Staying competitive in the B2B marketing space seems overwhelming for a lot of marketers right now with all the hype about everything from content marketing to programmatic ad buying.
While I am a firm believer companies do need to stay on top of what’s new, continuously experiment, adapt and evolve, there’s still quite a bit of low hanging fruit when it comes to B2B marketing tactics.
What are those easy pickings you ask? It’s marketing fundamentals! But you say, “Nah, we’ve been to the basics mountain, summited and back. Been there, done that.”
Here’s the thing about online marketing basics: the nature of the tactics persist, but the data that supports them along with execution have undoubtedly changed.
Here’s a list of 21 B2B online marketing tactics that you can review to see if you’re up to date on the data that informs your approach and the way you execute. When is the last time you revisited, analyzed and optimized the performance of these essential marketing tactics?
- Client Testimonials – Client stories of success are often one of the first things that catches the eye when looking at potential business partners and B2B vendors. Common mistakes include testimonials that are too enthusiastic or those that are benign but packed as if they’re something special. Most importantly, testimonials should reflect issues of interest to the target audience. Client stories on video, in Slideshare decks, at conferences as speaking partners and similar partnerships are the “entry level” of client testimonials.
- Case Studies – With more complex situations, buyers want to drill down into specifics of how a company does what it does. The changing nature of just about every industry along with buyer behaviors for researching and evaluating B2B vendors means a continuous set of problem/solution exercises. Case studies present a picture of a company’s breadth and depth of ability to solve a variety of issues. B2B case studies don’t have to be limited to a PDF file. Core format can be augmented with visual and video content as well as curated related resources to give buyers a bigger and more useful picture of your B2B brand and what it can do.
- Industry Awards – Getting recognized by a respected third party can mean a quick trip to the credibility club. However, such awards are only as meaningful as the credibility of the entities giving them out. Whether you agree with awards in your industry or not, they are a signal of credibility that work with certain segments of buyers. You might even take a different approach and create your own awards to recognize people and companies that represent your ideal customers.
- Being Quoted by the Press, Blogs – Being cited as an authority on a particular topic in a high profile publication can transform a business marketer’s reputation and credibility overnight. For our business, being profiled with a photo on the cover of a regional print publication had amazing effects, but not nearly as much as getting mentioned in a favorable light in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and industry specific websites like Advertising Age, MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute and Social Media Examiner. Media Relations is now more valuable than ever and PR should be involved right along with marketing during planning, development and amplification of a B2B brand’s content marketing programs.
- Brand Influencers & Thought Leaders – Because of conferences, blogs, and social networks, there are more opportunities than ever for key executives and subject matter experts to become influential. Having one or more of these brand influencers on staff can give the indication that the company has a competitive advantage. There’s a careful line to walk with “brandividuals” vs. brand influencers as the former are almost always transient and the latter may not be as enthusiastic about continuous promotion.
- Speaking & Attending Conferences – Baring it all in front of an audience so to speak, can go both ways. If the speaker knows their subject matter and can entertain as well, speaking at conferences, regional events and at Universities can be very productive. However, if the speaker does not prepare, present well or “know their stuff” things can go badly. Whether a company hosts their own event with subject matter experts and clients as speakers or attends an industry event – there are numerous opportunities to create content, experiences and media coverage as well as direct connections with prospective customers. Just don’t make the mistake of sending people to conferences that don’t create content, network for prospects or bring back a list of actionable advice to share with the rest of their team.
- Web Site’s Design & Functionality – A web site still says a lot about a company, even though the kinds of interactions many B2B companies are looking for to attract leads can happen anywhere on the web where a form can capture prospect information. Websites that provide useful content, engage with audiences and curate brand social media activity give buyers a reason to return and keep the B2B brand top of mind.
- Editorial Contributions to Industry Publications – Contributing articles to prominent online or print publications gives companies an opportunity to show their unique problem solving abilities and expertise. That’s right, I said print! By association with the publication, the company also gets a boost in the credibility department. Getting a column with online publications like Forbes and The Huffington Post are not as difficult as in the past and can provide syndication and exposure to entirely new audiences.
- Online Advertising – One way of growing reputation is to advertise in all the places your target audience looks for credible information in coordination with brand content, social media marketing, email, PR and organic content. Whether it’s a B2B campaign or content amplification, there are numerous options to buy attention to B2B content. The question is, will it be the right audience? Thanks to retargeting, programmatic ad buying and increasingly sophisticated targeting through social networks, the answer is increasingly, “yes”
- Employee Advocacy - Answering the phone, speaking to prospects in meetings, networking online and offline, front line staff behavior can have leave a big impression (good or bad) on potential clients. In today’s always on, always connected world, everyone in your business is a potential sales person, customer service agent and brand ambassador. Insourcing and employee advocacy shouldn’t be left to a few individuals or to chance. Make employee advocacy a part of your strategic marketing initiatives. A great resource for this is “The Most Powerful Brand On Earth: How to Transform Teams, Empower Employees, Integrate Partners, and Mobilize Customers to Beat the Competition in Digital and Social Media”.
