19 Powerful B2B Marketing Strategies That Work Now (Based on NEW Data)
If you perform a Google search for B2B marketing strategies, it's all too easy to land on articles that simply provide the generic list of marketing strategies we already know to be true: SEO, PPC, email, social media, referral marketing, loyalty programs, and more. And many of the themes layered on top of these strategies are repetitive: know your target audience, personalize, and use your data.
When a post tells you to know your audience. Personalize your content. Use video.
Now I’d be lying if I said I won’t cover any of the above in this post. In fact, I cover all of the above. But my aim here is to break down why these strategies are important for 2021 and to provide some more specific tactics on how to carry them out—backed by new, post-COVID data.
So here’s what I'm going to do:
- List out general B2B marketing strategies based on 2021 B2B buyer trends.
- Offer some more specific strategies within the common channels of SEO, PPC, email, and social media.
- Provide key takeaways that can guide you in coming up with the best marketing strategies for your B2B business.
General B2B marketing strategies
As the workforce evolves, new trends emerge from the pandemic, and major platforms make (major) changes (see ya, cookies), the best ways to carry out the evergreen B2B marketing strategies are going to look slightly different each year. Here are some general approaches to take with respect to 2021 reports.
1. Target millennials
By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce. According to Merit's B2B Millennials Report, 73% of millennials are involved in product or service purchase decision-making at their companies, and 30% of them are the sole decision-makers.
This means catering your B2B marketing strategies toward millennial preferences, like:
- Speed of response (like through live chat).
- Easy mobile experiences (through formatting and geofencing).
- Social media engagement (and not just LinkedIn!).
- Cause-based marketing.
2. Take a B2C approach
The lines are being blurred between B2B marketing and B2C. This is due to the increasingly competitive nature of the digital space as well as the growing percentage of millennials in the B2B buyer population. In fact, according to Foleon's 2021 B2B Buyer Insights Report, 80% of B2B buyers now expect a B2C experience.
In order to stand out above the noise, and to millennials, B2C approaches are necessary, like:
- Personalization (in more than just emails).
- Emotional marketing (more on that here).
- Ease of access (to educational content and self-service).
3. Cater to a longer buying cycle
It’s always been known that B2B marketing typically has a longer buying cycle than B2C. But according to a study conducted by McKinsey at the end of 2020, the buying cycle has gotten even longer for B2B businesses since the pandemic.
With budgets being tightened, B2B buyers are taking more care to research products and services, and to more thoroughly calculate ROI beforehand.This makes it important to:
- Create content to support, and not disrupt buyer research.
- Use language and data particularly focused on ROI in your messaging.
4. Focus on first-party data
With the iOS 14 privacy update and Google eventually moving away from cookies, achieving precise targeting will become more challenging. Since knowing your audience is the fundamental first step for all types of marketing (see, I told you I'd talk about these things), first-party-data-friendly marketing campaigns are essential. Ways to collect first-party data include:
- PPC lead gen campaigns and email list building.
- Google Ads alternatives (like Microsoft or Amazon).
- Using A/B content testing to collect your own psychographic data (headlines, tone, related content suggestions).
You can even create custom questions in Facebook ads to collect first-party data.
5. Supplement your automation with AI
Marketing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are not one and the same. Marketing automation software is geared toward helping humans to carry out simple and repetitive tasks. This still requires configuring workflows around various scenarios and using the data to make manual optimizations. AI, however, uses data to mimic human intelligence and reasoning to make predictions, suggest optimizations, and dynamically apply them.
Combining automation and artificial intelligence gives you the best of both worlds: you get the efficiency and time-saving benefits of automation, along with the ability to recommend and make adjustments to the automation using data-driven insights.
Here are some examples of how AI can augment automation:
- Tools that write subject lines or portions of emails within your email automation platform that are highly personalized.
- Smart Bidding strategies or the Insights Page in Google Ads
- Using past data for more accurate lead scoring in a CRM.
Now that we've gone over the overarching themes, let's talk about ways to apply them in the most popular B2B marketing channels: SEO, PPC, social media, email.
