Effective marketing is difficult to get right. Between creative demands, budget limits, and channel decisions, marketers have a lot to juggle when developing their marketing strategy.
The biggest determinant of effective marketing, however, is your audience.
Where target audiences vary the most, though, is between individual consumers and businesses. Some companies serve individual shoppers, while others cater to companies and organizations.
Marketing to businesses is very different from marketing to individual consumers. That’s why an entirely different marketing method — B2B marketing — exists, and that’s why we built this guide.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of B2B marketing, the most effective B2B marketing strategies, and how you can tap into and convert your business audience. Plus, the trends you can expect in the B2B space in 2023, according to new research plus expert tips.
The purpose of B2B marketing is to make other businesses familiar with your brand name, the value of your product or service, and convert them into customers.
HubSpot is an example of a company that engages in B2B marketing. HubSpot’s customers are other businesses, not individual consumers. Therefore, all of our marketing efforts can be classified as B2B.
B2B marketing targets the needs, interests, and challenges of individuals who are making purchases on behalf of, or for, their organization (rather than for themselves), thus making the organization the customer.
Here are a few examples of B2B companies:
B2C marketing targets the needs, interests, and challenges of individual consumers who are making purchases on behalf of, or for, themselves, thus making the individual the customer. Here are a few examples of B2C companies:
Take a look at this chart comparing B2B and B2C customers.
As much as they differ, though, B2B and B2C also intersect in many ways. While Poppin sells office supplies to remote or self-employed individuals, they also design corporate office spaces and branded supplies.
On the flip side, Printful not only offers order fulfillment and warehousing to businesses; they also fill e-commerce printing orders for individuals.
As I said above, marketing depends on its audience. While B2B and B2C marketing vary, not every piece of B2B marketing material is alike, either.
When you begin to form your B2B marketing strategies, there are a few steps you should take before you jump straight to execution.
Competitor product offerings
Competitor sales tactics and results
Competitor marketing content and social media presence
In your competitive analysis, you’ll see the different types of marketing channels your competitors use successfully, and the channels they haven’t taken advantage of.
Unlike B2C customers who respond best to emotions and entertainment, B2B customers look for logic and positive ROI. Essentially, they’re asking themselves, How can your business help my business grow? Because of this, your email marketing must consistently resonate with your business customers and focus on things that matter to them — like time, money, and resources.
With the constant barrage of emails flooding our inboxes today, it’s more important than ever to create and send out effective marketing emails.
Write enticing subject lines. Think about your email subject lines as a Netflix trailer — if you can’t hook your audience with a two-minute clip (or, in this case, a few dozen characters), don’t expect them to open and watch (or read) the whole thing. We recommend spending almost as much time on your email subject lines as you do on the emails themselves.
Every business, whether B2B or B2C should have a digital presence — which is comprised of paid ads, search engine optimization, a website, and any other place your B2B company is active online. Let’s walk through a handful of tactics that can strengthen your B2B digital marketing strategy.
For inspiration on how the best B2B websites are built to impress, check out this video:
The best way to see an ROI from your paid ads is by 1) incorporating your buyer persona data and 2) boosting content that they can relate to. For example, it’s highly unlikely a brand new consumer who’s never heard of you is searching for your exact product. They may be searching for a location-based solution or product feature. To reach the greatest number of potential customers, pay to target relevant categories within your brand vs. promoting your product or services.
We’ve talked about how B2B customers are focused on expertise, driven by logic, and desire to be educated. What better marketing tool to satisfy these priorities than B2B content marketing?
“A frequent mistake B2B organizations make is educating the buyer on their own company, product, or service. The buyer isn’t ready for that; they are just beginning to understand their problem.”
Franchell adds, “Additionally, B2B companies should test content. Run a test on an incentive and vary the type of content – use a webinar, an eBook, or a video. Understand what format of content attracts the right types of buyers and measure it down to an individual human level.”