- Connecting with Industry Influencers – Relationships with industry influencers doesn’t need to be limited to the pay to play with analysts. Journalists, bloggers and credible individuals with authority can provide highly credible access for a B2B brand to new audiences of buyers. Like all productive relationships, these connections need to be maintained through communications and oftentimes through value exchange or even compensation.
- Client List – You are who you associate with. Big brand customers bring a whole other set of challenges and opportunities. But seeing those big names often gives lesser known brand prospects a certain kind of warm fuzzy feeling, “If this company made it through the vendor sourcing process with a Fortune 500 company, then they’re probably of the right caliber for my Fortune 1,000 company.” But if it appears that your company ONLY does business with the big dogs, then the mid-market companies may get gun shy. For the best of both worlds, keep it balanced.
- Search Engine Visibility on Competitive Industry Terms – I can’t tell you how many times companies have said, “We found you on Google by searching for (insert industry term here) and we figured if you can do it for yourself, you can probably do it for us.” I know, I know. There’s so much wrong with that kind of ranking logic these days, but it’s a fact of life in today’s world of online business. Search engine visibility is a form of public relations and showing up for relevant, broad terms (as well as your niche specialties) makes your brand name (if your Title tags are written properly) associated with those terms. Relevant search visibility also means your company is present as a resource at the very moment a buyer needs you most.
- Brand Identity, Message, Narrative - There’s a lot that goes into creating a brand. I like the definition: “A brand is a promise kept”. Each interaction between a prospective company and something that communicates information about the agency is an opportunity to make a brand promise. Repeat interactions provide the opportunity to keep that promise. Thoughtful storytelling in a B2B brand’s content marketing efforts convey important messages that evoke feelings which can either build or detract from credibility. Content shouldn’t be isolated by campaigns, but support an overall brand narrative designed to connect with buyers across the entire customer lifecycle from awareness to transaction to advocacy.
- Press Releases – It’s true, the direct SEO value from press releases is pretty much gone. And sending out non-news press releases like, “We launched a new web site design”, is worse than not sending any press releases at all. But sending out occasional press releases with “real news” to wire services and directly to cultivated lists of relevant industry publications can still create signals of your credibility. And with clever pitching, they might even get you some press coverage.
- Social Media Footprint: Social Networks (especially LinkedIn and Twitter), Forums, Images, Videos, Podcasts – As Charlene Li has said, “Social networks are like air”. Social Media and Networks provide B2B buyers another perspective on companies they want to know as potential vendors. Promoting unique knowledge through social media formats and networks can give important indications of an B2B company’s expertise in formats that can match the information consumption preferences of a variety of potential buyers.
- Industry Research, Surveys and Reports - In the same way that faculty at Universities gain prominence and reputation by publishing research in professional journals, companies that have the insight and resources to conduct real research and publish their findings create very strong signals of credibility. It is not only the execution of such research that makes it an effective “signal” though. The intelligent promotion of these learnings is as much or more important. Quality research that is packaged well gets significant play on industry websites, blogs, on social networks and can be repurposed numerous ways. Conducting research at intervals (quarterly or annually) creates anticipation that grows audience with every release without an increase in marketing costs.
- Industry Association Involvement – Investing in the future of the overall industry through association involvement can give the impression that a company has a higher level commitment than those that are not involved. Being involved with setting industry standards, guidelines and even training programs can set an agency apart and give an indication of their expertise. The time investment can be substantial though, so this one needs to be carefully considered.
- CEO, Executive and/or Company Blog – Blogs can be exceptionally effective at imparting a company’s “genuine” philosophy and corporate personality. Company web sites tend to be dry and careful or conversely, full of hype. A well written and promoted blog can do absolutely amazing things for an B2B company’s reputation in an industry. I like to think our very own Online Marketing Blog is a good example of that.
- Word on the Street, Buzz, Word of Mouth – First and foremost, providing great B2B products and services and is the cornerstone of building positive word of mouth. At the same time, successfully engaging the tactics on this list will build positive buzz, but the longevity of that buzz is only sustainable if the company has something significant in it’s ability to deliver results, to back it up. Making it easy for customers to share the good news about your company or making sure testimonials are properly promoted can extend a company’s reach with nominal marketing investment. At the same time, monitoring social networks for brand, product or key executive mentions can reveal real-time engagement opportunities.
- Being Included on Industry “Lists” of Top Companies – No matter how you slice and dice it, getting included on a list sends a signal. Lists are inherently controversial because getting included means others are excluded. If you know how to create and promote the right signals, like doing great work for clients and letting the world know about it, getting on the kinds of lists that build credibility is pretty straightforward. Leaving it to chance and expecting inclusion based purely on merit is flat out naive. Also, if your B2B brand really wants to take advantage of lists as a marketing tactic, then start making your own lists. Just make sure they’re well researched, credible, relevant and well packaged.
So how does your B2B company rate on these online marketing fundamentals? What core tactics would you ad?
Take the time to inventory what makes sense for your business and target audience, then prioritize. Go after the top of the list and see what can be improved upon. There’s plenty of data and lots of shiny new ways to execute many of these tactics to give your business a competitive advantage without breaking the bank.