B2B marketing strategies using SEO
SEO helps you to get found in searches the buyers within your target businesses are performing. Here are three strategies to employ for better B2B SEO:
6. Have an SEO keyword funnel
Since B2B buyers are doing such heavy research these days, and are not yet ready to buy during this process, having organic content that ranks at every stage of their journey is huge. This way, you’re not only supporting their research, but you’re also staying top of mind, displaying your expertise, and building trust throughout their whole process.
Backlinko’s guide to B2B SEO provides excellent coverage for this strategy. The example they use is that of a logistics services company.
Here’s what we can gather from this visual:
- Top-of-funnel keywords are very tactical, such as with how-tos to help buyers carry out their role effectively (and to help you facilitate the identification of pain points).
- Middle-of-funnel keywords can start to use more strategy-focused and comparison keywords as the buyer gets more educated.
- Bottom-of-funnel keywords are focused and targeted at exactly what the buyer (now) knows they want (thanks to your education along the way).
There is so much more to keywords for B2B marketing (intent and location modifiers) but this is an oversimplified version to help you get the gist.
7. Create career development content
Even though you are a business selling to another business, the buyer is still an individual person with a specific role in their company. And solutions aren’t the only things they are searching for online. They’re also looking at ways to educate themselves, build their skill sets, and advance their career. Create career development content to establish your expertise while building connections with could-be customers and tapping into a whole new set of relevant keywords.
How do I know this works? I've done it.
8. Stay on top of algorithm updates
Technical SEO is nothing new, but it has grown in importance with new algorithm updates in the past year. For example,
- With 100% mobile-first indexing, you need to make sure Googlebot can access and render your mobile content and check your structured data among other things.
- With Google’s BERT update, targeting a keyword according to the intent of the person searching for it is essential.
B2B marketing strategies using PPC
PPC comes in many different forms: search ads, social media ads, display ads, app store ads, podcast ads, and more. All of these can be lucrative B2B marketing strategies. For this post, I’m going to highlight three specific strategies you can apply to improve your B2B PPC efforts.
9. Use emotion in your ads
I can't tell you how many articles there are out there that say B2C marketing is focused on emotion and B2C is focused on logic. (We've even been guilty of it.)
I never thought I'd use that stale meme pic, but the cosmos aligned.
But science says that all decisions—even B2B buying decisions—have an emotional basis. Even though businesses spend more time carefully considering options and even have decision-making committees, these committees are still made up of individuals.
B2B businesses can (and absolutely should) inject emotion into their marketing campaigns. I promise I won't talk about the Dove Beauty Sketches or the Subaru Emotional Outback campaign. From a B2B perspective you can be much more subtle, like in the example below:
This word choice triggers a bit of anger and indignance. (Image source)
For more help with incorporating emotion into your ad and copywriting, check out our 273 words for emotional marketing copy.
10. Combine broad match keywords with audience targeting in Google Ads
This isn’t exactly a new strategy, but it’s more important given the farewell we said to our friend modified broad earlier this year.
Without this keyword match type (and without the helpful information that used to be available to us in the search terms report), you can’t exactly be sure that you’re targeting the exact right search query in your PPC campaigns. But you can be sure that you’re targeting the right person.
By targeting broad match keywords with audience targeting you can capture a broad audience of the right people. And since B2B marketing largely targets the decision makers in the company, this is especially helpful.
11. Use LinkedIn Website Demographics for more targeted ads
Back in 2018 when Microsoft bought LinkedIn, they rolled out the ability to use LinkedIn profile targeting for Microsoft Ads. But one tool that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention is the LinkedIn Website Demographics tool. With this feature, you can look at traffic coming to your site based on company, company size, job function, job characteristics, industry, geography, and more. Use this data to:
- Segment audiences: See which departments and roles are clicking on your ads.
- Further segment by website pixel: Instead of viewing data for all of your website visitors, you can refine by the conversion behaviors they take on your site.
- Compare audiences: Compare the above pixel data for different job functions. For example, if business development professionals make up a large portion of your ad traffic but are not converting, you may want to make tweaks to your ad. If you’re getting decent traffic but no conversions, you may want to eliminate this audience segment altogether.
Insights from Linkedin Website Demographics can help you in your other B2B marketing efforts since you can have a better idea of who’s doing the research and who’s making the decisions within your target businesses.
