Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, we’re still feeling shockwaves from the – yeah, I know it’s a dirty word – pandemic. Then enters ChatGPT and recession talk, which once again demands you to rethink your strategic marketing plan, pushing you out of your comfort zone.
As a marketing agency, our finger is always on the pulse of B2B inbound marketing strategy trends, and we can tell you that pulse has become more rapid and unpredictable just within the past six months.
To help shed light on why some companies are able to ride the waves by appropriately adapting their B2B marketing strategies, while others run the risk of falling behind, I spoke with some of our experts here at Kuno. Some of our insights might surprise you!
Finding the right partner to guide you through the B2B marketing landscape is crucial. Many companies have seen success by hiring an inbound marketing agency. Our team at Kuno Creative is always ready to help businesses adapt and thrive.
We have conversations with prospective clients from an array of industries every week. Here are some of the issues we’ve uncovered upon initial analysis of these companies, as well as their competitors:
All too often, we see new leadership take over a marketing department, some who may not have a marketing background, and insist upon retreating to their pre-pandemic comfort zone.
When these outdated strategies fail to produce against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the marketing team often takes the blame and the department is downsized. Expecting more from a smaller team that doesn’t have the right tools for the job is not only unreasonable, it exacerbates the situation.
A great example comes from Kuno Marketing and SEO Strategist Anthony Taylor: “When the ‘People also ask’ feature came out [on Google], companies were worried about it hurting their SERP position. We optimized for that and now we’re the only ones showing up in this SERP.”
The lesson? Be open to trying something new and learning from those who are navigating these choppy waters. If you read this post to the very end, that’s an excellent start!
A year ago, AI-generated content was taboo. Now, everyone is using it, but not always in the right way. In a recent post, we talked about this in more detail, so I’ll keep it short and sweet here: Don’t fire your marketing staff and expect an AI platform to write all of the content for you!
If the recent lawsuit against the creators of ChatGPT isn’t enough to scare you, then take the advice of someone who creates content all day: AI can’t replace human writers. It’s only with the direction and oversight of good writers that AI can generate good content.
Why? To get AI to perform at its best, you have to understand all of the pieces that go into good writing in the first place. After AI generates content, I end up editing and reworking most, if not all, of what it produces. Why bother with AI at all? Because it’s an idea generator that helps get me past the dreaded first page. It’s always easier to drive from the backseat, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get where you want to be.
“While AI can help marketers bring things to market faster, there’s an opportunity for us to be more creative in terms of brand voice and consistency of voice, which is a need that will never change.” – Jim Van Hise, Brand and Digital Experience Director
Talk of a recession, climate change, war in Ukraine and political uncertainty on the homefront are enough to give anyone anxiety. Financial duress and even just the fear of financial duress in the near future has caused many companies to cut staff and expenses.
Features Versus Benefits
When speaking with new and potential clients, they often want to push product with pages of copy listing features rather than talking about solving for pain points.
“Clients today want messaging to be addressing pain points and what people are actually searching for versus product and service heavy.” – Vanessa Knipper, VP of Client Services
When re-writing web copy, we’re always looking for ways to address those pain points by talking about benefits over features. Your customers want to know what’s in it for them.
Reactive Rush Orders
We’re also seeing requests for last-minute rush campaigns, which can result in a poorly-designed, weakly executed campaign. This is often a response to disappointing quarterly or year-end results, or pressure from executives who don’t understand marketing.
Creative people need space to create. Although we make it look effortless, we don’t write web copy or design a web template in an hour, even with the help of AI.
Hanging Out in the Weeds
We’re seeing some executives getting in the marketing weeds due to lower profits or unmet KPIs. As we mentioned earlier, this can be a result of an understaffed marketing team lacking the right tools.
Having a non-marketing executive in the weeds often results in resentment, disempowerment, poor choices and slow speed to market. (When you have too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s a mess!
Good leaders are willing to take (some) risks. They also know how to hire the right people, give them the right tools and training and then get out of the way so they can deliver what’s expected.
We now have consultation requests from companies that are finally dipping their toes in the waters of digital marketing. Many of these family-owned businesses are manufacturers and other traditional companies that realize they can’t just count on the phone ringing anymore.
