Of the 70 agencies that feature in this year’s B2B Marketing Agency League, 10 show no or negative turnover growth. In past years this could be explained away by a recessionary environment. However, the UK economy is once again growing and this is feeding through to B2B marketing budgets. In Q3 2014 the B2B Barometer study found that 56% of B2B marketers have seen their budget grow in the last 12 months, with an average increase of 19% (you can find the full results of the B2B Barometer here: http://goo.gl/tk3Mez) .
So why are these agencies struggling?
As you go about your daily business it’s unlikely that you’ll come into contact with many people who think that a pair of jeans and a nuclear power plant have a lot in common. And with good reason. Both can keep you warm, but there are some blindingly obvious differences such the physical features and the level of danger (although some of those skinny jeans can be quite hazardous if one lunges unexpectedly).
The example is tongue-in-cheek, but the point is quite serious. There are fundamental differences between B2C and B2B markets. In fact, as illustrated in the infographic below, there are 12 key features which make B2B markets unique.
The report is a real wake-up call for market research agencies. Sadly only a select few seem to be listening.
In 2009 the GRIT report concluded that: “Buyers…increasingly seek out suppliers who understand the intricacies of their particular business, and who deliver strategic insight rather than boring 100-page decks full of data”. Five years on, that’s still the case. When describing the ideal research project clients cite three defining features:
And when asked what qualities are important to them in a research agency, research users put three things at the top of their list:
Note this. Not once has ‘research’ been mentioned. Indeed only 14% of clients say ‘using sophisticated research techniques’ is very important. No, it’s all about what an agency can do with the research – how their people interpret it, align it to business goals and engage with those using it. And it’s about the outcome of these actions – positive business change. Or as the 2014 GRIT report says “we need to steal a few plays from the consultancy industry”.
There used to be a debate about whether social media was relevant in B2B. Just four years ago, less than one quarter (23%) of B2B marketers described it as ‘highly relevant’ to their brand (source: B2B Barometer). Now, those holding out against the social tidal wave are few and far between. Indeed, many B2B brands are social media pioneers.
Lithium Technologies’ recently published Klout 50 study is testament to this. The study ranks the 50 most influential brands on social media. As you’d expect the list includes big-hitters from the consumer world. Brands like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Nike. But more surprising is how many B2B brands are featured. Nineteen of the 50 brands listed have a significant or exclusive B2B focus to their business*.
SME businesses are a passion of mine. I founded one (Circle!) and as a B2B specialist I regularly explore the opinions and behaviours of SMEs.
But before I go on, let’s be careful with that label of ‘SME’. Even if we exclude sole traders, there are still more than one million SMEs in the UK alone. Inevitably with a group of that size, there’s a lot of diversity – different attitudes, behaviours, needs and opinions. So, to define your target market as ‘SMEs’ is a good start, but misses an awful lot of nuance (that deserves a blog post all of its own – see my colleague Andrew Dalglish’s exploration here).
That said, there is something which in my experience is common to most SMEs – ambition.
When Big Data finally becomes a reality, does that mean market research will become surplus to requirements? Will surveys, focus groups and interviews become relics of a bygone age?
Some would say so.
The B2B Barometer explores economic confidence and spending patterns amongst B2B marketers. Launched 5 years ago in 2009 and now representing the view of B2B marketers with a collective spend of £95 million, it is the industry’s state-of-the-nation study. I’d like to share a few of the study’s key findings here.
B2B marketing budgets at an all-time high
The latest wave of the B2B Barometer suggests that the money trees are blossoming in the land of B2B marketing:
Managing a B2B brand isn’t easy. In a recent survey of 100 senior B2B marketers conducted for the B2B Leaders Forum by Circle Research, they named three major challenges:
In this post I’d like to focus on the last challenge – finding the right brand positioning.
Here’s my attempt at a bit of Derren Brown-esque trickery.
If you’re a B2B marketer, annual planning is on your mind. Events, email and content feature heavily. Two fifths of your budget is allocated to digital channels. How did I do?
If I got close to the truth, it’s not clairvoyance but just educated guesswork. In particular the B2B Barometer suggests that, on average, B2B marketers spend 39% of their budget on digital.