Programmatic ad buying in the B-to-B sector: The adoption rate grinds to a halt.

Each year, Dun & Bradstreet publishes its Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising Outlook report.  The report’s findings are based on a survey of marketers in the business-to-business sector.  Among the questions asked of marketers is about the advertising tactics they utilize in support of their sales and business objectives.

A look at D&B’s annual outlook reports over the past several years, an interesting trend has emerged: The adoption rate of B-to-B companies being involved in programmatic ad buying has plateaued at somewhat below 65% of firms.

In fact, you have to go back to 2015 in D&B’s reports to find the proportion of companies involved in programmatic advertising running significantly below where it is now.

That being said, those firms that are involved in programmatic ad buying are planning on allocating additional funds to the effort. The most recent survey finds that ~60% of the respondents involved in programmatic advertising plan to increase their spending in 2019.  That includes ~20% who plan to allocate a significant dollar increase of 25% or greater.

Another interesting finding from the 2018 survey is that there appears to be slightly less interest in display and video programmatic ad placements – although display remains the most commonly run ad type.

Where heightened interest lies includes one category that should come as no surprise – mobile advertising – as well as several that might be more unexpected. Social media advertising seems like it wouldn’t be a very significant part of most B-to-B ad buyers’ bag of tricks, but two-thirds of respondents reported that programmatic advertising in that sector will be increasing.

Another interesting development is that ~17% of the respondents reported that they’re stepping up their programmatic buying for TV advertising – which may be an interesting portent of the future.

Lastly, the survey revealed little change in the types of challenges respondents face about programmatic ad buying – namely, how to target the right audiences more effectively, how to measure results, and the need for better technical and operational knowledge for those charged with overseeing programmatic ad efforts inside their companies.

More information and findings from the 2018 D&B report can be viewed here.

B-to-B content marketers: Not exactly a confident bunch.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, all that really matters is producing a constant flow of quality sales leads.  According to Clickback CEO Kyle Tkachuk, three-fourths of B-to-B marketers cite their most significant objective as lead generation.  Pretty much everything else pales in significance.

This is why content marketing is such an important aspect of commercial marketing campaigns.  Customers in the commercial world are always on the lookout for information and insights to help them solve the variety of challenges they face on the manufacturing line, in their product development, quality assurance, customer service and any number of other critical functions.

Suppliers and brands that offer a steady diet of valuable and actionable information are often the ones that end up on a customer’s “short-list” of suppliers when the need to make a purchase finally rolls around.

Thus, the role of content marketers continues to grow – along with the pressures on them to deliver high-quality, targeted leads to their sales forces.

The problem is … a large number of content marketers aren’t all that confident about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

It’s a key takeaway finding from a survey conducted for content marketing software provider SnapApp by research firm Demand Gen.  The survey was conducted during the summer and fall of 2016 and published recently in SnapApp’s Campaign Confidence Gap report.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of the content marketers queried reported being just “somewhat” or “not very” confident regarding the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Among the concerns voiced by these content marketers is that the B-to-B audience is becoming less enamored of white papers and other static, lead-gated PDF documents to generate leads.

And yet, those are precisely the vehicles that continue to be used most often used to deliver informational content.

According to the survey respondents, B-to-B customers not only expect to be given content that is relevant, they’re also less tolerant of resources that fail to speak to their specific areas of interest.

For this reason, one-third of the content managers surveyed reported that they are struggling to come up with effective calls-to-action that capture attention, interest and action instead of being just “noise.”

The inevitable conclusion is that traditional B-to-B marketing strategies and similar “seller-centric” tactics have become stale for buyers.

Some content marketers are attempting to move beyond these conventional approaches and embrace more “content-enabled” campaigns that can address interest points based on a customer’s specific need and facilitate engagement accordingly.

Where such tactics have been attempted, content marketers report somewhat improved results, including more open-rate activity and an in increase in clickthrough rates.

However, the degree of improvement doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Only about half of the survey respondents reported experiencing improved open rates.  Also, two-thirds reported experiencing an increase in clickthrough rates – but only by 5% or less.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping improvements.

But here’s the thing: Engagement levels with traditional “static” content marketing vehicles are likely to actually decline … so if content-enabled campaigns can arrest the drop-off and even notch improvements in audience engagement, that’s at least something.

