Some might say there's more hype around marketing itself than anything else - but we couldn't possibly comment. As 2016 gets off to a flying start, we look at where to get the best ROI on marketing your high tech product or service. Here are the marketing trends for 2016.
1. Content Marketing will face the music
'Content Marketing - It's Going to Get Weird' is the headline of a post from Joe Pulizzi, the Marketing Whisperer at CMI (Content Marketing Institute). He cites media articles stating that content marketing doesn’t work anymore. ‘Lots of companies bought into the hype and started what they thought was content marketing,’ says Pulizzi, 'but either didn’t have a strategy or didn’t execute it well … or both.’
We touched on this in late 2015 in Content Marketing and the Trough of Disillusionment, the latter being a Gartner term from its Hype Cycle. Pulizzi says too many marketers failed because ‘they focus on campaigns instead of ongoing programs, publish content that’s brand-focused rather than audience-focused, or produce content that’s undifferentiated in any way.’
True. We've long advocated building relationships by helping your audiences solve burning problems - not churning out unoriginal, self-serving material that no-one wants. Nothing's really changed, except that in 2016 it's very clear what doesn't work. Weird? I don't think so. Self-fulfilling prophecy? I think yes.
By the way, CMI’s Australian research in conjunction with ADMA (graph above) shows that almost 70% of marketers Down Under are struggling to create engaging content. That's a big number. Perhaps they should read Write to Influence: How to Create the 6 Content Types that Most Influence Buyers of High Tech. It's all about creating engaging, original, useful content.
2. The focus will be 'focus'
Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners cuts to the chase as usual, telling us what will change in 2016:
• From ‘Let’s do this’ to ‘Let’s make this work.’
• From ‘Let’s try everything’ to ‘Let’s focus.’
• From ‘Let’s just learn how to make content’ to ‘Let’s make content that our prospects actually care about.’
We’ve said all along: focus on quality not quantity, on relevance not self-interest and on solving problems not promoting yourself. Marketing in 2016 will be all about focus.
Some time ago we we wrote post Content Creation: Producing Junk at the Speed of Light? Then Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator took blog automation to a new level: you fill in the blanks and the generator comes up 'with a week's worth of relevant blog post titles in a matter of seconds!’
No wonder Content Marketing went off the rails and 70% now struggle to make content engaging. You can't insult your audience by producing dumbed-down, colour-by-numbers content. Well, you can try, but it won't deliver; they'll just unsubscribe.
And it's not just content that needs focus: you need to focus too - not try to do everything. For instance, do you need to be feeding a pile of social media like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Delicious, Digg, Reddit and the other 30 or so? No. Try a few, follow the unique rules of each, see what works, and then just feed the top two or three. You'll save heaps of time. In any case, as you'll see in 7 below, organic social media is almost dead: to be seen and heard, you'll need to pay.
3. Auto- Advocacy won't deliver
Advocacy Marketing is another name for a time-honoured practice: asking customers to be advocates. Customer referrals have always been marketing gold dust: more valuable than anything you can say about you yourself. But, you can't demand them when you need them - or can you?
Platforms like Influitive and CustomerAdvocacy are supposed to overcome this problem by making customers more willing to spruik your virtues. The platforms use customized portals where your customers can engage in challenges, provide feedback and earn rewards (like badges, event invitations, gift cards and the like), if they say nice things about you.
Sound a bit corny? That's probably why the idea hasn’t gained much traction in B2B marketing, as Hank Barnes from Gartner makes clear: not only has he seen no B2B success stories, but in Gartner's Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing 2014 (subscription required), technology-based Advocacy/Loyalty Marketing is poised on the edge of the trough of disillusionment already (see graph above).
4. Sales enablement might bridge silos
These tools improve co-operation between Marketing and Sales, and ensure that the right right content is distributed at the right time, apparently.
The tools use real-time data to determine what content progresses deals and generates the highest ROI. So, your marketing team can then identify the best topics and the right order of content, to drive prospects through the sales funnel.
'Sales enablement is a process that aims to de-silo sales and marketing,' according to docurated.com, 'aligning the goals of each business facet and empowering sales representatives with the right messaging, the right assets, at the right place and the right time, for the right customer.'
As Joschka Fischer famously said to Donald Rumsfeld about Saddam Hussein's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction, 'I am not convinced'.
Considering that the most advanced and widely-used Marketing Automation systems still ask me to re-enter my details every time I want new content, I'm sceptical about claims for sales enablement software. It's supposed to do even more impressive and intuitive tricks. Time will tell.
Anyway, if you think Sales Enablement might be for you, check out the 7 Signs You Need a Sales Enablement Solution. (Image above from KnowledgeTree).
5. Customers will become people
We think you'll engage your clients more effectively if you take advocacy marketing offline: yep, that means boring old, face to face. (That is, unless you sell your technology online to 200,000 new customers a year, with no personal involvement or relationship).
If your technology is high value and you have a small number of high value customers, run breakfast or lunch events at desirable venues, and invite them to share their experiences with other customers and prospects.
One of our clients makes this a bi-annual event for 200 guests - and the quality and quantity of conversions cover the event costs many times over. Another client has small prospect-customer events every month.
Whatever your scale, just don't skimp: make sure the venues are cool, expensive and quality; the sort your customers may not visit themselves. If that means small, invite only the vital few - and make it fabulous.
The CMI Australia/ADMA research confirms this too: in-person events out-performed every other tactic (although these data include B2C and B2B marketing - see 9 below).
