Assessing the State of B2B Digital Marketing

Regalix-Most-Important-Factors-Future-B2B-Digital-Marketing-Initiatives-Mar2016Digital marketing is taking on more importance at B2B organizations, although offline marketing channels continue to occupy the largest share of budgets, according to new reports from Regalix [download page] and DemandWave [download page]. The studies find that revenue and sales increases are the top marketing objectives for B2B companies, with quality and quantity of leads the leading goals for digital marketing efforts.

[Editor’s note: MarketingCharts’ recent “B2B Digital Marketing Insights Report” contains more than 100 charts and insights on various digital marketing topics relevant to B2B organizations today. The report can be purchased here.]

Objectives and Challenges

Turning first to the DemandWave study that focuses exclusively on digital marketing, the survey results indicate that while the delivery of quality leads is marketers’ top objective, measuring and proving ROI (with which CMOs are having┬áconsiderable difficulty) is the biggest digital marketing challenge, with more respondents saying this is their biggest challenge than in the previous two years of the study. In fact, a plurality (35%) of respondents reported not having an attribution model to measure digital marketing ROI, though multi-channel was the most common among those with one.

Meanwhile, delivering quality leads is a much larger challenge than generating enough leads, per respondents, with that being in line with a general focus on lead quality over lead quantity this year.

Among the Regalix respondents, revenue increases (69%) represented the most common objective that marketers accomplished in 2015, followed by an increase in leads generated (68%), increases in sales (65%) and an increase in customers acquired (62%). Despite all of the attention paid to customer experience, relatively few respondents (35%), by comparison, said they had improved their customer experience.

Looking ahead, revenue increases (67%) represent the top marketing objective for 2016, with fewer (41%) again pointing to a better customer experience or improved engagement/customer relationships (54%).

Digital vs. Traditional

Digital is taking precedence over traditional as a marketing priority among B2B firms, per the Regalix survey, with 77% of respondents saying that digital and online marketing is a high priority versus just 23% saying the same about offline marketing. And while a majority (52%) of respondents report that both digital and offline marketing proved effective in meeting their goals in 2015, a much higher proportion pointed to digital (37%) exclusively than offline (11%).

Even so, more than 8 in 10 said that their digital and traditional marketing activities are either fully (17%) or partly-integrated (65%).

The digital versus traditional comparison extends to budgets, too. In the Regalix study, just 29% of respondents said that they will allocate a majority of their budgets to digital/online marketing initiatives this year, with the largest proportion (44%) allocating up to 25%. Similarly, the DemandWave study indicates that 38% of respondents are allocating up to 25% of their budgets to digital, although about an equal share (37%) are directing more than 40% of their budgets to digital.

Channel Trends

B2B marketers surveyed by Regalix most commonly reported that websites (86%), email (72%) and SEO (54%) were effective in meeting their goals last year. While the DemandWave survey did not include websites as an option, email, organic search and paid search were the top-3 cited channels driving leads and revenue, in that order.

In terms of budget increases, the Regalix survey finds that the largest proportion of marketers will increase their website (80%), social (66%) and email (61%) budgets, while more respondents expect to decrease than increase their budgets for mobile messaging, online display ads, and affiliate marketing.

In the DemandWave survey, paid search (51%) was the top channel slated for budget increases, ahead of organic search (41%) and social media (41%), with display (26%) last on the list. As for social media, LinkedIn is the most commonly used (92%) ahead of Twitter (87%) and Facebook (76%), though LinkedIn (59%) is the only platform that a majority say generates leads for them. More worrisomely, 57% of respondents were not sure if any social platform had generated revenue for them, and while LinkedIn led all social channels, it was cited as a revenue-generating one by only 38% of respondents. (Twitter was next at just 13% of respondents.)

The Regalix study does include a look at offline channels, revealing that almost three-quarters of respondents plan to increase spending on events this year, an understandable result given their perceived efficacy.

