As we approach the end of 2022, it’s time to look at key 2023 B2B marketing trends that will be prominent in the year ahead.
Specifically, 2023 will reflect the ongoing evolution of many B2B marketing trends that have emerged in recent years. So what macro trends will likely have the biggest impact on firms in the coming year? Here’s a list of five macro B2B marketing trends to watch in 2023.
Digital transformation is underway, and the way business is conducted is fundamentally changing. There’s no longer such a thing as digital marketing — it’s just marketing in a digital world. Marketers have to respond to the fact that their clients, prospects, and job candidates are increasingly digital natives.
In fact, a study from Citrix found that by 2025, 75% of the US workforce will be digital natives and by 2035 many companies will be run by “born digital” leadership teams. While the pandemic certainly accelerated growing trends, the majority of consumers have grown very comfortable with digital interactions and many now actually prefer digital interactions. B2B marketers need to consider the fact that their clients are also consumers, who have grown accustomed to convenient, seamless digital experiences with retail and B2C brands and increasingly expect that same experience from their B2B partners and vendors.
A digital-first mindset
With this as a backdrop, 2023 will see many B2B firms further embrace a digital-first strategy and digital-centric philosophy when it comes to marketing and sales. Digital-first means viewing marketing and business development through a digital lens. Even traditional marketing activities, such as trade shows, collateral or proposals should be planned and executed looking for a way to enhance the experience or support the effort with digital. Digital-first is a fundamental change, not just of activities and behavior, but also a change in mindset.
Marketing teams have to think, act and measure digital
It starts with digital-first thinking. A B2B marketer’s first response to a new opportunity, a new challenge or a new market has to be a digital-first strategy. Traditional activities should support digital and not the other way around. And strategy drives execution, which means that content starts with digital and moves to print when required. And lastly, is the consideration of how to best leverage different digital channels to work seamlessly together along with print to get content and messaging in front of a target audience in the most effective way.
Hot digital trends for 2023
This acceleration of digital-first marketing strategy will include many things already in a B2B marketer’s toolkit, but deployed with greater strategic emphasis and intentionality.
Here are a few examples of hot digital trends that will make an impact in 2023:
Studies have shown that businesses with a defined purpose have higher market share gains and grow faster on average than their competitors. And in the wake of the pandemic, employees reflected on the place of purpose in their professional lives as well. A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that 89% of employees at all levels say they desire a greater sense of purpose at work. Therefore, B2B firms are increasingly embracing purpose as a driver of business growth. A powerful purpose-driven brand helps a firm better connect with both clients and employees. So what does the infusion of purpose look like?
Know what you stand for
Purpose-driven firms are digging deeper and have greater clarity on what their brands stand for. This self-awareness leads to a more established identity, greater clarity in brand positioning and a more differentiating position in the marketplace. Purpose-driven brands have both a passion and a deep sense of purpose that they infuse into their messages, their events, and their marketing strategy.
(Re)establish guiding principles
Most people have seen the famous Simon Sinek TEDx Talk — people don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they care about the WHY. This is not new — but its not just for inspiration, its increasingly imperative for firms to embrace the concept and revisit their firm’s guiding principles. Most firms have a mission, vision and core values, but not all provide context to what the words actually mean and how leadership teams and employees can consistently “live” those words every day.
Humanize your brand
Clients and employees are increasingly expecting to see a high level of authenticity and transparency like never before. The modern B2B brand needs to be made more human and approachable, with stories that have impact and are communicated in a meaningful and authentic way.
Be a force for good
Purpose-driven brands exist beyond profit and performance — they also exist to be a force for good for their employees, in the communities they serve and in larger society. There are certainly a lot of conversations around Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). But there is also a higher emphasis on celebrating wins — and thanking people that support your firm and for help to make good things possible.
While technically content marketing has its roots that go back a hundred years, B2B content marketing has only been around for about 15 years. But over that period, it has evolved tremendously:
B2B Content Marketing 1.0
The first wave of B2B content marketing lasted from about the mid 2000s to the mid 2010s, with books like Inbound Marketing, Content Rules and The New Rules of Marketing and PR being instrumental in those pioneering days. And largely it was all about creating content. Lots and lots of topical, SEO-friendly content through blogs, whitepapers, emails and infographics. But it tended to be more company-centric and tactical and not very strategic or client-centric. In those “early days,” B2B marketers had to spend a lot of time explaining the concept to leaders and getting buy-in was a challenge for sure.
B2B Content Marketing 2.0
Since the mid 2010s, the second iteration of content marketing has seen a welcomed natural progression and content marketing became a mainstay in B2B marketing plans. Buy-in was no longer the issue, but time and resources became incredibly challenging. For many B2B marketers, figuring out how to do content marketing successfully and create a sustainable program has been a difficult task. Strategy became much more of the starting point and quality preferred over quantity. It also became much more audience-centric and engagement became the preferred measuring stick.
