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B2B Barometer: Revealing Health & Trends in the B2B Marketing Industry

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Acknowledgement

Now in its 4th wave, the B2B Barometer has been a source of consistently relevant and interesting information on not only the health of the B2B marketing industry but also as a compass showing the direction of the industry, and trends within it.

As a member of both the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing) and ABBA (Association of B2B Agencies) we would once again like to offer our thanks to these organisations and the excellent work they put in with Circle Research in the compilation of each B2B Barometer.

The Health of the Industry

Confidence and Performance

With over half (57%) of B2B agencies reporting increased revenue for the past 12 months, confidence within the B2B marketing industry is high for the first half of 2011. Despite confidence within the industry being consistently high since the benchmark Barometer in April 2009, the latest report shows the closest parity between confidence and performance in over two years.
One of the reasons for this confidence is the number of high quality enquires received by B2B marketing agencies. The research shows that two thirds of agencies have reported a greater quantity of enquiries in the past six months, whilst over half have experienced an increase in the quality of leads. This shows a marked improvement from the June 2010 Barometer which raised concerns over the quality of leads. As a result, performance in the first half of 2011 is expected to be strong.

Trends

Budgets for B2B marketing have remained relatively static throughout the past two years although it is the changes in share that spark the most interesting comment. Currently, 53% of B2B marketing budget allocation for the next 12 months is focussed towards 4 predominant channels, these being trade shows, email marketing, website development and online advertising. If direct mail, PR and print channels are added, the research shows that 79% of budget allocation is spread across seven channels. This has led some to surmise that the task of marketers, particularly in ensuring a consistent and accurate marketing message across so many channels, will become increasingly difficult.

Interestingly, whilst social media may be outside this majority group (5% of budget allocation), its increased prominence means that it is now more popular than both marketing research and marketing strategy (4% and 3% of budget allocation respectively).

The Movers and Shakers

In terms of budget allocation and marketing spend there are some valuable points which can be gleaned from the Barometer which directly related to the B2B marketing channels:

  • Trade Shows have increased in popularity considerably (from 14% to 17% of budget share) since April 2009. Whether this is a short term trend or a more strategic shift is yet to be ascertained.
  • Whilst it still may only hold a small percentage share of marketing budget allocation (5%) Social Media activities are growing in importance with B2B marketers.
  • Direct mail was the biggest loser in regards to budget share shifts falling a significant 7% from 16% to 9% in the past 6 months, arguably showing the desire of marketers and organisations to find more cost effective marketing channelss

The Traditional/Digital Balance

According to the report, the increase in budget share for digital marketing has been relatively small since April 2009, an incremental 2% from 39% to 41%. More interesting, is the fall of traditional channels from 47% to 41% since the benchmark report, showing that within the modern B2B marketing industry, competition between traditional and digital channels remains fierce.

General Approach

Client-side marketers, agencies and organisations were all similar in pursuing an approach that was heavily focussed towards attracting and retaining customers. Arguably, with a growing emphasis on value for money channels such as increasing online presence, brand awareness activities and obtaining customer insight through segmentation this customer-centric approach will be achieved.

Social Media

It may only be a small percentage of B2B marketing budget share, social media is worthy of special comment, particularly considering that 79% of respondents now feel that social media is relevant in the B2B environment. It remains a hot topic with all marketers and whilst agencies may be consumed by debating its potential and drawbacks, there seems to have been a considerable shift in emphasis within the industry.

From a point where agencies and marketers were all talking about social media quite loosely, it seems as if this has now evolved into formalised social media strategy; according to the Barometer, almost two thirds (64%) of marketers have a social media strategy in place, an increase of 36% in just 6 months.

Forms of social media deemed particularly powerful in the B2B environment are regarded to be LinkedIn, blogs and online communities with Facebook and Twitter relatively low down the list of priorities.

Conclusions

  • The health of the industry seems to be improving from the concerns 6 months ago in relation to the quality of enquiries to general optimism that agencies will build upon the increased revenues of the last 12 months in what will be a strong first half of 2011.
  • The balance between digital and traditional marketing channels in terms of B2B marketing budget allocation remains close, within just 2% of each other.
  • Trade shows have shown a significant increase in popularity whilst direct mail has fallen in prominence dramatically over the last 6 months.
  • Social media is evolving in the B2B environment with the increased use of formalised social media strategies by many agencies and organisations.

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