
This topic was almost overstated (but thankfully only one person called it Big Data!). Russell Glass, founder of Bizo and current Head of Products at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions stated these 4 keys to success:

  • Ensure you are relevant in mobile
  • Leverage data to be relevant
  • Nurture through technology
  • Use predictive technologies
  • Fuse marketing and advertising technologies (See the link to the ugly chart above)

Every company should be in the content business.
The key to success? Focus on one content type, over one main platform. Consistent delivery over a long period of time. And what seems basic but shouldn’t be? Put a content calendar down on paper (or a screen). B2B marketers that have a documented content calendar and actually use it as a business tool close 18% more leads than people that don’t have one. A couple of interesting examples of the power of content:

  • Red Bull – Red Bull Media House, their publishing unit, is a bigger source of revenue for the company than energy drinks
  • The Furrow and Homestead Magazine, publications by John Deere, are the most respected in their industry. (In fact, John Deere pioneered the content marketing and storytelling trends – check out Prophet Vice Chairman David Aaker’s thoughts on that here.)

Test, test, test – and test again.
It sounds like common sense – but do we actually do it? It’s easy, you just need to start. One particularly interesting session tied to this point was all about Growth Hacking – a once Silicon-Valley-only tactic now used to get startups growing by being scrappy with your marketing efforts. Now more than ever, it’s being applied across a variety of industries. Ryan Holiday provided numerous strategies for creating compelling, easy-to-test B2B marketing strategies in order to beat the competition. Check out his book here. (No, seriously, check it out – he uses his own technique to market the book and it’s pretty cool, not to mention a fast and easy read with a lot of takeaways.)

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