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Breaking boundaries in B2B advertising

Everything you need to optimise your B2B digital advertising strategy

B2B digital advertising is evolving rapidly. Access to data, intent signals, programmatic, new ad serving platforms and the proliferation of ad formats all present opportunities for B2B marketers.

Where B2B digital advertising programmes were once fairly simple, now the role of the demand centre is far more complex – having to evaluate opportunities, combine strategies and ensure tactics work in harmony across multiple platforms with multiple objectives. It’s no longer simple.

This digital report and the supporting downloadable reports specifically look at the changing digital advertising landscape and how B2B marketers need to review, adapt and evolve your strategies, platforms, technologies and processes to accelerate and exceed performance.

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It’s fair to say that ad spend across B2B is significantly lower than B2C. But in 2019, spend topped $6bn in the US according to eMarketer, sitting at around 10% of the total B2C ad spend. Given this, it’s no surprise that new technologies, ad opportunities and platform features are designed with B2C in mind and B2B moves at slower pace.

That said, there are still significant opportunities within B2B and new innovations are coming to the forefront to tackle some of the typical challenges seen in B2B digital advertising.

The challenge of B2B

With B2B, it’s not just the long lead time, different objectives and buyers in a different mindset, it’s the practical side too that presents challenges: low search volumes, small audience groups and tracking through the long term with multiple sales stages. All these areas need to be addressed to make headway within B2B digital advertising and ultimately see businesses spending more.

That said, B2B isn’t in the dark ages. There are technologies and platform features that you can use to improve performance, they just need to be incorporated in the right way.

As marketers, this means you need a different approach – you need to be agile and you need to be one hundred percent on top of the latest targeting and technologies at your disposal – and whether they’re fit for your B2B digital advertising programmes and objectives.

Change has arrived

Where once, B2B was seen slow to change and had been hard to deliver low cost-per-acquisition metrics, the pace of change now is rapid. The main ad platforms and third party vendors enable API-driven integrations for fine-tuning, syncing of new data sources and performance analysis powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The changes have been coming thick and fast. And yes, we’re just on the cusp of fierce acceleration.

Here, we’ll share some of the key principles of how performance marketing in B2B is changing, how team mindset needs to be different and the technologies and techniques you can take advantage of to deliver higher conversions at a lower cost. The core focus will be Google Ads, with a smattering of LinkedIn and Facebook mixed in.

The playing field needs to work together – you can’t work in digital siloes.

Nicola Ray, CEO, Modern


Key principles in managing high performing B2B digital ad campaigns

With performance-based campaigns, it’s easy to set them up, set the bid structure and let them roll. A good management process will review the performance regularly, but how do you truly understand whether the campaign is performing as expected and how to prevent mediocre results?

Basics first. Know your key performance indicators (KPIs). 

How will you know if this campaign is meeting your target? And what were you anticipating would happen when you launched the campaign? Is the campaign actually performing as expected, tanking or outperforming your anticipated benchmarks?

When you know what you’re looking to achieve, then managing the campaign becomes simpler.

Making the playing field work together

In the above section, we looked at channels and buyer stages and how they can work together. When you have disparate channels it’s not good enough to operate in siloes with someone focusing on social and another focusing on Google.

To maximise return, you’ve got to think about digital advertising as a whole and step back to look at the customer journey: from brand right to through to conversion (and beyond). All channels and tactics need to work harmoniously.

That playing field doesn’t just consist of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, it also includes any account-based advertising you’re running along with content syndication, native and programmatic too.

It’s this playing field that needs to work harmoniously – and for that to happen you can’t work in siloes. Either you need a team that shares and collaborates extremely well, or you need a strategy focused around the customer journey with some smart technology connecting the dots.

At the time of writing this, I’ve not seen anything that can do cross-platform digital advertising management. (If you know different then I’d love to know… Email me now.

The closest we’ve got is through shared audiences across platforms. The integrations between ad platforms are getting better and it’s possible to share audiences and data from one platform to another, but it’s only just the tip of the iceberg. (I love an API, a webhook and Zapier).

Connected campaigns

When you have shared audiences, you can connect the journey and connect platforms. The buyer becomes central and the campaigns become connected as one audience group that has engaged with one platform which can be shared with another platform.

For example, an audience within an account-based marketing platform can be shared within LinkedIn, or an audience from Facebook can be shared within other social platforms.


Optimising techniques for B2B performance marketing

When you take into account lead quality and the time it takes to get that feedback loop in order to inform the tactics at the settings level of a campaign, it can take a few months. So, this is my number one bug bear: how can you optimise effectively when you’re not only reliant on quantity but quality too?

In ecommerce or B2C channels, cause and effect can be seen quickly – sometimes immediately, and usually always within the 30-day cookie window, give or take a few high ticket, considered purchases. To me that’s a luxury – data in, data out and insights quickly.

With B2B, sales cycles take an age – in some cases up to 24 months, so the reality is you use the rich CRM data to periodically check in and ensure that you’re delivering the quality as intended, but day-to-day, you focus on key metrics that are right for your programme in delivering the lead quantity.

Lead quantity is controlled by the levers you pull within the platform, lead quality is controlled by the overarching strategies and techniques you apply to the programme.

Let’s focus on lead quantity within the platform.

Focus on the right metrics

When it comes to digital advertising, especially demand generation, it’s all about numbers. B2B marketing lives and dies by lead volumes and conversions.

For the fastest optimisation techniques, it’s natural to start with optimising for conversion within the platform and then work towards the target cost-per-lead or cost-per conversion. But this doesn’t tell us the whole picture.

