In 2023, B2B inbound marketing is more important than ever. While web traffic and email open rates across industries have both been in freefall, inbound leads rose by over 6%, and web-based conversions saw a nearly 11% increase.
Marketers across industries seem well aware that inbound marketing performs, as 88% of marketers already doing SEO work plan to increase or maintain their investment moving forward, and nine out of 10 marketers plan to increase their investment or continue using short-form videos as a major element of their ongoing strategy.
All this well-warranted buzz around inbound marketing has made the practice more competitive than ever.
If your B2B brand wants to rise above the noise, you’ll have to confront and overcome some serious challenges in the process. Let’s tackle them together:
1 — Economic downturn & pressure to prove ROI fast
Perhaps the most immediately pressing challenges facing B2B inbound marketers today relate to the tough market conditions resulting from the protracted economic downturn we’ve been facing for most of 2023.
According to Insider Intelligence, B2B sales growth is down 3.4% this year, while ad spend continues to rise at a growth rate of 9.3 percent. The result, as Sara Lebow wrote for Insider, is that “B2B companies are fighting over increasingly limited spend.”
B2B inbound marketers are likely feeling this crunch more than most. The most recent B2B Marketing Benchmark report from LinkedIn* showed that CMOs are under pressure to demonstrate marketing impact on the bottom line faster than ever.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to quickly prove the ROI of demand generation marketing than inbound marketing. This has been an infamous ongoing problem in B2B that has led to the dominance of performance marketing at the expense of brand building.
Solution: Redefining the ROI of inbound marketing
As the stats above demonstrate, the problem with B2B inbound marketing isn’t actually making the impact; it’s proving the impact has been made. B2B marketers are relying on performance metrics for their inbound marketing that undermine how big a difference their inbound is actually makes.
“The problem with B2B inbound marketing isn’t actually making the impact; it’s proving the impact has been made.” — Harry Mackin of @TopRank Marketing
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New metrics for B2B inbound marketing success are needed. Many marketers are using brand performance metrics to understand the impact of upper-funnel and inbound efforts in the greater context of pipeline and revenue.
Armed with metrics like these, it’s much easier for inbound marketers to prove how essential their brand building is to long-term, sustained success – even in the midst of an economic downturn.
2 — The competition is fierce, and only growing fiercer
According to the 2023 B2B marketing mix report by SageFrog, nearly half of all B2B brands (49%) are actively implementing SEO inbound marketing as a major part of their marketing strategy. Another 43% are investing in content marketing and organic social media inbound marketing.
With so much inbound marketing out there, it’s little wonder that 59% of all digital marketers say their company is experiencing more competition this year than they did in 2022. HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report found that 22% of social media marketers reported “creating engaging content” and “gaining and keeping followers” as their greatest challenges in 2023.
This competition isn’t going anywhere, either. The global B2B SEO services market is currently valued at $46.7 billion, and it’s set to reach $238 billion by 2030. According to HubSpot’s 2023 State of Marketing Report, almost nine out of 10 (88%) marketers who do SEO inbound marketing plan to maintain or increase how much they do this year.
Solution: Highly-targeted, intent-based content
TopRank recently published our guide to SEO and qualified search traffic, “Marketing with Intent.” We define intent-based marketing as a way to center your B2B content strategy on an intent-based SEO approach. This strategy is the perfect way to stand out to a B2B audience, no matter the competition.
For example, did you know that keywords between 10 to 15 words in length get 1.76x the clicks as single-word terms? These intent-heavy “long-tail” keywords are growing more popular both because of how much content is on the internet right now, and because of how the mass adoption of voice search is radically changing the way SEO works.
Getting to know what your audience is searching for and why will help inform every aspect of your inbound marketing, from what you produce to how you produce it to even where you publish it.
“Getting to know what your audience is searching for and why will help inform every aspect of your inbound marketing, from what you produce to how you produce it to even where you publish it.” — Harry Mackin of @TopRank Marketing
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If you can truly shape your B2B inbound marketing around audience intent, it won’t matter how much other content is trying to get their attention. You’ll be the brand showing up for what they need and giving them exactly what they’re looking for.
3 — B2B audiences are tough to pin down
Of course, to achieve effective B2B inbound intent marketing, you have to understand your audience’s intent. Only 11% of B2B digital marketers say they have the data they need to anticipate their target audience’s needs, compared to 29% of B2C digital marketers.
Without access to this information, 21% of social media marketers report challenges reaching their target audience, and as many as 43% of digital marketers expect changes in their audiences’ needs to impede their success.
Solution: Join the community through influencer marketing
Today’s B2B inbound marketers can’t afford to remain on the outside looking in anymore. They have to truly join the professional community they’re marketing to.
Two years ago, LinkedIn and Edelman interviewed 3,600 management-level B2B professionals who are regularly exposed to inbound marketing to ask them what worked and what didn’t. Their responses point to a deep desire for inbound marketing that engages with community thinking:
81% want inbound marketing that challenges their assumptions regarding their industry
77% want deep dives into specialized industry topics
67% want content that prominently features the point of view of a clearly identifiable author
62% want more inbound marketing that speaks to current business trends
B2B decision makers are ready to engage with B2B inbound marketing. They just want it to engage with them on their level. B2B marketers need to get on that level.
There’s one more especially important stat from LinkedIn’s survey: 80% of B2B decision makers want content that includes data and insights from other trusted individuals or organizations beyond just the publishing company.
B2B influencer marketing is a natural way to satisfy the requirements of the modern B2B audience while entering the community at the same time. There’s a reason why campaigns experience 11x better ROI when adding even niche influencers to their campaigns:
By working with the right influencers to produce B2B inbound marketing content, you can show your audience that you understand them and can speak to their needs the way they want you to.
If you have any other questions about all things B2B marketing, or you want to work on your own inbound marketing challenges together, TopRank Marketing’s experts are ready to help. Get in touch today.
* Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client