Introducing B2B Content Marketing 3.0
As much as B2B content marketing has evolved, I do believe that the next wave of B2B content marketing is here. And in 2023 ahead we’re going to see more and more firms start to shift their approach:
In the wake of ongoing talent wars and the impact of the “great resignation,” finding, attracting and retaining top talent will remain one of the biggest challenges many B2B firms will face in 2023. To meet the challenge, B2B firms will increasingly combine human resources with marketing.
Retention is the new recruitment
Recent research shows that engaged employees are not only 17% more productive than their peers, but they are also 87% less likely to leave their firm. Recruitment and retention are really two sides of the same coin and with greater emphasis on engagement programs, B2B firms can retain more of the top talent they’ve worked hard to recruit. While recruiting new talent will always be necessary, less employee turnover means fewer open positions that need to be recruited for.
Looking holistically at the employee experience
Marketers have long considered the buyer’s journey, and as more B2B marketing teams have been tasked with client experience initiatives, they’ve also emphasized the client journey as well. Along the same lines, the employee journey should be studied to identify strengths and weakness, friction points, and opportunities for improvement and better communication.
Listening to and acting on employee feedback
Marketing is typically tasked with conducting client research in the form of one-on-one interviews, town halls, focus groups and surveys. Employee engagement uses the same toolkit to check the pulse of the employee base and identify changes that need to be made to improve the overall employee experience.
Improving methods of communication
Communication is an essential component of modern marketing, so who better to help improve internal communication than the marketing team? Internal communication plays a huge role in effectively engaging employees, so marketers are increasingly being tasked to develop everything from user-friendly intranets, culture and on-boarding videos, internal newsletters and employer brand messaging.
Creating brand ambassadors
One of the goals of employee engagement is activation and advocacy. Employee advocacy humanizes your brand and increases likeability and trustworthiness, while boosting your firm’s visibility. A recent study found that 79% of B2B firms reported more online visibility after the implementation of a formal employee advocacy program, and 65% reported increased brand recognition.
As marketing teams continue to become more involved in customer experience and practices like account-based marketing, customer marketing is a logical next step in the evolution of B2B marketing. Customer marketing is simply a focus on marketing to existing customers instead of prospects and leads. Here’s what we know to be true: existing customers often represent up to 80% (or more) of the average firm’s annual revenue. Fully engaged and happy customers provide a constant stream of repeat business and are often a firm’s best ambassadors.
So while looking to grow new business and generate qualified leads will remain a marketing priority, in 2023 we’re going to see a shift towards greater engagement of customers post-sale with the intent of nurturing and growing existing accounts. We’ve all heard that it costs on average 6X more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. But did you know the probability of selling to an existing customer is up to 14 times higher than the probability of selling to a new customer? How’s that for ROI!
As the economy tightens and fears of a possible recession persist, existing customers might offer a B2B firm their best chance for growth. So what does customer marketing involve?
Understanding the voice of the customer and digging deep into data is essential for customer marketing. Through surveys, interviews, focus groups and net promoter scores, checking the pulse of your customers on a regular ongoing basis is critical. Identifying issues, friction points or opportunities can help guide the relationship and identify the appropriate marketing touchpoints.
Customer success stories
Shared success is a critical component of customer marketing. Not just a case study or a testimonial, but co-creating success stories to be shared on websites, in trade publications, at conferences and through joint award submissions. Involving clients in co-creating success stories builds engagement, increases loyalty and helps to further cement the relationship.
Customer events are an effective way to engage your existing clients. B2B marketers often hold events with the objective of winning new customers or generating new leads and opportunities. But customer-only events are a powerful way to demonstrate appreciation, increase loyalty and nurturing existing relationships. These could include appreciation events, social activities, hard hat tours, and other events that would generate interest with existing customers.
Customer-only educational content and programs
Speaking of events, how about considering content marketing created specifically for customers? Why should prospects and strangers get better content than your most valuable customers? Hosting customer-only webinars, virtual events, seminars and lunch and learns are a great way to demonstrate the love, add value and make your clients feel appreciated.
Along similar lines, marketers are conditioned to sending out email communication to prospects and leads. Leads get a lot of email attention including drip nurturing emails, follow-up emails, touching base emails, etc. Often, customers get the monthly newsletter. But with customer marketing, there is a strategy for sending thought leadership-oriented, helpful, and insightful email outreach that will add value to your customers’ inboxes.
Best-in-class customer experience
And last but certainly not least, the best marketing you can do for clients is to provide a best-in-class customer experience. From beginning to end, top to bottom, at every angle. An exceptional experience that ultimate delivers and delights will continue to drive loyalty and lead to account growth.
There are certainly a variety of other B2B marketing trends — both macro and micro — that will likely pick up steam in 2023 (and a whole bunch of fads will come and go, too). This list, while admittedly not comprehensive, provides a look at some macro B2B marketing trends to consider and watch in the year ahead.
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