Bots, fake accounts and poorly targeted campaigns can deliver plenty of conversions, but should you optimise those campaigns? You can’t work purely on the numbers that the platforms tell you. You’ve got to look at the quality too – and the only way you can do that is by looking further down the funnel.

By looking at marketing-qualified leads or sales accepted leads you can start to see where high-quality conversions are coming from. But (and this is a big but) it’s only possible retrospectively, so you’ll only know in a few weeks if you’ve made an impact. You’ve got to qualify those leads and enable the systems to identify which campaign delivered the high-quality conversions.

Now, let’s say you run a global programme with several hundred campaigns – that means you need a CRM campaign identifier per campaign which identifies the channel, targeting and specific campaign identifiers.

That data needs to pass from the click through to the CRM at the bare minimum. Then, more often than not, the data needs to be pulled into a third-party platform to report effectively. That’s a lot of thinking and set-up – and knowing the organisations we work with, this is a significant investment in terms of knowing the numbers and what channels and activity generate the leads.

Influence and assisted conversions have their place too

Leads are just one metric – there’s more to B2B performance marketing than just leads. Certain channels, platforms and tactics have their place in creating awareness, reinforcing messages or pushing later stage messages where a conversion suggests high intent.

When the budget is low, the focus has to be leads, but when there is some flexibility to invest in brand or top of funnel messages and ads, there’s a halo effect that occurs.

Data is not big but it’s getting bigger. Data science brings deeper insights to buyer journey through unifying behavioural data of potential qualified leads on-site and off-site.

Daxesh Patel, Head of Digital, Modern


B2B ad technologies that deliver

Whilst ad tech platforms are rapidly increasing, many just aren’t geared for B2B advertising. The space and pace is changing rapidly giving the ability to capitalise on technology that was previously unattainable in B2B, but it’s nowhere near as mature at B2C.

A word of caution though. What might seem like a shiny, new silver bullet to solve the ever-increasing targets you’re given needs to be reviewed and evaluated carefully. The price tags, minimum spends and contract lock-ins often underdeliver on the anticipated returns you might expect.

Building out your B2B performance marketing strategy

1. Take a strategy reality check

Take a step back and sense check the quality, quantity and diversity of your programmes. Are you getting what you need and is there the opportunity to improve, reduce waste and drive greater efficiencies?

2. Refocus with the customer in mind (and think about tomorrow)

It’s easy to look at the technology and activity and keep going, but it’s always best to put the customer first. Know your buyers, know where they are, know how they behave and where they seek value. Then build your strategy and plan of attack around their behaviours.

3. Interrogate your data and reporting capability

Review the data you have and ask yourself – are you getting the answers you need? Data is critical to deliver better performance so it’s worth spending time to ensure that the digital architecture, conversion tracking and CRM data is all singing and syncing.

4. Check content, assets and conversion points available

When you know your buyers, re-evaluate the content and conversion points you have for them. A period check of assets and landing pages is critical, as well as considering if there are other suitable assets to utilise (but think carefully about how they are planned into the programme).

Every industry is unique and every brand within it is unique. Same campaigns for two different brands can deliver different results. Best results are delivered when campaigns are custom-crafted for the client.

Daxesh Patel, Head of Digital, Modern

5. Check the programme is designed to maximise the objective

It may seem obvious, but sense check that the programme you’re running has actually been designed to deliver what you need. A third party review is always useful for fresh thinking and a different perspective.

6. Ensure the platforms are working together rather than in siloes

Review how you’re using the platforms and combining intelligence across each. Are there areas where you could benefit from combined data or a more integrated strategy?

7. Evaluate the team you have and consider reskilling, upskilling or outsourcing

Once you’ve evaluated your performance and reviewed your strategy, turn to your people and determine if you have the right skills mix within your team. Do you need to train the team, expand headcount or could you get the specialist skills you need more effectively by outsourcing?

8. Collaborate with partners who can enable your vision

Some things just aren’t possible in-house, so choose partners that share your vision and can support your programmes with continuous improvement, ideas and ultimately results.

9. Review technologies available and evaluate which can enhance capability or expand capacity

Be cautious with committing to technology and ensure that it drives performance rather than ties you in on a long (and unprofitable) contract. Those silver bullets for B2C are unlikely to ring true for B2B, so be aware.

10. Ensure reporting systems are in place for thorough evaluation

It’s critical that data is passed from system to system seamlessly in order to ascertain value from digital advertising. Whilst it may seem simple, even the most sophisticated businesses we speak to still struggle connecting the dots in B2B. Focus on data syncing and the sort of reports that show ROI and you’re onto a winner.

What’s next?

Find a moment to take stock and assess what elements of this guide apply to you. The additional resources below will give you more detail about evaluating performance, technologies and help to shape your management principles, so look through these too. When you’re ready, let’s talk about making your vision a reality.

Get your additional deep-dive reports now

Optimisation techniques for B2B performance marketing

Understand how time, analysis and optimisation techniques conribute to ROI of campaigns.

B2B ad technologies that deliver

Learn the latest techniques and technologies available and gain an understanding of what you should be considering now.

Key principles in managing high performance B2B campaigns

Read about basic key performance indicators, tracking & multichannel approaches.

Modern is a true partner — invested in our success and focused on our goals. I’m appreciative for all that they do to help deliver results for Hyland every day.

– Colleen Fleming, Manager of Digital Marketing at Hyland

The authors

Nicola Ray
Nicola Ray

Founder & CEO

Dax Patel
Dax Patel

Head of digital

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