B2B Marketers Enhance Budgets, But Not Methods

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Trade shows still dominate B2B marketing budgets.
Trade shows still dominate B2B marketing budgets.

B2B companies will increase their marketing budgets 6% this year, according to a survey of 56 chief marketers conducted by Forrester and the Business Marketing Association. It's an increase that represents 4% of their companies' revenues— a significant bump from the 2.5% they said they devoted in a similar poll conducted two years ago. But with 5 to 10% of revenues currently the rule of thumb for most enterprises' marketing budgets, according to Forrester, B2Bers continue to play a conservative game.

In-person events such as trade shows and conferences still command the largest share of B2B marketing budgets at 20%, and while 30% of CMOs said they intended to spend less on events this year, 21% said they'd spend more. “This is not new. They say they're going to decrease events and they continue to spend,” says Laura Ramos, a Forrester VP and principal analyst. “It's a love-hate relationship. They want to move to new methods, but they work in a relationship-based selling arrangement and there's a lot of demand from field organizations for them to attend shows.”

B2B marketers do see a way to increased results using new methods. Seventy percent said they planned to increase their spend on digital efforts, 59% intended to ramp up content marketing, and 45% pledged resources to improving their websites. Content marketing is the “new black” among B2B marketers, the Forrester report says. Asked what they would do if handed a budget increase of 5%, more than half of CMOs said they'd use it to prime their content marketing machines.

Unlike their B2C counterparts, B2B marketers resist plunging headlong into data analytics and technology. While Oracle and Salesforce.com spend billions adding marketing automation offerings to their B2B marketing clouds, only 7% of Forrester's survey sample said they would spend more to test new marketing innovations in 2014. That's a major commitment compared to the minuscule 1% of their 2014 budgets that will be devoted to data analytics and innovation. IT support and development merits only 3%.

Surprisingly, Forrester finds that B2B marketers are even slow to embrace technology that might improve the results they see from their biggest investment—in-person events. “I don't think they're doing quite as good a job of using technologies like DoubleDutch and Cvent to pump up trade show results,” Ramos says. “They can use technology as an extension of their CRM or marketing automation systems to sit back after an event, examine results, and evaluate what they paid for. Especially in big companies, they need to improve collaboration within the organization. The social team may not even be aware of all the events going on.”

Forrester analysts, however, are optimistic that B2B marketers' conservative stance will loosen as 2014 plays out. Here are some B2B marketer behavioral changes they envision in the coming 12 months:

Tightening up on trade shows: CMOs will challenge their events teams to return measurable value in customer engagement and pipeline development. They will deemphasize huge national shows in favor of regional and industry-specific events.

Socializing. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they'd spend a 5% budget windfall on improving social media engagement. If they pair up with the right tech partners, they will pinpoint which elements of the online marketing mix reach the right buyers and return results.

Shooting more videos. Visual storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with buyers. Smart marketers will focus on using video to present customer case studies or how-to narrations that give evidence their products and services do what they're supposed to do.

Honing paid media for results. To make limited ad budgets pay, CMOs will target narrower segments—hospitals with more than 250 beds, auto dealers in the Southwest—that are defined in such a way as to quickly produce metrics on effectiveness.

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