Three Lessons Learned from The Business Marketing Association’s Annual Conference

Cj4l-qEUgAImOHGA few hundred business marketers converged on Chicago earlier this month for the BMA annual conference. This year’s theme: Growth ? How B2B Marketing Drives Business Results. Buzz words and clever hashtags aside, this is an important topic in marketing circles, and one that continues to be a struggle for businesses of all sizes.

However, there are great examples from industry titans like GE, Adobe and TD Ameritrade that are on the right track. While at the conference, I was fascinated to hear their actionable tips and stories about how to create marketing programs that deliver meaningful business impact. Here are my top three takeaways.

EVERYTHING Must Be Strategic and Deliver Results

“Every marketing team wishes they had a larger budget – even GE’s,” said GE chief marketing officer Linda Boff. But six or seven-figure budgets aren’t the only answer. The challenge is to be thoughtful about the investments you make and to be sure that everything – from a single piece of content to a global ad campaign – drives the outcome you expect.

The point? Ask yourself what you want to achieve and work backward from there toward tactics. Not the other way around. Or as Michael Brenner, author of The Content Formula, put it: “Why does this matter, what is the impact and how will it be measured?” If these questions can’t be answered, it’s time to revisit the strategy. In the end, even modest marketing budgets can help businesses achieve their purpose – but only if that purpose is well-defined from the beginning.

Disrupt or be Disrupted

Technology has forever changed the way we work. And the pace of change is accelerating. Businesses and marketers must embrace change, challenge the status quo and continually innovate within their organizations. Whether B2B or B2C, it doesn’t matter here. If you’re not delivering greater experiences or value, customers will go to the company that is. And, while difficult, disruptive change is a necessary driver for strategic growth according to many leaders.

“It’s uncomfortable to be a disruptor,” said Steve Liguori, CEO of Liguori Innovation, “But business leaders must be willing to change to stay competitive in today’s landscape.” Even global organizations are developing “start-ups” within their businesses to fuel innovation. These lean groups ask the big questions and develop groundbreaking ideas that can pivot the larger organization.

As for the rest of us? Start small. Be comfortable taking risks and empower a team to do the same. Find ways to be agile and fast on a small scale – transformation will follow.

Create Content for Humans, Not Robots

B2B buyers are people, too, and they use the same internet as everyone else. There’s no reason that brand experiences and good storytelling have to suffer because your audience is a person representing their business. It can be even easier to deliver a great experience for B2B buyers because they’re often easier to define than B2C customers.

BMA speaker Michael Brenner put it best by saying, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and BE what people are interested in!”

The key takeaway from this year’s BMA conference is that executives are demanding results from marketing initiatives. Saying something “is difficult to measure” is a dead excuse. It’s time to stop focusing measurement on clicks, impressions, website traffic or social shares in isolation and start evaluating the business outcomes you want to achieve with marketing initiatives. Define your objective and work backward toward tactics. And in the end, marketing will provide strategic value to your business – and to your customers.

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