What Were B2B Marketers Doing 30 Years Ago?
Reflections on 30 years of B2B Marketing and What It Means to Marketers Today
As Goldstein Group Communications steams into its 30th anniversary year, I am astounded by how much marketing has changed during that time. At our founding in 1992, we printed all content; there was no internet. Lead generation meant running ads in print magazines, which sent sales leads on mailing labels. We followed direct mail with phone calls. We mailed press releases in an envelope with a stamp.
B2B Media Have Changed
Magazines and publisher websites are still valuable avenues for reaching technical buyers. There was a time when industry trade publishers looked to be on the brink of extinction, and some magazines did fail, but most eventually adapted to the digital world through layoffs and industry consolidation. This presents current marketers with both opportunities and challenges. Media advertising results have grown increasingly costly, but overworked editors are hungrier than ever for story ideas and expert interviews.
Three decades ago, editors were kingmakers, and companies made sure to stay on an editor’s good side. Today, marketers are competing directly with the media outlets they are courting by publishing their own content.
While content marketing is essential, marketers still need to support the editors and publications that are essential to reaching their narrow B2B markets. At GGC, we help clients select the advertising products that still give a decent ROI. In fact, one of our clients found that 26% of their media advertising leads converted to influenced revenue.
Editorial has changed, too. We used to obsess over press releases. Back in the 90s, I had a magazine editor write a letter to my boss saying how much he liked my press release. The release was six pages long! Today much of that information would be covered by a link to the website.
We still like press releases, especially for the backlinks, links to your site that Google sees as endorsements. However, in today’s world of information overload, media releases are just one tactic of many on the product launch checklist.
The Internet Is the Gorilla in the Room
I hate to state the obvious, but there is no getting around it: the biggest change in marketing has been the emergence of the internet.
I remember that in 1998, the search engine of choice for engineers was called Alta Vista. It was based on hierarchical search managed by humans. Eventually, a startup developed a new way to organize search results using algorithms.
Now, as if marketing were a religion, we all bow before the altar of Google. If Google likes internal links, we link our web pages. Now Google wants external links to build authority, so we are doing that.
As Google takes away more and more SEO tricks, marketers will have to focus on genuine killer content. For many companies, it won’t be easy to create it and keep it fresh, but if that’s what the 400-pound gorilla wants, we’ll have to figure it out.
It’s a full-time job to keep up with Google search, and B2B marketers devote significant budget to both paid search and search engine optimization, line items that didn’t use to exist in the marketing budget. Skillful marketers understand how paid and organic strategies work together to attract prospects to a website. See our blog post SEO vs. PPC.
Changes in Email Marketing
GGC embraced email marketing early. I remember getting click-through rates of 14% for general email blasts when email marketing was getting started in the early 2000s. When we get that today, we dance around like the Browns had won the Super Bowl.
Now that every company uses marketing automation, prospects are inundated with emails, and open rates and click-through rates have plummeted. Prospects are increasingly reluctant to give up their contact information.
To increase click-through rates, marketers need to provide relevant content to segmented lists. For one client, our automated lead nurturing email lists are segmented by the type of work recipients are doing. We are seeing email open-rates of 31% and click-through rates of 13% percent. These statistics are far better than the industry averages cited by HubSpot of 20% opens and 6-9% click-throughs.
Our agency is trying new tactics, such as Optinmonster content blocks, to overcome form-fill reluctance, but we marketers must accept that the marketing paradigm has changed. Today, buyers do their research online and reach out when they are ready.
In a way, this returns us to the old days of marketing, when we generated awareness and hoped it made the phone ring. In fact, GGC is testing third-party email lists as a new-again strategy, especially in support of ABM campaigns. They are like the postal lists we used to rent. I guess everything old is new again.
What’s Going to Stay the Same in B2B Marketing?
Despite all the changes in technology, certain fundamentals of marketing are not going to change.
- Brand messaging
- Useful content
- Clear communication
Many of our clients assume that they know their brand messages, but when we dig deeper, we find messages are muddy and not uniform across the company. Often, marketers fall into the “sea of sameness,” saying the same things that competitors say.
For example, one of our clients offered good prices and large inventory. We knew that time-to-market was important to the engineers who buy their products. Our analysis led us to create the tagline, Right Price Right Now. We supported it with proof points, including the number of products in inventory, the percent of products available for same-day shipping, and their industry-leading speed of modifications.
Getting their brand message right was a basic first step in successful marketing, and that’s not going to change. By the way, we have a proven process for uncovering the right selling messages.
Another mainstay of B2B marketing will be content. Whether it takes the form of a blog post, video, virtual reality, or (in the future) a hologram, the purpose of content will not change: provide helpful information for each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Already, prospects research solutions online and conduct most of their decision-making long before they talk with a salesperson. That trend will only grow as our involvement grows with a digital world. Of course, marketing content needs to be clear, technically proficient, and delivered with engaging design. Our professional services can help.
Tell Us Your Marketing Memories
What are your recollections from your marketing past? We’d love to hear your stories. Drop us a line at Contact Us.