We’re also seeing prospects who are already trying to implement some digital marketing strategies, such as deploying content for SEO, but they aren’t focusing on brand identity and cohesiveness. This is often due to a lack of understanding of the branding process, while other times it’s due to working with too many vendors, creating a fragmented experience for the end user. (We’ll talk about that later in this post!)
When working with these clients, a good starting point is often using tools like Semrush to help them see who their competitors are in the digital marketplace, what they’re doing well, and identify any gaps in their digital marketing strategy that we can resolve.
Identifying competitors and then helping clients understand their current audience through persona interviews and development will ensure they target the right audience with the right keywords and content that speaks to their audience’s interests, concerns and goals.
“If we don’t know who we’re talking to, it’s just going to be junk data. Bad leads.” – Jim Van Hise
By putting the right marketing strategies in place, adequately budgeting for success in this new era, and having the humility to consider differing perspectives, you can avoid these costly mistakes.
You can look at the new landscape as a scary, black abyss, which can lead to some of the knee-jerk reactions mentioned above, or you can view it as one of opportunity. By learning to embrace new inbound marketing strategies and tools, you can ride the waves of uncertainty with more ease, even if what’s on the horizon is haze or in flux.
Marketing really is all about the end user, and this includes having a user-friendly interface when redesigning your website.
When Van Hise and his team are working on creating a better user experience as part of a website redesign, the first thing he thinks about are the pain points. “The SEO rules will tell you to put the keyword in the H1 but that doesn’t mean you should always follow that rule. It’s still a person that makes the decision to buy a product,” he said.
When considering the end user, one has to look at the whole picture. “I can create the prettiest website on the planet, but if we’re not doing SEO, good content, etc., then that website is pointless,” he added. And if everything else is great – SEO, content, demand gen – but the website is poorly designed, that won’t work either.
Van Hise brought it all home this way: “Clients who use all of our services are more successful than those who don’t.”
The integrated experience that keeps the end user in mind seems to be the magic combination for clients who take advantage of all we have to offer.
A veteran marketing strategist and SEO professional, Anthony Taylor knows the ins and outs of tools like Semrush. He also understands these tools are like the needle on a compass: They can point north, but they won’t necessarily get you to your exact destination.
“You can get 10 out of 10 on Semrush for SEO, but just because AI thinks it’s great, that doesn’t mean your customer does. If you’re getting the wrong leads, what’s the point?” – Anthony Taylor, Marketing Strategist
Recently, Taylor found himself reeling in current prospects who want to start right away, but want to jump ahead of the first step: getting their database cleaned up and integrated so the client’s sales team has the tools and resources to follow up on leads. “You need to have the house built before throwing the party,” he said.
Like Van Hise, Taylor is also seeing fragmented versus integrated marketing, often the result of whittled down marketing teams. He has worked with small marketing teams – as small as a team of one – that are struggling because they lack the specialization to do all that we offer, such as focusing on human-centered SEO content and demand generation.
Some of the prospective clients we’ve been talking to are only now realizing they can’t just let go of the marketing team and hire 30 salespeople expecting to close more deals. All departments are tied together, particularly sales and marketing, and therefore rely on one another for everyone’s success.
Integrating SEO with demand generation while creating content for sales teams is something that we at Kuno can do seamlessly, while also tracking the right KPIs.
We recently had the pleasure of helping a client, Big Bolt, with their website redesign, which also included new copy. We attribute our success to three main components, which your company can use as inspiration, regardless of industry.
Web Design + Copy That Resonates With the Audience
Instead of headers with targeted keywords for SEO, Van Hise’s team created headers straight from pain points he learned about when we interviewed for persona development. He kept hearing them say, “We were so screwed.”
An SEO analyst would say to put the main keyword in the H1, but Jim decided not to, especially since we were already planning to put these keywords in blog posts and other content.
Taylor was the SEO advisor on this account and this made him nervous, but after some back and forth, he trusted Van Hise’s decision. The result? After their website overhaul and relaunch, it only took an average of two pages versus seven before prospects converted into customers.
“I thought one thing being of an SEO-machine mind and I hate to say it, but Jim, you were right,” Taylor said. This speaks to why teams need diverse people with individual perspectives who are willing to push back in good faith. You don’t want ‘yes’ people! You want people who know best practices, but also have the instinct for when to deviate from them.
Van Hise’s advice for companies reading this? “A data-driven person will analyze the baseball player’s stats and the [human behavior-focused person] will look at how the player throws or hits the ball. Successful baseball teams look at both and marketing is no different.”