Other ways to make customers feel special are through events or services, just for them. Show them you know the difference between a prospect and a customer - and you've updated their lead status. Show them how they can get more value, higher ROI, or lower costs through using your solution to the max. Invite them to customer only events. Provide them with customer-only services. Don't forget them at Christmas time: when was the last time you took a customer to lunch or bought him or her a terrific bottle of wine?
2016 might well be the year that marketers remember that clients are people, not numbers. After so much automated, impersonal digital overload, some of your clients might really like to be spoiled.
6. Content will need to be good
If you check the lists of 2016 marketing trends, the ones below are bound to feature. I put them here for completeness, but don't get too excited: there's nothing really new here:
- Your content must suit mobile devices (pretty obvious in 2016)
- Customer experience is king in B2B marketing too (so what's new?)
- Interactive content will become more common, says Bop Design
- Podcasting, Live Streaming and Video Shows will become more prominent, says B2C
- Use Social Media to build relationships (yes in theory, but it's time-consuming)
- Have a Content Marketing Strategy, says Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners (as for 1).
We could have added Native Advertising to the list, as it still has lots of fans, but it's really just another way of dumping more content on overloaded prospects. In fact, the web is so saturated, you'd have to be 4 meters tall, draped in neon lights and nothing else just to be noticed.
It's like being in an overcrowded bar: people keep raising their voices, talking louder and louder until no one can hear anything - which is when some leave to find a quieter place. In marketing high tech products, your content must stand out from the rest- but not through cheap tricks.
Your prospects are too smart for that. You need to be one of the few trusted sources of really useful content, as we've said ad nauseum. Read more in Content and the Buyer's Journey - A Quick Guide for Hi-Techs.
7. Social Media will lose its gloss
So, which are the Social Media these days? Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter aren't: they're the world’s biggest advertising agencies.
‘Facebook has wound its organic reach for pages back to almost zero,’ says Jeff Bullas. ’Want to reach your Facebook fans? Its pay to play. All social networks are now in this game and social media has become just another media channel that reality is not going away.’ So, do you think that prospects will recognise ads when they see them? I bet.
So, it's no surprise that ad blocking in the U.S. grew by 48% in the past year, according to Business2community.com - and the percent is likely to climb in 2016.
In B2C (Business to Consumer) marketing, ‘the click through-rate across all ad formats and placements is only 0.06%’ so the ROI on advertising is plummeting, as the need to stand out skyrockets.
That's because users are fed up with ads. It won't be long before marketers realise that social marketing has had its day. It was great when it was free and organic: now it's just advertising.
8. Email will make a comeback
According to Gigaom Research (not a spelling mistake), marketers are still ranking email as the most effective marketing tactic - for increasing prospect awareness, acquisition and conversion and customer retention. In 2016, smartphones are delivering 50–75% of emails (depending on country), so you need to take this into account. Make sure that your key message renders well on small screens, and is clear, concise and quickly readable. Email recipients spend even less time reading emails on mobile devices - than on their desktop devices - so be short and sweet.
The upside is that emails can be highly targeted; you can even customise them per person, so long as you don't have thousands of individual messages to send.
Better to highly segment your database, so the message for each segment can be 100% relevant. It'll take time to segment say 5,000 by relationship and stage of the buyer's journey - but it's worth it and you'll only do it once.
Then you create one email, vary it by relationship and stage, and send it to the corresponding segments. Sure, it takes more time than blasting 5,000 with one email - but it gets results. We achieve download rates of 14-25% this way, compared to the industry average of 1-3%.
But how do you grow your email database? Bought lists don't work and nor does gaining opt-in by phone, because the people you want to reach aren't the ones who pick up. (Read more in 11 Ways to get Top ROI from Telemarketing. Getting opt-ins isn't one of them.)
The only reliable method of building databases is to add the willing: those are looking for what you offer. Attract your web visitors with your high quality, relevant content, and invite them to opt in to receive your premium stuff. If the opt-in triggers segment-targeted emails which build your relationship sequentially, recipients will reach out to you, instead of your chasing them. It's magic and in 2016, it works.
9. Serious content will influence more
As we showed in our ebook, Write To Influence, the content that most influences buyers of technology products and services are the serious ones - White Papers, Product Brochures, Case Studies, Best Practice Guides and Feature Comparisons.
That was in 2015, based on Eccolo Media's annual survey of 500 or so actual technology buyers. The 2016 survey isn't out yet but, over the last 3 years, we've seen technology buyers away move from Video and Infographics towards the more objective, serious, informative forms just mentioned. It looks like gimmicks might attract, but it's substance that sells.
The other great thing about serious resources is that web visitors will trade their email addresses to get them: they won't for pieces they think are lightweight. These meatier resources are also well-suited to atomisation or breaking into smaller, more share-able forms like Infographics, Slideshares and blog posts, so you get much more value from them.
That doesn't mean that Social Media, Newsletters, Videos and others have no value. They do (see the CMI/ADMA data at right), but although they're all consumed during the sales process, it's the serious forms that actually influence buying decisions. Anyway, the CMI/ADMA figures cover all marketing in Australia and, by volume, that means mostly B2C. Technology marketing is a small subset of B2B, so the Eccolo Media data are probably more relevant.
And don't forget your blog. It has extra value: if you keep adding useful, relevant posts, you'll build up material for your next piece of premium content. That means extra value from every blog post, and double or triple duty for every serious collateral piece. More than that, blog posts are the fastest content to create and, if done often, demonstrate your knowledge, expertise and thought leadership. It took me far too long to realise this: I (and you) can't be too busy to blog.
2016 will be the year of serious content.
It's been interesting watching the hype, hope and disappointment of Content Marketing. It's reassuring to note though, whatever you want to call it, if you give your targets audiences what they want, when they want it and you're the only one who does, you'll win the prize.
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