LinkedIn, the leading social media platform for businesses and professional networking, recently released its first-ever state of marketing report, which explores the trends driving the B2B marketing landscape from a global perspective.
Published in June 2023, LinkedIn’s inaugural report, The B2B Marketing Benchmark, evaluates the trends and movements currently energizing businesses around the world. Developed in collaboration with Ipsos, a multinational market research and consulting firm, the report synthesizes data from a sample of 1,954 B2B leaders from various industries and across eight countries. The study focused on both challenges and opportunities faced by senior-level B2B marketers and leaders, including CMOs, CFOs, and director-level marketing professionals.
In this article, we’ll examine a few takeaways for consideration in your strategic planning for the future.
Overall, there is a greater acknowledgment of the importance of a brand — and of taking a full-funnel approach within the current economic landscape. Globally, 6 in 10 B2B marketing leaders note the C-suite’s recognition that brand building is key when evaluating campaign efforts and are dedicating increased levels of spend toward growing brand awareness.
A senior manager in the tech space within the U.S. comments, “There is no [failsafe] for weathering an economic downturn in demand generation. Rather, teams need to work to optimize everything – often in small ways.”
This renewed attention toward brand building’s role within a firm’s marketing mix has not, however, diminished the importance of lead generation.
Lead generation continues to be the top priority, with 37% of marketing budgets being allocated to business development on average in the U.S. However, the recognition that brand awareness matters marks a significant step toward identifying the importance of the other efforts of brand building and awareness (32%), demand generation (21%), and account-based marketing (11%).
Rather than limiting attention to one single tactic to drive organizational growth, think about investing in a mix of strategies that will meet the needs of your firm today while considering where you may be in the years ahead.
“Most of your growth potential lies in reaching people who won’t buy from you today, but who will buy from you in the future.” - Ty Heath, LinkedIn’s Director of Market Engagement
At the heart of many B2B organizations, an intense focus on the customer and on creating differentiated experiences is key. And empowering your organization through a keen focus on quality, promoting leadership and professional development opportunities, and fostering an environment where all voices are heard are necessary steps for building a stronger workforce and culture to provide these experiences.
When it comes to primary areas of focus, B2B professionals identified several key traits that they see as valuable in the current business ecosystem. Specifically, creative strategy and execution, marketing technology/data analytics mastery, problem solving, and innovative thinking are counted among the top skills needed to be successful both now and into the future. Looking forward, many professionals also identify marketing technology/data analytics mastery as one of the most important traits to build, followed by innovative thinking.
Soft skills also continue to play a key role — with communication identified as the #1 non-creative skill added in 2023 to marketers’ LinkedIn profiles. And while digital marketing, project management, and analytical skills are among the top non-creative skills seen on profiles, LinkedIn notes that marketing technology and storytelling stand out as key skills to develop for B2B marketing leaders in the future.
As Allyson Hugely, Director of Customer Insights with LinkedIn, puts it “Winning the future is rooted in compelling storytelling. Human interpretation, perspective, and refinement complemented by the speed and scale that technological advances will provide is what will differentiate marketing mediocrity from marketing excellence.”
In the vein of optimizing organizations for success, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts continue to be a priority for many. Not only do DEI initiatives offer increased opportunities for more voices to be heard, but they also lead to more informed business and marketing decisions, greater connection to target audiences through the content served, and a heightened ability to attract top talent.
In sum, these initiatives can support consumers’ ability to build brand trust. And while 81% of the study’s North American respondents agree that DEI is important, only 63% have focused on DEI on an official basis.
Of the firms that do have a DEI focus, tracking the number of diverse employees (52%) and leaders (46%) across the organization, and participation in DEI training sessions and programs (44%), are the top ways they measure impact. Content including images highlighting people of color (64%), offering accessible content (52%), and developing inclusive campaigns (51%) are among the top efforts.
DEI is more than a buzzword in the modern business ecosystem, and evaluating how it lives within your organization is worth genuine consideration.
After finding and acquiring new customers, LinkedIn’s report notes that incorporating AI into marketing efforts is a top priority for B2B marketing leaders. Today, the use of artificial intelligence is being adopted at increasing rates as generative technologies, in combination with cloud computing, have made efficiency an even more critical priority.
2 in 5 CMOs are focused on incorporating AI into their marketing mix and 75% of marketing leaders are using AI yet only 20% feel they have an “extremely good understanding” of it.
With all of the conversation about AI’s role in business, it’s also important to examine ethical considerations around privacy, biases, and the potential for disinformation. LinkedIn’s report cites that 72% of Americans express privacy concerns as a top worry when it comes to artificial intelligence.
The combination of increased adoption rates and continued learnings around the business impact of these new tools as well as ethical and privacy concerns all mean that now is the perfect time to start developing the processes for how your organization will engage with generative and AI technologies.
The effects of the pandemic are still apparent in how businesses approach the new hybrid ecosystem, with many investing significant time and resources into developing and expanding digital tools, systems, and processes. With so much happening online, looking to offline opportunities may serve as a differentiator for your organization.
LinkedIn’s study revealed that in-person events were cited as the most effective B2B marketing channel at 21%, followed by thought leadership at 20%. In-person events were also noted as the most leveraged channel, at 60%. In our increasingly technological world, relationships and the human side of a brand matter more now than ever before. However, it will be equally important for firms to maintain some share of the digital sphere as well.
Video (59%), thought leadership (57%), and display ads (50%) follow in-person events as the next most leveraged channels. Seek out ways to bridge the divide by blending offline and online experiences.
LinkedIn’s State of B2B marketing report takes a look into today’s overall business landscape and provides insight into what’s top of mind for many marketing leaders. What’s clear is that there are endless opportunities to pair certain business fundamentals (relationship building, effective communication) with newer technologies and capabilities (generative AI, technology mastery) to find new and better ways to deliver on your organization’s promise — and create future successes.