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Forrester Marketing Forum 2010: Implications for B2B Demand Generation

by: Adam Needles (@IBMforMarketing)
27 April 2010

Last week I attended Forrester Marketing Forum 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  Silverpop had a booth and was an event sponsor, but I wasn't only there for prospecting.  I also wanted to attend to get Forester's perspective on key trends in marketing technology and innovation.  There are a lot of marketing tradeshows and conferences out there, but there are only a handful of analyst events, such as this one and the SiriusDecisions Summit (which is in a few weeks), that really shake up your thinking.

So I was hoping to get 'shaken up.'

The theme at this year's Forum -- "Adaptive Marketing:  How to Design a Flexible Organization to Thrive on Change" -- definitely shook up my thinking about how marketing is (and should) be changing -- and it made me think of some resultant implications for us as B2B marketers.

Forrester Analyst David Cooperstein opened the Forum by noting that roughly 15 years ago Netscape went public and that marketing was forever changed.  The Web has empowered buyers to engage on their own terms, and this means that our approach as marketers must evolve to become more buyer-centric.  "Your survival depends on how well you and your company are able to adapt," said Cooperstein.

Cooperstein outlined Forrester's definition of 'adaptive marketing.'  He said it is "a flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals and maximize return on brand equity."  And he suggested three major ways that marketers can operate in an adaptive fashion:

  • Think and move differently
  • Listen more, react intelligently
  • Target people, not statistics
[caption id="attachment_740" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Source: Silverpop"]Source:  Silverpop[/caption]

My high-level take on the event and it's big ideas?  Great theme, and some strong underlying data points/presentations, but I definitely saw a disconnect as Forrester attempts to balance the 'Mad Men' era of marketing with the new science of buyer-centric demand generation.  For example, having an adaptive marketing definition that remains rooted in concepts of 'brand equity' perpetuates the product-centric view of marketing.  More than ever brands are built bottoms-up.  We have to really embrace this as marketers.  And one speaker even called out this disconnect in his presentation:  "Most organizations are struggling with a shift from a campaign mentality to a customer mentality," commented David Williams, CEO of Merkle, a guest speaker.  "We're not trying to create brand equity. We need to create customer equity."

But maybe this disconnect on Forrester's end is actually a great representation of the evolution we're all going through -- the challenge in moving from the old world to the new world of B2B marketing -- and so maybe Forrester's 'big ideas' really are a good indicator of where marketing mentality remains, despite recent advances.

A lot to wax on about, philosophically ... but what were some more granular takeaways and implications for B2B demand generation at this event?

I must admit that the content was heavy on consumer marketing examples and light on B2B marketing content -- an opportunity for improvement on Forrester's part in coming years.  There were nonetheless some great presentations by Forrester analysts and guest speakers that captured a number of trends and themes in B2B marketing.

So here are three major points of synthesis as a B2B marketer that I took away from last week:

> Media = marketing. Viewers = customers. ... A.k.a., content marketing IS the new marketing. This was a key take-away from multiple of the sessions last week -- and is something I've certainly advocated for on this blog.  Content marketing -- more than ever -- is a critical element of driving buyer-centric B2B demand generation programs.  Web 2.0 technologies have fuelled a permanent shift in power from seller to buyer, and a key result is B2B buyers are more than ever conducting the buying process online and on their own terms.

The B2B marketing process, as a result, is increasingly 'owned' by buyers, commented Peter O'Neill and Jennifer Belissent in their field marketing session.  B2B buyers are consuming content to address their specific needs at a specific point in time -- to solve immediate problems or to wrap their heads around bigger problems -- and this is translating into a new way of buying.  According to Forrester, 72% of the time 'fit for a specific need at a specific time' is the number one reason for a B2B purchase today.

So it's all about the buyer, and buyers want to engage substantively on problems and issues of relevance to them.  Forrester says that buyers are subsequently 'frustrated' with traditional advertising that interrupts them, rather than helping and engaging them.

"As you look at marketing it's not about mass marketing anymore," noted Merkle CEO Williams.  "It's about organizations that are able to talk to a customer at a specific point in time and influence their decision."  And he argues that shifting money from mass to individually targeted and engaged media is the new frontier of competitive advantage in marketing.