B2B marketing strategies using your website
With PPC and SEO driving traffic to your website, it’s important to make sure your website provides the right experience for your buyers that aligns with expectations of 2021.
12. Employ dynamic content for personalized experiences
According to Demand Base’s latest B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, 70% of buyers ranked relevant content that speaks directly to their company as “very important.”
Now you can't exactly cater your website to specific companies, but you can use dynamic content on your site to provide a more personalized experience.
For example, you can create different live chat options on certain pages based on which channel they came to your website from—like an email or an ad—or you can use Drift's integration with Clearbit to get even more personal:
You can create pop-ups for guides of varying topics based on the category of the blog post they’re reading. Or even adjust the headline for your homepage based on company size.
Another option would be to create a popup that asks for information that will help you to guide the B2B buyer on a path tailored to their needs.
Other criteria for dynamic content includes:
- Stage in sales funnel or customer lifecycle.
- Geolocation (such as to offer discounts on tickets to nearby conferences).
- Referral source (SERP, social media, email).
- Website behavior (new or returning visitor, time on site, pages visited).
13. Provide self-service options (with support)
McKinsey recently released a report on how COVID has changed B2B sales forever. One of the key insights is that B2B buyers have become more in favor of being able to evaluate and purchase products by themselves, which means two things:
Remote human interaction and digital self-service.
According to McKinsey, only 20% of B2B buyers want to return to in-person sales experiences.
The former isn’t limited to having video conference meetings during the sales and fulfillment stages, and the latter isn’t limited to buy online. Buy online can also mean free version, free trial, and DIY demos. And remote human interaction can (and should) be provided at every stage of the customer’s lifecycle through live chat.
- First off, 63% of millennials (which, as already mentioned, makes up the majority of B2B buyers today) now prefer live chat over any other channel.
- Secondly, even though 70% of the buyer journey is already complete before the buyer comes into contact with sales (Leave me alone so I can research), B2B buyers still want support.
- Over 60% of B2B buyers have stated they want more communication during the research stage, while making the purchase, and post-purchase (Leave me alone so i can research but be there for me when I have questions.
With live chat, you can cater campaigns based on the page your visitor is viewing, which typically indicates their stage in their journey. For example:
- Homepage: Run a "what are you trying to do?" chat that helps guide them toward sales, support, or just browsing.
- Blog pages: Offer to answer questions or offer a guide on the topic of that post.
- Solutions page: Try something like "Need help identifying the right solution for you?"
- Support pages: Offering support for live chat is particularly important for retention.
For any of these campaigns, you can start off with a bot that collects information and then routes the chat to a live agent who can provide the human interaction.
Personalization, self-service, and support. Now THAT'S a 2021 B2B marketing strategy done right. (Image source)
B2B marketing strategies using social media
14. Use Facebook ads, Messenger, and reviews
Is Facebook a lucrative B2B marketing platform? The answer is 74. 74% of people say they use Facebook for professional purposes, and business decision-makers spend 74% more time on Facebook as compared to other people. Plus, there's this:
Here are some tips on using Facebook for your B2B marketing strategy:
- Run B2B Facebook ads using the Brand Awareness, Traffic, Lead generation, and Conversion objectives (product catalog sales and store visits are pretty useless, and unless you have a robust content and retargeting program in place, Reach campaigns aren't
- Complete your business page. Like your Google My Business profile, your Facebook business page is a second homepage for your business on a highly trafficked site.
- Use Facebook Messenger for customer support or even general inquiries (or Messenger ads).
- Gather reviews. Millennials are less focused on analyst data and more focused on peer-to-peer reviews and recommendations. Facebook is a good place to provide this information on a platform they frequent.
From the Content Marketing Institute's latest B2B Content Marketing Report.
15. Use LinkedIn posts, Pulse, and profile targeting
Using LinkedIn as a social channel for B2B marketing is obvious, but let's go over a few tactics:
- Run LinkedIn ads and Microsoft ads using profile targeting and then further refine using LinkedIn Website demographics (which we covered above).
- Use a combination of posts and Pulse articles. Pulse articles have the benefit of a permanent presence on your page and showing up on Google, and promoting them in posts gives them the added visibility they need.