Thriving sales and marketing teams both look at data and consider the customer. Doing just one or the other leaves you with only half the picture. Most lean one way or the other but not usually both. At Kuno, we help clients hit that sweet spot.
Big Bolt’s new CEO then asked us to design collateral for a trade show based on the headers. What did the design say?
“I Like Big Bolts and I Cannot Lie.” Yep, we did that. And guess what? It worked.
Why? Much of the content for other attendees sounded the same because they described what the company did (features versus benefits) or used descriptive, abstract language. This resulted in forgettable content.
No one forgot Big Bolt’s line, which is why everyone was walking around with their swag during the show.
“Clients make the mistake of thinking everyone is going to care about their product so much that they’ll read every detail about it and that’s wrong. Entertain them,” Van Hise explained.
Through entertainment, we engage people and when we engage people, we have the opportunity to convert them.
Integrated Services for a Seamless Marketing Experience
It’s challenging working with clients who only want one of the many services we offer, such as SEO. A service like SEO touches so many other things, including content.
Big Bolt has now used several of our services, from content to design to sales enablement, which is one of the reasons our partnership has been so successful.
Although the future is uncertain, here’s one thing we know: We’re not going back to the way things were three years ago or even six months ago. Digital marketing will continue to grow, change and thrive, which means more people will review your brand, products and services than ever before.
This also means marketing elements like brand identity and consistency, understanding strategies that move the needle in the now marketplace, and outsourcing where appropriate will keep your company on target to achieve meaningful KPIs.
With so many people working from home on multiple devices with IP addresses not linked to a business, retargeting is a rising challenge. Unless you have an account-based marketing (ABM) tool such as ZoomInfo or Apollo, it will be difficult to target prospects using email and hit them on different platforms.
We’ve seen great success with Apollo because it’s a personal, integrated approach to demand generation, it’s able to segment your database with additional data points, and brings in a personal aspect to sales/outbound marketing efforts such as ads.
“Good data . . . is worth every penny you pay for it.” – Anthony Taylor
Ok, so how does it work?
Let’s suppose one of our strategists is working with both a Business Development Representative (BDR) team and a marketing team to put a web page together for people to request a consultation from a BDR. An ABM approach brings the whole team into the conversation.
A consult request will automatically generate an email created by the marketing team that will drive them back to the page to schedule a consultation. At that point, the BDR will drill down on their specific needs, such as a tool. There is another automation triggered that moves them over to a salesperson to set up a demo or whatever they need.
“Friction gets removed when it’s all part of a cohesive funnel and strategy as opposed to a client who only wants a new website for a set amount of money and doesn’t want all of the pieces that are necessary to give them the desired KPIs,” Taylor said.
Instead of taking two or three impressions to get someone to convert, it can now take 60.
“Finding your marketing segment, talking to them in a way they want to be talked to, and reaching them in as many ways as possible is necessary to thrive in the new normal.” – Anthony Taylor
If you’ve ever had a consultation with Vanessa Knipper, you know she’s very nice and very honest. Recently she told a client flat-out they won’t see the needle move if they only invest in SEO or website design.
When we say things like this, that doesn’t mean we won’t let you dip your toe in to get started. We’re just going to be very honest about what your ROI will or won’t be in any given scenario. And we’ll also tell you how to get to your destination when you’re ready and able to do more. To us, partnership means advocating for your best interests, and sometimes that means frank, respectful disagreement.
“You’re not going to move the needle just because you have HubSpot or a beautiful website. It’s all of the pieces working together, so eventually, you’ll need a blog and other content.” – Anthony Taylor
Our secret ingredient is trust. We set clear goals and go back to those goals through clear communication. This holds all parties accountable and helps keep your eye on the big picture when you may be close to a knee-jerk reaction that will not be a long-term positive for your company.
That depends on all the pieces you need, so the first step is analyzing your current situation and being very clear on what you can realistically handle in house and what needs should be met by a partner, such as Kuno. Come with a set of questions, and we’ll help you sort out the answers.
Next, set up a consultation to discuss your business goals and potential B2B inbound marketing strategies to help you achieve them. We can assure you that if you work with Kuno, we’ll be honest about the cost and effort needed to reach those goals, but we’ll do it with a smile and wholehearted commitment.