Everyone seems to be hyped about technology these days.
According to the latest IBM global study, for example, CEOs believe technology will be the most important external force shaping the future of their enterprise — a jump from #6 in 2004 and #2 in 2010. For those who follow college football, many believe the 2014 season will mark the debut of electronic chips into the game, thus allowing coaches, fans and the media to track a player’s speed, course and movement. And in my hometown of Annapolis, Maryland, it was recently announced that Google opened their “Winter Wonderlab” holiday store at the local mall, much to the delight of geeks and technology buffs. Yes, I’m totally going.
Despite all the excitement, however, technology is rarely discussed within B2B marketing, much less the intersection of these two subjects (feel free to search for yourself). Thus, when I was asked recently to give the keynote presentation at a B2B marketing conference in Riga, Latvia, I felt compelled (foolishly, maybe) to offer my two cents on the matter.
How is technology likely to impact B2B marketing? I’ll make four predictions:
- Old-fashioned customer research – Complexity is the hallmark difference when comparing B2B and B2C marketing. The decision-making process is highly involved; the sales cycle is very long; the transaction is often significant. What’s more, the proliferation of technology is only going to increase the chance for failure. More channels, more options, more noise.
To mitigate the growing risk, I believe B2B marketing professionals will rely more on what they do best – listening to customers – to confirm their marketing campaigns before moving forward. It’s all about quality, requiring more human interaction and greater intimacy whenever possible. John Deere offered a shining example of their approach with the 2011 unveiling of the “Chatterbox,” part of their award-winning “You’re On” campaign.
- Mobile first – We all know that mobile is exploding. Statistics? Check out Adobe’s State of Mobile Benchmark (PDF) for some mind-blowing figures on mobile browsing, reading and viewing. With numbers like these, Morgan Stanley will likely be correct in their prediction three years ago – mobile usage will surpass that of desktops by 2015.
Combine this trend with another one, “conversational search,” and I predict that B2B marketers will think “mobile first” within three years; they will consider mobile and tablet devices as the new hub for their marketing communications. Google would agree with me, too, in light of what many believe is the biggest change to their algorithm in years, “Hummingbird.”
- Growth hackers – There’s a new phenomenon taking shape in Silicon Valley these days, at least one that’s relevant to this discussion: “growth hacking.” While some define this trend as a technique, I see it more as a mindset, an attitude toward growth that is fueled by creativity, analytics and social media to generate demand. The hybrid of marketer and coder, growth hackers are well-versed in tactics like A/B testing, landing pages and viral marketing, simply because they often lack the budget (especially as a startup company) to do little else.
I believe the most accomplished B2B marketing professionals will adopt this mindset, if not this skillset, to succeed. Think about it. If the world will eventually be one large computer, the foundation of GE’s “Industrial Internet” platform, then the common language of the future will be computer code (video). If the future is driven by code, B2B marketers who are conversant in this language will be able to move faster and with greater agility than their peers.
- Marketing technologists – You can’t have a discussion on the future without mention of “big data.” B2B marketing professionals everywhere are keenly aware of its presence. However, many are remarkably unprepared to leverage it (PDF), or, much less, make sense of it. IT professionals could handle it (maybe), on the other hand, but they’re focused on the cloud, cybersecurity and other major trends. Enter the “marketing technologist.”
If a growth hacker is a hybrid of marketer and coder, then a marketing technologist is a hybrid of marketer and IT professional. They possess the necessary, higher-level skills required to bridge the CMO/CIO gap. As a result, marketing technologists will be the new “sense makers” in business, finally providing some insight on the age-old marketing question, “What’s the ROI?” A good friend of mine, Scott Brinker, has been leading this discussion for five years and is an expert on the subject.
There’s no question that technology will impact the future of B2B marketing. The only question, of course, is how. I’ve offered four predictions based on my experience and a scan of marketing research and major technology trends. What do you think?