Two Lessons From ANA’s Masters of B2B Marketing

The pace at which technology has changed the way we live, work and communicate is staggering. Think about it: More data was created in 2014 and 2015 than the rest of human history combined. The first mobile phone call happened in the 1970s, but smartphones have exploded since the iPhone stole the spotlight 10 years ago. And in a connected world, there’s more noise and more competition vying for attention from an elusive digital customer, with more coming every day.

The point is that change is constant, and technology will continue to shift the way we work at exponential rates. For marketers and communicators in the business of connecting with the right customer at the right time, we must adopt constant change as a new normal.

This was the central theme of ANA Masters of B2B Marketing event in Chicago. The annual conference drew more than 600 business marketers for discussions about technology, innovation and the need to continually adapt to change. Here are my top takeaways.

Human-to-Human Marketing, Brought to You by Big Data

Call them what you will: Buyers, consumers or customers are demanding relevant and meaningful interactions with brands – even in B2B! It’s ironic that the creation of those personal brand experiences is driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence. IBM’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, Jon Iwata, showcased the scary but brilliant way that the Watson platform thinks, learns and understands. It’s almost unimaginable how this cognitive intelligence platform is helping marketers make meaningful connections with customers. Take, for example, programmatic buying for digital ads – a trend that’s finally gaining traction in the B2B marketing circles, and is expected to explode in the next decade. In one case, Watson created an understanding of customers and individuals a company was targeting, and placed ads to serve them content they expected – driving a 25 percent efficiency increase in programmatic buying. Watson also can analyze near-limitless data sources to help marketers create more personal and relevant brand experiences. However, Iwata reinforced that data and analytics are insufficient if marketers can’t use them to connect with the right customers. In other words, IBM is on a mission to enhance our own human abilities as marketers – not to replace them. Yet.

Marketing and Messaging in a Nonlinear World

One visual to sum up ANA’s event comes from Mark Bonchek, author and founder of SHIFT Thinking.

Bonchek argues that marketers must shift away from a one-way, linear mental model of communication: one-to-many. Today, customers are talking back, and brands must listen and learn along the way. Business marketers need to adapt and stop creating content for a linear sales funnel. They must start creating content to articulate a brand’s shared purpose for a number of audiences with many different relationships with a brand. Defining a brand’s purpose and creating meaningful content and experiences will result in what Bonchek defines as brand ORBITS (ongoing relationships beyond individual transactions). Create gravity with your messaging and content, and buyers will be drawn to orbit around your brand.

It’s a powerful notion that requires a different way of thinking about a brand’s relationships with customers, employees, partners and more.

Connecting with purpose and precision in the digital deluge is our daily focus. As modern marketers, we can help organizations make data-driven decisions to connect with the audiences that matter most. Despite a constantly evolving tech landscape, reaching the right audience, with the right message still drives results.

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