Modern marketing is a constantly evolving entity that must adapt to business demands, customer expectations and the continually powerful tools at our disposal. The future of marketing is, therefore, a tough topic to tackle.

FBI agents Chris, James and Faye go head-to-head on four of the most hotly contested topics we see.

3 marketing tools you can't live without (apart from HubSpot)?

Chris:

Grammarly, Station, Drift.

As a former content manager and current campaign manager, typos are a big no-no for me. Bulletproof your writing by using Grammarly - which is free to start. Grammarly works with Word, email and online apps, so you’re covered wherever (it has a desktop and online plugin). Station is my go-to productivity tool and probably my most used app on my laptop. It embraces the ‘one tool to rule them all’ philosophy and integrates with pretty much every app you could possibly want. Mine is set up to manage my Google apps, Slack, Twitter, calendar and more. Marketing productivity on steroids. Live chat tool Drift is pushing the boundaries of marketing and blowing ‘traditional’ approaches out of the water. It’s the perfect tool to add value in real-time to your website audience and capture prospect information there and then. No need to send low-engagement follow-up emails, no need for prospects to fill in forms and wait for sales calls, no need for your audience to spend 10 minutes looking for what they are after. Remember, provide value, don’t simply sell.  

James:

Notion, Databox, Wistia.

Notion is my full life organiser and I don’t know what I did before it. In my Notion, I store all of my video & podcast planning, to-do list, all meeting notes, client docs, brand guidelines, the possibilities are truly endless. The guys over at Notion are always making new changes and updates and you can tweet them a feature request and they’ll get back to you in a couple of days. I enjoy it when I can contact brands on social media and they’ll get back to me with an actual answer rather than an answer from a script. We’ve been using Databox for a while now and it’s completely revolutionised the way we do reporting and how we optimise campaigns. We create beautiful looking dashboards for each of our clients which pulls in data from HubSpot, Twitter, Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads and much more. It’s great to see the data all in one place so we can see exactly how our campaigns are performing and how we need to optimise. Databox also has one of the best Inbound marketing blogs out there, so I’d recommend reading that. Finally, Wistia is the video marketing tool of dreams and allows us to do so much more with the video content we are producing for ourselves, and clients. I won’t go into too much depth, but the catalogue of marketing features of Wistia is extensive, from adding chapters in longer videos, CTAs throughout, a completely customisable player and in-depth analytics. It’s a no-brainer.

Faye:

BuiltWith, SEMrush, Google Analytics.

BuiltWith for understanding what’s going on with a client’s use of martech. I look for evidence of analytics and tracking codes, marketing automation instance and pixels that tell us whether digital marketing is alive and firing on everything from ad-serving to me-too. SEMrush, the grand-daddy of everything you need to know about cleaning up and improving your SEO. Google Analytics, yeah yeah, basic basic - but how many B2B businesses use it to its fullest extent? Easily in my view the most comprehensive and vastly under-rated tool. It’s incredibly free - a rare thing in marketing software world - and the very best tool to see literally everything you might need or like to know before a new contact form submission lights up your lead gen.

For more on the best B2B tools you should be using, read our latest blog.

What is the best B2B lead gen channel?

Chris:

Personally, I think LinkedIn provides the most opportunity for revenue. In terms of quantity, it can be expensive to get the numbers, but it certainly makes up for it in quality. Its targeting for business users is second-to-none and the variety of paid content options makes it easy to get started. InMail is the most direct and personal approach. Sponsored content gives your best content the eyeballs it needs. Lead gen forms bolster your marketing efforts. It’s worth the money, but you need to get your targeting and budgets right. If you are looking to take your lead gen to the fast lane, you can find more info here about quick ways to ramp up your efforts.

James:

I’d have to say it’s LinkedIn, it is absolutely made for lead generation. It knows what the B2B buyer wants and it’s where all the c-level execs love to hang out (even during the work day). However, I think it should be used in a slightly different way than it currently is. I think you should have a base of your paid media in the background, your sponsored content, lead gen forms and so on. But you should also be ramping up your organic content tenfold on personal pages. Convince your CEO, CMO, CPO and all other staff to get on board with natively posting your branded content with a personal touch. Use video as much as you can! Video is exploding on LinkedIn and for good reason. You’ll see 20x the organic reach on a video posted to LinkedIn than you would see on Twitter. I wrote a nice little guide to starting out with video content that might be helpful for you to have a little look at.

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I might be staying past my welcome here, but I think there is a huge untapped market in Facebook & Instagram advertising for B2B as barely anyone is doing it. Sure, there are valid reasons you’d not want to use these platforms, but it doesn’t even get a mention when the audience is absolutely huge and is the most rampant B2C lead generating Rolls Royce. If you can nail your targeting and tone on these platforms, there is an absolute goldmine there for your business.

Chris:

Good point. We both attended HubSpot’s Inbound marketing event last year and Larry Kim said something that really resonated. ‘If over 1 billion people use something, you have to take note’. Facebook has 1.5 billion daily users now, so while the platform may not be business-focused, you can bet your house on the fact your audience will be on there. It’s an untapped resource for many B2B businesses (and it’s a cheap method of promotion!).