Beyond events though, offline channels fail to garner much budget enthusiasm, with fewer than one-third preparing to increase their budgets for direct mail (32%), print media (25%), telemarketing (17%), TV (9%), radio (9%) and outdoor ads (6%).

What’s Underpinning Success in 2016 and Beyond?

Some interesting results emerge from the Regalix survey when comparing the initiatives with the most impact in 2015 with those slated to have the biggest role this year. For example, video marketing, big data and mobile marketing are each projected to have a much more sizable impact on respondents’ businesses this year than last.

However the two initiatives that last year had the biggest impact are predicted to lead again this year: content marketing; and marketing automation.

With respect to content marketing, the DemandWave survey indicates that videos (80%), blogs (77%), case studies (76%) and white papers (76%) are the most commonly-produced content types. However, white papers (61%) and webinars (58%) are the most apt to drive leads, with webinars (41%) and white papers (39%) also seen as driving the most revenue.

That tallies with a separate survey undertaken among B2B buyers by Demand Gen Report [download page], which indicates that white papers (82%) and webinars (78%) are the content types that most buyers have used in order to make a decision in the past 12 months.

The Demand Gen Report finds that all buyers agree that they are placing a higher emphasis today on the trustworthiness of the source, while 95% agree that they are more willing to consider vendor-related content as trustworthy. In a reflection of the massive volume of content available to buyers today, almost 9 in 10 buyers agreed that they prefer shorter formats, while more than 8 in 10 said they they finds themselves overwhelmed by the amount of content available.

In order to improve content, respondents agree with several recommendations, including:

  • Adding more insight from industry thought leaders/analysts (96%);
  • Providing more benchmarking data (95%);
  • Making content easier to access (94%); and
  • Using more data and research to support content (94%).

Looking beyond 2016 to digital marketing initiatives over the next 3 years, the Regalix survey indicates that the most important will be:

  • Understanding the customer buying journey (78% rating as very important);
  • Educating and influencing purchase by mapping right content assets and distribution channels to key stages in the customer buying journey (77%);
  • Attributing and measuring performance of multiple channels used by customers in their buying journey (53%); and
  • Measuring effectiveness of digital vs. offline marketing activities (51%).

Other Findings:

In other results from the DemandWave survey:

  • 79% of respondents said that their website is mobile-friendly, up from 64% last year and 57% the year before;
  • Roughly 2 in 3 said that 40% or less of their site traffic comes from mobile;
  • Some 62% have a marketing automation system in place, with 80% of those being integrated with a CRM;
  • Roughly half of respondents use lead scoring, though fewer than half (43%) of those find it useful and effective;
  • Exactly half use marketing personas, with 57% of those considering them useful and effective;
  • About one-third have ever tried or are currently engaged in account-based marketing, with a slight majority (53%) of this group feeling that it is effective;
  • Close to 6 in 10 have an email nurture program for leads that are not ready for sales, though only 48% find it effective; and
  • Only half of teams have well-defined criteria for what makes a sales-qualified lead, while 57% have a documented process for lead hand-off from marketing to sales.

About the Data: The Regalix data is based on a survey of 707 senior marketing executives and business leaders conducted in January 2016. Slightly more than one-third (35%) of respondents are from North America, with the remainder from EMEA, APAC and the rest of the world. Almost 4 in 10 (38%) are from companies with at least $1 billion in revenues. Business services (25%), software and internet (12%) and computers and electronics (12%) are the most heavily represented industries.

The DemandWave survey was conducted in November 2015 among 284 US B2B marketers from a wide range of industries. A majority are director-level marketing professionals and above, and close to half are at companies with at least 200 employees.

The Demand Gen Report “2016 Content Preferences Survey” is based on 208 buyers of B2B products and services. Close to 6 in 10 respondents are from companies with annual revenue of more than $10 million, and about one-third hold C-level or VP-level positions.