Geopolitical shifts, an uncertain financial market, global instability and other forces all point to one conclusion: 2017 is going to be the year of change. The B2B digital marketing space is no different. Business decision makers are changing the way they purchase products and services, and marketing is shifting to respond. The fast-paced changes in B2B marketing that we’ve seen over the past few years are only going to evolve more quickly in 2017, and some trends could fundamentally alter the way organizations plan marketing campaigns, budgets and staffing.

Here’s a look at five trends we see shaping B2B marketing in 2017:

  1. The rise of the tech-focused CMO: It’s no secret that the CMO’s world is changing rapidly. In just the past two years, we’ve seen a fundamental shift in businesses’ marketing function and those who lead it. All signs point to 2017 being the year, however, when the CMO is one of the most elevated and connected leaders in business – with the biggest budgets. According to Gartner’s 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, 2017 will be the first year in history when CMO’s spend on tech specifically will eclipse that spend of the CIO. What’s more, the same survey indicates that 30 percent of organizations have at least some aspects of sales, IT and customer experience all reporting directly into the CMO. Today’s CMO is managing bigger budgets, more technologies and more people from a variety of functions than their predecessor – and they’re looking for the vendors, partners and tools that can produce data-driven business results.
  2. Personalization as the necessary norm: In the past, B2B marketing personalization meant ensuring your outbound emails addressed a prospect by name. Today’s B2B consumers, however, expect personalized content experiences, websites and ads, and with the wealth of data at brands’ fingertips about their prospects and consumers, there’s no excuse for brands still employing a “spray and pray” approach to content marketing.

For B2B brands, the wealth of prospect data means increasingly, they aren’t looking for top-of-the funnel lead generation. Businesses know who their ideal prospects and targeted accounts are by name, and the rise of account-based marketing (ABM) partners and technologies mean brands can ensure their content only appears in front of those prospects they truly want and value – meaning higher ROI on marketing investments. According to Demand Gen Benchmark Report 2016, 47 percent of marketers have an ABM strategy in place, and 32 percent plan to launch an ABM initiative in 2017. Increasingly, marketers are seeing the real value in these types of programs for getting not just any lead, but the leads they need to drive business.

  1. The changing world – and reach – of brand social: Since 2014, brand pages on Facebook experienced a drastic cut in organic reach – as low as 1 percent. In 2016, we witnessed a 52 percent decline in publisher reach, according to the social publishing tool SocialFlow. On Facebook, the world’s largest news aggregator as well as other social media sites, the democracy of social media is waning. Organic social certainly serves a role in growing new communities and building trust/loyalty in online communities. But the reality is, brands must embrace paid social to truly use the channel as a driver of business. According to eMarketer, in 2017, social media ad spend is projected to top $41 billion. To be able to precisely target customers and provide the personalized experience B2B prospects expect (see above), brands have to harness the power of paid social.
  2. Every brand has to be a publisher: The traditional sales funnel has been tipped over, and the power to drive interactions with brands is now in the hands of the consumers. Consumers – particularly B2B ones – are expecting brands to come to them with content and as stated above, target that content precisely to their needs and buyer profile. B2B buyers have also become more savvy and demanding in the types of content they expect from brands. Brands can’t publish a white paper and call it a day for the quarter. Brands have to be always-on content machines, essentially publishers, and provide a steady stream of content that catches consumer attention and balances brand promotion with information. “What’s also tougher now is people’s attention span is smaller, and so it’s important to ensure they’re getting the information they need in the format that they are receptive to,” said Philippa Snare, EMEA Global Business Marketing Lead at Facebook. “It has become just as much a content dilemma as a creative dilemma.”
  3. Say hello (again) to email: In a rapidly-evolving technology space, email seems to be an antique of the past to be ignored. Not so. Studies repeatedly show that there is a high ROI for email marketing, and marketers still count on email as a priority channel. What has changed about email, though is how it’s done. The age of the mass email must be gone, and with it, low open rates and non-existent CTRs. Instead, in 2017, we’ll see increased personalization, segmentation and better device-friendly content. To discount email, particularly in the B2B world, would be to turn off a channel that we know continues to drive results.

2017 will certainly bring about change for B2B brands, no matter the industry. Now, more than ever, marketing will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to driving business value, and agencies, partners and vendors have to create the right products and solutions that truly address marketing’s ever-changing role.

Jake Parrillo is a senior vice president in Chicago.