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Date posted: January 30, 2014

According to a release by The Wall Street Journal, business-to-business (B2B) firms expect marketing budgets to rise on average in 2014, with the majority of B2B firms entering the new year with a positive outlook after meeting or exceeding revenue goals last year.

This is based on a recently completed Forrester Research/Business Marketing Association (BMA) study, which uses data based on a survey of 56 B2B marketing executives, fielded in Q3 2013.

These executives expect budgets to increase by 6% on average, with a total of 32% of surveyed marketers expecting some budget increase this year. The release tempers this positive outlook a little:

But despite this cautious optimism, many marketers still face ongoing pressure to justify their budgets: More than half of those surveyed said they feel challenged to connect marketing goals to business objectives in ways that defend budget requests, or find it difficult to attribute marketing activity directly to revenue results as another means to justify budgets.

Quoted in the WSJ release, BMA chairwoman Kathy Burton Bell cites the fragmentation occurring with budgets that chief marketing officers (CMOs) are addressing. “Specifically, we’ll see CMOs trading off traditional ad dollars in favor of digital, investing in content marketing, and carrying on the love/hate relationship with trade shows and conferences,” she says.

Among other developments expected in the year ahead:

  • Technology, data analytics, and innovation will top the list of priorities CMOs must figure out how to fund.
  • Bigger bets are being placed on marketing technology: 61% percent of surveyed marketing execs expect the ratio of technology spend to marketing program spend to increase.
  • Customer engagement will continue to rise in the pantheon of strategic marketing plans.

How do these survey results square with what you’re planning in the year ahead? We’d love to hear your opinion on where B2B marketing is headed in 2014.

Date posted: January 28, 2014

As B2B business has become global and networked, the once peripheral subject of currency exchange rates has become increasingly critical to ongoing operations. While the subject is admittedly an acquired taste, The Economist has made it more palatable for many with its “Big Mac Index,” the most current version of which was recently published. Here’s how they describe the history and purpose of the tool:

The Big Mac index was invented by The Economist in 1986 as a lighthearted guide to whether currencies are at their “correct” level. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), the notion that in the long run exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalize the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in this case, a burger) in any two countries. For example, the average price of a Big Mac in America in January 2014 was $4.62; in China it was only $2.74 at market exchange rates. So the “raw” Big Mac index says that the yuan was undervalued by 41% at that time.

As fans of infographics, we highly recommend you have a look at the piece, which features an easily navigated interactive world map that assesses the relative value of currencies according to the Big Mac Index. Among the currencies overvalued and undervalued compared to the US dollar:

Overvalued

  • Norway’s kroner by 68.8%
  • Venezuela’s Bolivar by 54.7%
  • Sweden’s krona by 36%
  • Brazil’s real by 13.5%

Undervalued

  • India’s rupee by 66.8%
  • South Africa’s rand by 53.3%
  • Russia’s ruble by 43.3%
  • Mexico’s peso by 40%

As B2B and B2C marketers continue to eye emerging markets as potential revenue streams, the relative value of currency will affect those streams’ momentum.

O well, something to chew on, with or without special sauce.

Date posted: January 14, 2014

According to John Lavine, founder, professor, and director of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, there are three essential truths when it comes to content strategy. These three truths represent “the permanent challenges to creating effective content.”

John’s Three Truths:
1) There is a rapidly rising tidal wave of information and it will continue to rise forever.
2) Everyone you want to reach has 1,440 minutes in their day; not one minute more, and most of that time is already used up with essentials such as eating, sleeping, working spending time with people you care about, etc. That means that there is ferocious competition for people’s precious, limited time.
3) The world is becoming ever more complicated, but people will give you their time and attention if you give them more of what they want.

One truth in John’s list stands out. In truth #2, John illustrates the fierce competition for people’s time. It is an undeniable but also a problem. It is, in fact, one of the major problems facing B2B Content Strategists. In providing his Third Truth, John also points the way toward a solution to this problem. He says, “…people will give you their time and attention if you give them more of what they want.” Aha! Yes, of course, they will. But here’s the rub for B2B marketers who don’t live in the Ivory Tower of academia: How to decide what your audience wants, and, once identified, delivering content that speaks to these wants in a timely, consistent, and cost-effective way.

This is the painful truth faced daily by our B2B clients wanting to win a share of their prospects’ precious, limited time. It is the point where academic theory ends and real-world solutions begin. It’s one thing to know the truth; it’s another to roll up your sleeves and face it head on.

Date posted: January 13, 2014

In today’s competitive environment, content strategy is essential to the success of B2B companies. To keep abreast of the rapidly changing online landscape and to continually improve our content creation services, we’ve enrolled in Northwestern University’s Content Strategy MOOC, which begins today.

Content Strategy is a conversation that provides thought-leadership. It starts a conversation with users and stakeholders inside and outside an organization.  Conversations are the natural way people think about complex issues. We understand that if our clients’ B2B organizations are to thrive, they need our support in creating engaging, strategic, honest stories and information that is valued by their most important audiences, which, in turn, will make their enterprise stand out.  Further, we believe that content strategy is similar to the best examples of journalism. Our background in journalism is what differentiates us from those that offer similar services; we’re journalists with more than 20 years experience. (See our portfolio of published articles.)

Content Strategy is not advertising, marketing, or public relations. It is different because it never pursues the persuasive goals that are appropriate in those disciplines. Every day we strive to improve our performance in delivering quality content to our clients. Part of this commitment is continuing education. And that is why we are proud to participate in Northwestern University’s Content Strategy MOOC.

Date posted: January 3, 2014

Social media and collaborative tools are becoming increasingly commonplace in B2B and B2C business alike. In an interesting post on business2community.com, Michael Brito makes a strong case for developing social business strategies that can stand the test of time and enable better content strategy, smarter marketing, integrated communities and more effective customer relationships.

What really caught our eye was the analysis of social business as an enabler, using three pillars of people, process and technology to achieve positive business outcomes. From a social business perspective, the essential strategic elements look like this:

People

  • Behavior Change
  • Cross Silo Collaboration
  • Executive Support & Participation
  • Organizational Models
  • Employee & Partner Participation

Process

  • Social Media Policies
  • Technology Integration
  • Customer Support & Crisis Workflows
  • Measurement Framework
  • Global & Enterprise Expansion

Technology

  • Online Monitoring
  • Analytics Platform
  • Internal Collaboration
  • Community Platform Selection
  • Social CRM/Content Publishing

With these pillars in place, businesses can expect to garner positive business outcomes including deeper customer engagement, more effective and relevant content, smarter marketing aligned to the business, integrated and converged media, effective content operations and governance, and an integrated community strategy.

As Brito notes, “the external marketplace isn’t going to change, slow down and let you catch up just because you aren’t ready for it. Your business is the one that has to change. In order for you to reach consumers with your value message, you need to manufacture a content organization where you are creating, curating and aggregating relevant content – at the right time, in the right channel and to the right customer. And your brand story must be consistent everywhere.”

This supports much of what we’ve been writing about on this blog, and it seems to us sound advice. The business world is increasingly social; and the sooner businesses develop strategies to reflect that fact, the faster they’ll reap the business outcomes they’re looking to achieve.