Because the B2B buyer’s journey is slightly different than the B2C buyer’s journey (which has shorter sales cycles and fewer decision makers involved), the content you create for your B2B content marketing strategy may vary more than the content you’ve seen as a consumer yourself, as illustrated in the below graphic.
Many B2B companies struggle with social media marketing, though. It can be harder to use social media to connect with business customers, especially because (as we mentioned above) there’s typically a lengthier sales cycle and longer chain of command.
Social media is a powerful tool for building brand awareness, giving your company an online personality, and humanizing your business — all very powerful factors when it comes to marketing and connecting with potential customers. Like email marketing, social media is also a highly effective channel for sharing your content and enhancing your brand expertise, the latter of which we know B2B customers appreciate.
While your social media accounts might not convert as frequently as your content or email marketing, they’re just as important. In this case, followers are just as valuable — you never know when they might convert to leads or customers.
HubSpot’s Blog team conducted research to determine the challenges, opportunities, and initiatives that most B2B marketers are focusing on in 2023.
Let’s dive in.
With changes on the horizon and a potential recession looming, it’s no surprise 17% of marketers are concerned with pivoting their marketing strategy. Throw in increased competition, and budget constraints and it’s safe to say marketers have their work cut out for them in 2023.
Marketing trends move fast, so it’s not surprising that marketers we surveyed cited keeping up with trends as a top concern heading into 2023.
Facing increased competition, leveraging CRM systems, and having to pivot marketing strategy rounded out the top five concerns on the horizon for marketers.
22% of social media marketers marked “creating engaging content” as the number one challenge they believe they’ll face in 2023.
With nearly all businesses utilizing social media vying for customer attention, competition is stiff. Businesses have had to evaluate what makes them stand out above the crowd and how they can better engage and target prospects. To make their best efforts shine, marketers have been utilizing a variety of formats, which we’ll dive into next.
When it comes to marketing formats, video is the preferred choice with 50% of marketers making it their go-to option. Images came in a close second with 47% of marketers utilizing this format.
Video also provided the most ROI when compared to other formats like images, blog posts, podcasts, and case studies.
It’s popularity isn’t expected to wane anytime soon. Video is expected to grow among new users in 2023 with 1 in 3 planning to leverage this format next year.
It makes sense, then, that B2B marketers want to ensure their products or services are showing up on social channels with influencer partnerships.
Most B2B marketers — 71% — planned on investing more in influencer marketing this year, and likely was a wise choice as this avenue will continue to grow in 2023.
However, you’ll want to ensure you choose partnerships wisely. While it can be tempting to find influencers with massive audiences, many businesses have seen more success with micro-influencers, so be sure to do your research to determine which influencers have the most authentic connections with your desired audience.
While Facebook provides the most ROI, investment in other platforms is on the rise. YouTube is expected to see the most growth in 2023 with marketers with 91% of those using it planning to increase their investment.
However, other activities can be more difficult to track. Analyzing which pieces of social or blog content resulted in sales, for instance, can be a more arduous and convoluted process.
Understanding your big-picture goals is imperative for creating an effective marketing strategy for 2023 — so it’s likely helpful to know what other B2B marketers’ plan to focus on next year. .
Looking ahead, B2B marketers’ top priority is to increase revenue and sales, knocking increasing brand awareness down to the third spot from last year.
Top marketing goals:
Roughly half of B2B marketers reported that ‘increasing brand awareness’ was their number one goal in 2022.
As he puts it, “The quality of our campaigns and initiatives will increasingly rely on our CRM, CDP, and 3rd-party sources to help create stylized, targeted, and convertible marketing initiatives. And since CMOs are increasingly held to ROI numbers, we have to up our game.”
As important as it is to learn what marketers plan to do , it’s equally vital to learn what they plan not to do. This can help you identify your own guardrails, and ensure you’re sticking to the most efficient marketing strategies, rather than wasting time and resources on all of them.