Among the tactics content marketers consider for their creating more robust content-enabled campaigns are:

  • Video
  • Surveys
  • Interactive infographics
  • ROI calculators
  • Assessments/audits

The hope is that these and other tools will increase customer engagement, allow customers to “self-quality,” and generate better-quality leads that are a few steps closer to an actual sale.

If all goes well, these content-enabled campaigns will also collect data that helps sales personnel accelerate the entire process.

What people dislike most about B-to-B websites …

Too many business-to-business websites remain the “poor stepchildren” of the online world even after all these years.

btob websitesSo much attention is devoted to all the great ways retailers and other companies in consumer markets are delighting their customers online.

And it stands to reason:  Those sites are often intrinsically more interesting to focus on and talk about.

Plus, the companies that run those sites go the extra mile to attract and engage their viewers.  After all, consumers can easily click away to another online resource that offers a more compelling and satisfying experience.

Or, as veteran marketing specialist Denison ‘Denny’ Hatch likes to say, “You’re just one mouse-click away from oblivion.”

By comparison, buyers in the B-to-B sphere often have to slog through some pretty awful website navigation and content to find what they’re seeking.  But because their mission is bigger than merely viewing a website for the fun of it, they’ll put up with the substandard online experience anyway.

But this isn’t to say that people are particularly happy about it.

Through my company’s longstanding involvement with the B-to-B marketing world, I’ve encountered plenty of the “deficiencies” that keep business sites from connecting with their audiences in a more fulfilling way.

Sometimes the problems we see are unique to a particular site … but more often, it’s the “SOS” we see across many of them (if you’ll pardon the scatological acronym).

Broadly speaking, issues of website deficiency fall into five categories:

  • They run too slowly.
  • They look like something from the web world’s Neanderthal era.
  • They make it too difficult for people to locate what they’re seeking on the site.
  • Worse yet, they actually lack the information visitors need.
  • They look horrible when viewed on a mobile device — and navigation is no better.

Fortunately, each of these problems can be addressed – often without having to do a total teardown and rebuild.

But corporate inertia can (and often does) get in the way.

Sometimes big changes like Google’s recent “Mobilegeddon” mobile-friendly directives come along that nudge companies into action.  In times like that, it’s often when other needed adjustments and improvements get dealt with as well.

But then things can easily revert back to near-stasis mode until the next big external pressure point comes down the pike and stares people in the face.

Some of this pattern of behavior is a consequence of the commonly held (if erroneous) view that B-to-B websites aren’t ones that need continual attention and updating.

I’d love for more people to reject that notion — if for SEO relevance issues alone.  But after nearly three decades of working with B-to-B clients, I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that there’ll always be some of that dynamic at work.  It just comes with the territory.

B-to-B Buyers: Who’s Engaging with What Content?

Different Types of ContentIn my work with manufacturing companies and other B-to-B firms, I’m often asked what type of informational content is the most worthwhile and valuable from a marketing standpoint and for attracting and converting customers.

The question is relevant for most companies because there are limits on marketing resources (both time and dollars), while the methods companies can use to communicate with their target audiences are far more extensive and varied than they were in the not-too-distant past.

The answer to the question about the best information content is always one of “degree” … because the most valuable piece of content for any single prospect or customer is the one that sparks him or her to buy.

And that one piece of critical content could be one of many things.

Helpfully, we now have a new survey that can help with a bit more quantification.  The research, which was conducted by content marketing firm Eccolo Media, surveyed technical buyers (engineers, managers and directors).

It’s a relatively small sample (fewer than 200 respondents), but the directional results are worth consideration.  I also think that the results can be applied to other B-to-B buyer types as well.

One finding that came as a bit of a surprise to me was that most buyers read just two to five pieces of content before making their decisions.

What kind of content do they consult most often?  Here’s what these respondents reported:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~57% consult this type of content
  • E-mail communiqués: ~52% consult
  • White papers: ~52%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~42%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~42%
  • Technical guides: ~35%
  • Custom magazines/publications: ~35%
  • Video content: ~35%
  • Social media content: ~34%
  • Webinars: ~34% 

As for which of these types of content are considered the most worthwhile and influential to buyers, the ranking is somewhat different:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~39% rate as highly influential content (top five resources)
  • White papers: ~33%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~31%
  • Technical guides: ~23%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~22%
  • Videos:  ~17%
  • E-mail communiqués: ~15% 
  • Social media content:  ~14%
  • Custom magazines/publications:  ~14%

The Eccolo Media report draws this conclusion from its research:

“Marketers have been good at producing large volumes of content, but not quality content and not the right type of content … The more content we produce, the more likely it is to fail.”