So a key implication is that as B2B marketers we must think of content differently.  More than ever we must shift away from this idea of content as a way to get a potential buyer's attention, and instead we must think of content as the substrate of upstream dialogue with B2B buyers -- i.e., the bulk of the dialogue that now happens before a buyer ever talks to a sales rep.  And so content must be engaging, targeted, address buyers' needs and be available in the right place, and at the right time.

Forrester CEO George Colony echoed this in his keynote, saying that "every time you Tweet, make sure it's valuable to the world."  Translation = marketing content, especially social content, must be of use to the buyer if it's going to help us as marketers engage with our target market segments.

> Your new target audience is the group that influences your target audience. Obviously Forrester is the firm that launched the concept of Groundswell a few years ago -- via a book by Charlene Li (who is keynoting the Silverpop Customer Conference next week - BTW) and Josh Bernoff.  To be fair, this insight was more concept than reality at the time, but since the book, we've seen real inroads.  For example, 52% of US online adults in 2007 had not interacted with social media.  Today that number is 17%, according to Forrester.  So more than ever, the digital mechanisms that enable buyers to directly influence each other -- to carry word-of-mouth and peer influence -- are being actively used.

This has key implications for B2B marketing.  "You want to inspire people to talk about your brand," commented one Forrester analyst.  Driving peer recommendation and brand advocacy is now critical.

Forrester reports that 89% of B2B marketers use email, but what is an interesting pair to this stat is that 74% of consumers trust an email forwarded/sent to them from someone else you know more than just about any other digital marketing mechanism.  This is a huge implication for not only our participation in social channels but also for our thinking about the 'mashup' between social and email channels.  We as marketers need to be re-thinking the email campaigns we send out -- designing them more than ever to be shareable and to live multi-channel, rather than just being a targeted communication with an individual buyer.  The life of that email beyond the initial recipient could mean serious dollars to our organization down the line -- so we should recognize and seize on this insight.

We also need to become better participants in our buyers' communities.  "What you want to do in the social media world is blend in. Become part of the conversation," commented one Forrester analyst.

George Colony tackled the concept of the 'social CEO' in his keynote.  He noted the sobering reality that among the top 100 largest corporations, no CEOs are engaged in the social sphere, and he further noted that this is nearly the same story with some of the largest technology companies in the world.  Yet he argued that the major reason CEOs should be social is specifically to help companies better leverage Groundswell.  "I think CEOs should be listening to customers and talking to customers," commented Colony.  And he believes that social is a valuable mechanism through which to engage in this dialogue.

The upside in all of this?  While Web 2.0 technology has enabled the Groundswell and tipped the balance of power -- creating a new challenge -- it also presents new opportunities for marketers to close the loop.  Social media helps us better measure interactions with prospects than we have before, according to one Forrester analyst.  And so we should be using this to our advantage.

> B2B marketers are (and must be) change agents, helping their companies focus on profit and growth ... yet marketers don't see themselves this way. This point was driven home in a presentation by Forrester analyst Mary Beth Kemp.  She noted that 90% of business executives today place innovation as a top-ten priority for their business.  She also noted that when polled, a substantial portion of business executives define innovation as 'selling new things to customers or identifying and selling to new markets.'

Kemp argues that this charter sounds a lot like what marketing does -- which highlights the importance of marketing as a driver of innovation.  She notes, for example, that 80% of marketers say they test in new channels.  And in her experience marketers are often catalysts for new ideas/directions for their companies.

Yet, "marketers and marketing leaders [too often] don't view themselves as change agents," laments Kemp.  This is a strategic opportunity for B2B marketers to begin to shift how they think and operate.

Obviously this last call-out is not only a theme in Kemp's presentation, but an overall theme for the conference.  More than ever the buy/sell dynamics in the B2B world are changing, and this has created a unique moment in time for us as marketers -- to drive innovation and change and to focus our company on being strategic and profitable.  We're uniquely situated to help our companies understand and respond to Buyer 2.0.  The leadership opportunity is ours to seize (or lose).

Your thoughts?

Did you attend Forrester Marketing Forum 2010?  What are your impressions and/or takeaways as a B2B marketer? Would love to see your thoughts.


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