Faye:

Not to be a pedant here chaps, but is there such a thing as ‘the best’ B2B channel? There is certainly a ‘best fit’ channel versus the objective, but not an absolute ever, ‘best’. Non?

To answer the question in the way it was intended however (high horse now stabled), there’s a lot more to it than picking one winner - in practise it’s a mix of channels that deliver the optimum combination of targeted reach and targeted conversion. The variables need to consider how many leads are needed, how qualified the marketing team needs to make them before they reach sales teams, the cost of acquisition, where we might actually find and connect with our exact audiences, the degree of intent and of course the offer itself (plenty more to consider too) - ‘best’ in the end depends on what’s needed, and ultimately whether we can turn it into leads that go on to buy.

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To form or not to form?

Chris:

I’m on the fence on this one. I speak to clients every day and fully understand the pressure most marketing heads are under to deliver a vast quantity of leads for a lower cost. Forms are the best way to do that. However, I also think that forms are losing relevance as newer marketing methods come to the fore and the focus shifts from gated content to builder deeper relationships and providing value. There needs to be a balance, however, as building better relationships is a long-term approach. So I think there is a time and a place for forms, but only when executed correctly. Only gate your most valuable content assets and drive engagement/traffic with video, organic social posting and blogs. Turn to modern day conversational marketing tools instead to capture info in real-time as your prospects browse your website.  

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James:

No to forms for me, at least that’s where it’s headed in the near future. It’s difficult for B2B marketers to make the change, as it’s been the tried and tested method for years, but we need to adapt to survive and the form is nowhere near as effective anymore. I’d recommend reading Drift’s stance on this as their whole approach is anti-forms. Do forms still have their place? Maybe. But I’m a believer in big risk = big reward, and losing forms will do exactly that.

Faye:

Uh huh, and yes, we’d all love to not have forms. To be clear, we’re talking about forms for content offers or pre-enquiry behaviour here - if there is a form asking for a call back, or to send a quote, we’d all be happy with that! The challenge for many marketers around going bold on not using forms however is the necessity to report measurable results that justify the ongoing investment. As the CMO, it can be pretty challenging to convince the CFO or Chief Exec to continue to spend many thousands on marketing without the clearest metric for everyone to agree on is how many new leads the activity has generated. In this context, reporting on higher visits, on improved engagement, on lower bounces means little if it isn’t matched by an increase in enquiries or sales conversations - and that is very hard to do for many businesses.

Not having forms is a consideration for more mature marketing organisations that have established their preferred inbound channels, that already know how their buyers behave, so that the form isn’t critical in trusting that conversion will indeed happen, rather than hoping for the best.

What does the future of marketing hold?

Chris:

I think marketers, both B2B and B2C, will eventually have to accept a new way of doing things. Creative, highly visual campaigns get the best results, and the whole ‘inbound’ methodology is only becoming more prevalent as prospects demand more. However, strategic paid amplification is still essential to reach your target audience and cut through the noise. Putting better content in front of a targeted audience will create stronger business relationships, thus driving sales opportunities. This time hasn’t quite arrived yet, but it will be a firm goodbye to buying lists, sending mass marketing emails, corporate sales spiel and generic content - potential customers are already starting to be put off by these. That might be a frightening prospect for CMOs who have a large leads-per-month target, but I’m in favour of quality over quantity. Loyal brand evangelists will be the biggest selling tool your business has. The future will be all about personalisation, authenticity and providing value.

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James:

This is interesting as it could be so many different things and so many different ways to approach the ‘future’. I’d say marketers need to be aware of how much content is out there and the battle to capture people’s attention is huge. It is a saturated market and you need to make yourself stand out. I feel a lot of brands don’t do a very good job of being human and authentic with their marketing and building relationships with their audience is almost a side thought. As I mentioned previously, don’t have scripted answers on social media. Have a less corporate tone of voice and interact with your prospects like you would a friend, you are likely to see far better results than this. Leave the selling to the sales guys, mention your product or service as little as possible and try to provide as much value as possible with all of your marketing communications.

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Faye:

Great question. I think we’ll see a resurgence of awareness and reputation focused marcoms and above-the-line - in the end it’s not having content that makes the difference for marketing success, it’s having relevant content that the relevant people know about. Ultimately, buyers have to want or need to buy the product or service - urgency or timeliness is often under-addressed in lead generation, but there’s a good argument that only later stage leads are valuable as they are more likely to close. Do we really need 23 touches (or so!) before a lead qualifies, or are we just getting in touch with them too early? With competition for audiences and attention the PPC acquisition model will become too costly for many, the days of data-buying are numbered and B2B will shift back to more organic and enquiry-focused lead generation. Content marketing will evolve to focus on more interesting and regular content for engaging and influencing audiences more consistently, then skip the middle part of the content journey until a sales-enquiry is made. The focus will come back for niche players who know what needs they are solving, differentiated positioning and really, really cut-through creative. Big bucks might be needed to establish the initial traction, then organic channels, community programs, advocacy and word of mouth will be order of the day - leads become leads only when they want to be!

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Any questions you want our thoughts on, let us know!

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