One thing the research clearlyshows is that companies need to spend more effort in collecting and publishing customer case examples and success stories, because those appear to have a disproportionately higher degree of influence over potential buyers — if only they are available to consult.

More broadly, the types of content that are of greater value to buyers tend to be the ones that require more time and effort to prepare.  The adage that “success is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration” appears to apply to marketing content development as well.

More summary findings from Eccolo Media’s 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report can be accessed here.

What are your thoughts as to the relative merits of different types of content?  Whether you’re a B-to-B marketer or a B-to-B buyer, please share your thoughts with other readers here.

What do B-to-B buyers really want in a website?

Hint:  Forget social media.

btob web surfingAs online communications continues to evolve, B-to-B marketers have more options than ever to interface with prospects and suspects.

In fact, it’s pretty easy to get distracted by the latest “shiny objects” in marketing … and we sometimes see a lack of focus — and “prioritization all over the map” — as a result.

With company websites serving as the “hub” of marketing communications, it’s only natural to try to align the information provided to prospective customers with what they’re seeking.

A recent survey of several hundred B-to-B companies conducted by DH Communications and KoMarketing Associates sought to determine what business-to-business buyers are doing once they land on a vendor website. Which elements on the site increase a vendor’s credibility … and at the other end of the scale, what causes visitors to leave?

The results of this survey confirm what many have suspected. In a nutshell:

  • Buyers come to a vendor’s website with one thought foremost in mind: to qualify the company in order to begin the process of moving towards a purchase.

And this:

  • Buyers believe the vendor qualification process should be simple and straightforward, and they don’t have time to deal with it any other way.

This mission manifests itself in the following typical behaviors when landing on a website:

  1. The first place visitors go is straight to the products and services pages.
  2. They want to see technical information … and published pricing information, too.
  3. They look for testimonials or case examples to see how others have solved their problems using the products or services.
  4. If they don’t already know the company, they check out the “about us” pages to gauge its credibility as a supplier – but only after they’ve determined that its products or services are aligned with their needs.
  5. They have little interest in social media – and hence mostly ignore those elements.

Website Must-Haves

The survey asked respondents which informational content elements are “must-haves” for a B-to-B website. It found that these elements are of greatest importance:

  • Contact information: ~68% consider a “must-have”
  • Pricing information: ~43%
  • Technical information: ~38%
  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~38%
  • Shipping information: ~37%

The first item on the list above may seem like a given. But it turns out that many websites don’t offer visitors the most preferred methods of contact: an e-mail address (~81% want this option) and/or a phone number (~57% want this).

What about “Contact Us” forms? It turns out that quite a few visitors don’t like them at all. It makes sense to offer them … but also to provide other contact options. Otherwise, some visitors will leave the site without any further engagement — or so they claim.

Axing the Distractions

Because most visitors come to vendor websites to gather information and research products in preparation for making a buying decision, things that detract from those objectives are viewed as an interruption and a distraction.

Some elements are so irritating, they’ll compel visitors to leave the website altogether.  What are those? Video and/or audio clips that play automatically, animated web designs and other visual hijinks, plus pop-up messages are the worst offenders.

Basically, anything that interrupts the visitor’s train of thought reduces the vendor’s credibility and helps the push the company further down the buyer’s list of prioritized vendors.

What’s Missing from Vendor Websites

The survey also asked respondents to cite what they feel is lacking on many vendor sites. Their responses to this question could be considered an indictment of B-to-B websites the world over!

  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~54% say these are most lacking on websites
  • Pricing information: ~50%
  • Product reviews: ~42%
  • Technical support details: ~42%
  • Testimonials/client list: ~31%

Social Media?