- Encourage your employees to share your content on their Linkedin profiles. According to Linkedin, the employee network is 10X larger than its company’s follower base. Even better, content shared by employees receives 8X more engagement than content shared by brand channels.
16. Build community and relationships onTwitter
Surprisingly enough, Twitter and Facebook are tied as the second-most popular social media platform used by B2B content marketers. It's a good place to have conversational interactions with prospects and customers, take note of trending topics in your clients' industries, and interact with influencers.
Here are some B2B Twitter marketing tips:
- Start and participate in conversations. One of the main social media use cases for millennial B2B buyers is that of following discussions based on their topic of interest. Instead of hoping to be mentioned in popular conversations, why not start a weekly chat yourself!? (Take inspiration from #ppcchat).
- Use it for brand awareness and community building: The bad news is that the average lifespan of a tweet is 20 minutes. The good news is that unlike Facebook and Instagram, posting too much will not counteract your efforts. Post frequently on the platform to provide educational content, connect with your community, and even build backlinks.
- Use lists. Create custom feeds for your business through lists. This way you can cut through the noise and stay more closely connected to followers that matter. You may want to build separate lists for clients, influencers, and industry news providers.
B2B marketing strategies using email
Email is the preferred form of communication for 73% of millennials. It's also a top free organic distribution channel for 87% of B2B marketers. Needless to say, it's a must-have B2B marketing strategy. Here are my three tips for B2B email:
17. Run nurture campaigns
Drip and nurture campaigns get used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Drip campaigns are a predetermined set of time-based emails you send out to a segment of your list, usually designed to drive a conversion. Nurture campaigns are behavior-based, meaning they go out to recipients according to how they’ve interacted with your site and previous emails. Nurture email campaigns are best for B2B marketing since they focus on educating the prospect as they interact with your brand and provide more personalized content to help build the relationship.
Here's a great example of a nurture email I got from Moz after creating an account to use their Chrome extension.
The next email I get from Moz will depend on whether I click on this guide.
For more help with your emails, check out these 34 free email examples and templates I created to make your life easier.
18. Increase click-through rates with video emails
We all know that video marketing has been the rookie of the year for like, five years now. And email marketing has been the MVP for forever. So why not combine them? In fact, this winning combo can increase click-through rates by up to 300%.
You can use video as a teaser for the content you want readers to click on, for product or feature releases, to reveal your company culture, or as a part of a tutorial series for nurturing leads. Here's an example by Wistia:
19. Make sure your emails have plain text alternatives
Even when sending HTML emails, you should always have a plain text version. Not only does this help your emails get through spam, security, and privacy filters, but also, plain text emails are more compatible with smart watches and voice-assisted devices. This Litmus guide walks you through creating an optimized plain text email.
Believe it or not, some readers actually prefer plain text emails. (Image source)
Try out these B2B marketing strategies to reach your sales goals
As millennials come to dominate the B2B buyer space and businesses are pushing for a more personal approach to marketing, B2C and B2B marketing strategies are becoming less and less distinct. Traditional B2B marketing methods remain evergreen for the most part, but there is a greater emphasis on buyer enablement, education, and empowerment. And with the pandemic, the push for social change, and the major platform changes we've seen over the past year, we're reminded of the importance of staying on top of trends and changing best practices.
There are plenty more B2B marketing strategies that I didn't cover in this guide—referral programs, interactive content, increasing your overall online presence, influencer collaborations, and account-based marketing to name a few. But hopefully I've given you enough material to either try something new or brush up on one of your traditional strategies.
Here are the 19 B2B marketing strategies covered in this guide:
- Target millennials.
- Take a B2C approach.
- Cater to a longer buying cycle.
- Focus on first-party data.
- Supplement automation with AI.
- Have an SEO keyword funnel.
- Create career development content.
- Stay on top of technical site fixes.
- Use emotion in your ads.
- Combine broad match keywords with audience targeting.
- Use LinkedIn Website Demographics for better targeting.
- Employ dynamic content for personalized experiences.
- Provide self-service (with support).
- Use Facebook ads, Messenger, and reviews.
- Use LinkedIn posts, pulse, and profile targeting.
- Build community and relationships on Twitter.
- Run email nurture campaigns.
- Send video emails to increase CTR.
- Send emails with plain text alternatives.