HubSpot’s Blog Research found 25% of marketers plan to stop leveraging podcasts and audio content; followed closely by 23% who plan to stop leveraging VR and AR.
This doesn’t mean these activities are inefficient, but it does suggest that some survey respondents found the time, effort, and resources required for each of these efforts wasn’t worth it. Ultimately, it depends on your audiences’ preferences.
If your audience doesn’t enjoy consuming business content on podcast or audio formats, then re-consider investing in these initiatives.
“For instance,” Andre-Brown continues, “a company using the Pride theme each summer without having policies that protect LGBTQ2IA+ employees is called ‘Rainbow washing’. To ensure this work is well-received and has an impact, marketers should listen to their communities’ suggestions and look for sustainable changes that everyone can benefit from.”
TikTok can seem like a difficult platform to stand out as a B2B brand, but some companies have managed to attract thousands — if not millions — of viewers to their videos through high-quality content and an understanding of the app.
When Adobe first joined the app, the company’s second video got over 2 million views. The video asked its audience, Who is a creative TikToker we should know about?, which encouraged high audience engagement.
Adobe succeeds on the app because it creates engaging content specifically catered for TikTok’s audience. All Adobe’s videos are short, entertaining, and easily digestible.
Take the following example, which has over 370K views and highlights how user @emilesam used Adobe’s After Effects edit to create a fighting sequence against himself.
The brand does a good job highlighting its products in a fun, non-promotional way. Both consumers and businesses can see a clear connection between using Adobe’s products and finding success on TikTok — which makes this a great example of B2B marketing.
The podcast focuses on inspiration stories from entrepreneurs, and offers practical tips for starting an online business on Shopify. Episode topics range from “Disrupting the Soda Industry with a Healthy Spin” to “How Masks For Dogs Landed a Deal on Shark Tank”.
Offering so much valuable, interesting content for free is a fantastic example of effective B2B marketing, which should always provide value before it tries to extract it.
Consider, for instance, the first large text you see when you click on the page: “Get down to business and grow sales”. The smaller text below it reads, “Engage your customers and boost your business with Mailchimp’s advanced, yet easy-to-use marketing platform.”
The language focuses on the customer, and how Mailchimp can help the customer reach their goal: To grow their businesses.
Additionally, the website offers a banner at the top of the page that enables customers to choose in which language they’d prefer to view the website. Even the company’s Products navigation menu includes how the product can “Get Your Business Online” and “Market Your Business”.
Ultimately, the company demonstrates how much they value each of their customers by tailoring each piece of content towards its customers’ unique challenges.
TravelPerk displays a diverse range of paid search and SEO. An impressive SEO strategy is its use of topic clusters and sub-topics for reaching its target audience. TravelPerk ensures that search engine pages like “business travel expenses” have a paid ad leading to its website, or high-ranking blog content providing information travelers are looking for.
IBM Systems business group has seen the growing importance of employee voice and the rise of employee influencers as a strategy in B2B marketing.
Leveraging employees in your company that have an affinity for the industry, vast knowledge of trending topics and your brand, could be key in building new relationships in the industry.
Blackbaud offers an incredible B2B referral program that incentivizes current customers to become product advocates — Blackbaud Champions. Champions are encouraged to share their insight into how the implementation process works, what it’s like to work with the team, and how Blackbaud solutions have helped you advance their mission.
“When you share your experiences and expertise and help us spread the word about our products and services, we’ll reward you with benefits only available to Champions. By providing your feedback, participating in activities like reference calls and case studies, and sharing educational content and events on social media, you’ll earn Reward Points in the Blackbaud Champions Hub which you can redeem from the Champions Rewards”
These points are what Champions strive to redeem, as they include incentives like discounts, complimentary passes, gift cards and VIP experiences, and more.
Marketing isn’t effective unless you keep your audience in mind, and no other audience is as fickle and critical as business customers. Your marketing should communicate how your business can help theirs, and if it doesn’t, you can redirect your B2B marketing strategies to reach them.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.