To consider the social media attitudes revealed in this survey of B-to-B buyers is to wonder what all the fuss has been about over the past five years. In citing how impactful social media is on the buying process … it’s clear that the impact isn’t great at all:

  • Social media isn’t a factor: ~37%
  • Neutral feelings about social media: ~26%
  • Social media is a factor, but not a “deal-breaker”: ~30%
  • Social media is a big factor: ~6%

The takeaway?  If B-to-B web content managers spent less time on social media and more time on pricing information, case study testimonials and robust technical data, it would be a more valuable use of their energies.

I’ve summarized some of the key survey results above – but there are more research findings available in a 32-page report summary just published by KoMarketing Associates. You can download it here.

The Continuing Ambivalence about Twitter

Or is it more a division of the house?

ambivalenceOf all of the social media platforms that have taken root, the one that seems to cause the most divided opinions among the marketing and communication specialists I know is Twitter.

… And these are the folks who have been diligent about “following the script” for crafting tweets that are interesting, informative, and get noticed.

Each social platform has its strong and weak attributes, of course … but I hear far more mixed views about Twitter than I do about Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn.

This is amply illustrated in a recent discussion that was started on LinkedIn’s B2B Marketing Group, of which I’m a member.

Joel Harrison, Editor-in-Chief of B2BMarketing.net, posed this question to the group’s members:

“If Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, would we all be better off?”

This rather provocative query elicited a range of reactions pro and con – which was to be expected.

However, I was a little surprised that the comments were weighted roughly two-thirds negative about Twitter versus positive.

Remember, this is a discussion group made up of marketing professionals — people you’d expect to be keen on pretty much any established social platform that has an extensive following for marketing purposes.

… Which, even if you discount the ~30% of accounts that “fake, faux and farcical” – still makes Twitter qualify as one of the leading social media platforms.

But consider these comments about Twitter posted by members of the B2B Marketing Group on LinkedIn:

“16 characters solve this dilemma: ‘Don’t take part.’”

 “I once read a tweet that said, ‘This is the generation that had nothing to say, and said it.’ Sums it up pretty well.”

 “My target audiences … have not mentioned that they prefer to communicate on that channel, so until that happens, there isn’t much going on.”

 “I like the old BBC mission: ‘Entertain, inform and educate.’ If you don’t do any of that, I ain’t following.”

 “Useful as an additional channel for customer service and sharing experiences – if the customer wants it.”

 “It depends on the industry and the target audience.”

 “As a marketer, it’s useful.  On a personal level, it annoys the hell out of me.”

These statements don’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the platform, do they?

Of course, they were posted on a business-to-business discussion board, so presumably people were commenting based on their B-to-B perspective; consumer marketing opinions are likely somewhat different.

What are your opinions about Twitter? Based on your own experience, how important and how effective has Twitter been to your marketing efforts?  Is it a critical component … or is it just one more ornament on the MarComm tree? Please share your comments for the benefit of other readers.

Optify Measures Social Media Activity in the B-to-B Market

Optify logoThis is my fourth and final post about the findings of Optify’s recently published business-to-business online marketing analysis.  The focus of this post is on what Optify found about social media usage.  (You can read my other posts on B-to-B web traffic and advertising here, here and here.)

Optify, which is a developer of digital marketing software for B-to-B marketing professionals, analyzes web behaviors and releases a report each year.  This annual “benchmark” report is particularly important in that the findings are reported from actual web activity, not from surveys.

The key takeaway findings on the social media front are these:

  • Despite all of the continuing hype, social media remains a very small fraction of traffic and leads to B-to-B websites.  In fact, social media has contributed to less than 5% of B-to-B web traffic and leads.
  • Facebook drives the more than half of the social media-generated web traffic to B-to-B websites, versus about one-third from Twitter and most of the remaining traffic from LinkedIn.
  • Visitors who arrive at B-to-B sites from LinkedIn are more likely to view more pages per visit (~2.5 page views on average) than visitors who come from Facebook (~1.9 page views) or Twitter (~1.5 page views).
  • Despite generating more traffic Facebook drives fewer actual B-to-B leads than either Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • At this time, Twitter appears to be the most lucrative social media source for leads, with a higher-than-average conversion rate of ~2.1% (defined as a visitor taking an action such as submitting a form).

Because of this last data point, Optify posits that companies should not shy away from considering social media‘s potential as a source for leads as opposed to being just an  awareness tool.

I’m sure Optify’s figures don’t lie.  But I for one remain unconvinced about social media’s lead generation potential in the B-to-B realm.