Personalisation and AI were the major themes at 2018’s B2B Marketing Expo, suggesting that marketers need to familiarise themselves with new tech tools if their brands are going to stay ahead of the game.
We attended the Expo – at London’s ExCel – where we gave a talk on what does and doesn’t work in B2B marketing, attended seminars given by the UK’s premier marketing savants, and spoke to those who stopped by our Axonn stand about what’s next for the industry.
If we saw you there, it was great to chat! For those who couldn’t make it, here’s some of what we learned:
1) AI has already landed: Embrace it or lose out
Artificial intelligence may still sound like concept that belongs in a dystopian future, but – whether or not you’ve noticed – it’s already embedded within our daily lives. But think chatbots rather than hyper-intelligent killer robots.
The consensus among the experts was that AI is here to stay – and the benefits for lead gen, nurture and client retention will be huge. During a live chat bot creation demo, Lyes Ouarti from Microsoft explained that chatbots can be programmed to respond to specific words, and can automatically learn information from existing web pages (such as FAQs) and use it to reply to customer enquiries.
This hugely cuts down on the human resource needed for customer enquiries, yet could provide a more seamless user journey. For example, he noted that after engaging with a traditional call centre, customers are often asked to rate their interaction over SMS, call or email. Using a chatbot, you can view conversations in their entirety, and the bot can prompt you if a customer is unhappy and suggest an action – such as offering a discount – to take. In this scenario, a human is only needed to deal with complaints.
Meanwhile, Marialena Zinopoulou – CEO of The Digital Marketing Association – noted that as well as an improved user experience, AI can also secure a better lasting impression of a brand, and can ensure faster response times: all of which result in happier customers.
2) Millenials and Gen Z forcing B2B marketers to think like B2C
B2B and B2C marketing have traditionally been viewed as needing two very separate approaches, but the consensus was that in 2018 B2B marketers should be looking to B2C for inspiration. After all, humans are humans – even when they’re at work!
At Axonn’s seminar, COO Peter Yates and CCO Tania Varga highlighted that millennials are increasingly moving into positions of decision-making power. Of the 8,000 surveyed for 2017’s Deloitte Millennial Survey, 24 per cent were in senior positions. This younger audience, Tania said, expects a much more seamless and engaging experience than their corporate predecessors, and B2B marketers must consider this during the content ideation, creation and amplification processes.
“There is an emotive element to business buyers’ decision making,” Peter explained. “There may be other more rational influences in their decision making – perhaps more so than consumers. But when DMs go to make a decision on a provider or a new product, they will base that decision on their feelings.”
The slides from Axonn’s seminar “What Works (And What Doesn’t) in B2B Marketing are below:
In her talk on Sales Personalisation and the Law of Content, Roma Düm from Foap spoke of Gen Z’s penchant for working with companies with high levels of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Gen Z are already changing the way marketers work, she noted, by putting serious demands on brands and the values they broadcast to the world. As this generation enters the workplace and flourishes, embracing CSR is something B2B marketers will need to enact, taking notes from what some B2C brands are already doing very well.
Wandering around the Expo’s company stands, it’s clear that B2B marketers are starting to think of their clients more as consumers. Gone were the dry, corporate stands of the past, and in their place stood sleek constructions with eye-catching colours, lights and plenty of free sweets, goodies and competitions to enter. We even spotted some people in costume, not to mention a dance party or two.
3) In the age of automation, personalisation is more important than ever
“Marketing used to be a creative challenge, but it’s a data challenge now”. These wise words were uttered by HSBC’s former head of marketing in EMEA Philip Mehl in a Marketing Week roundtable last year. But even in the past 12 months, the importance of data has rocketed, as social platforms have introduced and evolved tools that help brands to segment and target ever-more-specific parts of their audiences. After all, one of our biggest challenges is getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time.
The unstoppable rise of data and the subsequent demand for personalisation has coincided with the ascendance of sales and marketing automation – and the two could make awkward bedfellows. One of the challenges faced by B2B marketers in 2018 is whether it is possible to achieve deep personalisation with automation tools.
We discussed this with a number of marketers at the Expo, and the answer was unanimous. Everyone believed automation would be able to achieve some level of personalisation, but never truly replicate that all-important human touch. Creative types hoped that automation would free up their time so they can get on with what they do best, and noted that they would need to focus on tailoring automation campaigns so they appear as personalised as possible.
For more of what we learned at 2018’s B2B Marketing Expo – including video storytelling and how wearables are going to affect marketing – download the ebook Marketer meets Machine: The future of B2B Marketing: