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How are mid-market companies changing their view on the role of marketing and its impact on business?
Shepherd: Companies are changing their views on exclusively focusing on lead generation as the sole outcome for all marketing activities.
Historically, companies primarily saw the marketing function as distributing promotional items and hosting events such as golf days or trade shows to connect with customers and prospects. They thought marketing should always equate to bringing in leads or contact information that could immediately be passed to the sales team for a sales call.
In our 2019 B2B Marketing Benchmark Study, we saw a shift. Companies recognize that an exclusive focus on lead generation is not effective and there must be an emphasis on brand awareness, too. We know marketing is a complex machine, with many concurrent tactics working together to achieve success. It’s a strategic combination of brand-building activities, as well as pure lead-generating tactics such as search engine marketing or content marketing campaigns.
Why is brand awareness becoming more important?
Shepherd: Brand awareness is critical to achieving success with your lead generation efforts. It’s hard to acquire a lead when no one is aware of your company or when you try to combine lead generation and brand awareness tactics into one approach.
Brand awareness is the perception generated by the interactions your prospective customers have with you before their purchase cycle starts. This is when you have a huge opportunity to create a positive impression and build trust.
Prospects may not need to buy your product or service during the period you make contact, so it’s important to understand their buying cycle and follow up at times relevant to their purchasing needs. Maintaining ongoing brand exposure is essential so your company is considered at the moment of purchase.
We think this year’s study shows that companies are growing to understand the need to invest in brand awareness.
In your survey, what was cited as the function that will have the most impact on their business?
Shepherd: For the first time since the study began in 2012, marketing was cited as the function that will have the most impact on their business. The previous two studies cites the sales effort.
We think this is because companies have learned that sales is not enough. It used to be that you would hire a sales person with a rolodex in your industry and they would come to your company with their own leads and reputation (brand awareness).
However, we’ve seen in our clients that this isn’t enough to maintain the levels of growth that companies require. They realize they need to develop a strong marketing presence, however that works in their particular industry and stage of growth. In the past two studies, operations was the second function but I think companies have realized they can only make so many cutbacks to their budgets and yet still have enough resources for growth that is achieved by investing in marketing.
Is there anything else that jumped out at you from the survey?
Shepherd: Content marketing is increasing in importance. More companies are investing in content marketing activities and achieving stronger performance, which is a reflection of the increased focus by B2B companies on the importance of marketing in their organizations.
Content marketing showcases your expertise and allows your potential customers to understand what you offer and your position in the industry.
We also saw a decrease in networking events like conferences that are expensive and time-consuming to organize. It’s often difficult to adequately attribute a return on investment to a conference or trade show. Companies are redirecting some of their budget to content marketing, which is easier to track and measure.
Do these companies have the necessary resources in marketing to do what needs to be done?
Shepherd: We see very few small to mid-sized companies are adequately resourced. Often there is just one person overseeing marketing and they are supposed to have the experience and knowledge to set the strategy and execute on tactics. It’s hard to find someone who can do it all successfully.
We’re often called in when the in-house marketer has been unable to achieve the expected results. Also, companies need to know how to set their budget and track results against it. That is why we added the budget question in this year’s study. Without the expertise to know how much to spend and how to achieve return on investment, it’s difficult to be successful. Maybe you’re not spending enough or perhaps you are wasting money that could be better applied elsewhere in the company or even in the marketing budget.