Nov 092015 graphic

That is a lot of choices – are they all relevant?

Last week I read an interesting post from Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Laura is Forrester’s point person for B2B marketing, and she was sharing her thoughts on how complicated what she refers to as “contextual marketing” has become for B2B companies.

The biggest reason she cites is the proliferation of choices on the marketing technology front. As shown above in a graphic courtesy of Scott Brinker at, there certainly are an impressive array of vendors competing for every niche of the B2B marketing function. (Click here to see an expandable version of the graphic).

Ramos suggests looking at B2B marketing technology in two categories, systems of insight and systems of engagement. That certainly is logical as far as it goes. Basically what she’s talking about is how many B2B marketers continue to grapple with transforming their operations into a data driven function.

Her definition of contextual marketing sounds like content marketing to me – my bolds:

“Brand-specific platform and processes that exploit customer context to deliver utility and guide the customer into the next best interaction.”

Besides the similarity of contextual marketing to content marketing, this post raised two questions for me. The first is how much B2B marketers should automate their systems of engagement. Unlike consumer facing companies, most B2B companies won’t have the sheer number of engagements that necessitate automation. And too much automation can make the “engagement” feel robotic and false – as I wrote about in this 2011 piece.

My other question was using the graph as an example of mounting B2B marketing complexity. Granted there are a lot more choices, but many listed in the graph are obscure startups that will probably not survive. And the micro-segmentation seems a little extreme. A tool for display ads doesn’t seem like a good description of Outbrain. And Experience Management seems like a novel way to describe something as familiar and widely adopted as WordPress.

The cultural and executional challenges of content marketing seem like tougher hurdles to me than the technology. After all, strategy and vision must always precede tactics. No technology will succeed if a company hasn’t embraced a publisher mindset with their content marketing, consistently publishing high quality content that educates prospects first and sells second. There’s no other way to succeed with B2B marketing in the age of the enlightened buyer.

Going back to Ramos’ definition, due to long sales cycles there may not be any immediate “next best interaction” with a prospect. Nurture campaigns can be long, and companies must be disciplined to stay the course, while of course using analytics to determine which prospects are consuming the content and if their journey through the sales process is being accelerated.

Industry analysts don’t usually describe business challenges as simple. And in many B2B verticals the competition has never been fiercer.  But for most companies choosing and integrating the right technology tools isn’t as big a challenge as embracing the publisher mentality of content marketing and following through with consistent, disciplined execution.


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