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Merkle’s 2019 B2B Exchange: Creating the Ideal Future State

In early October 68 B2B marketers from across the US gathered in Austin, Texas for Merkle’s third annual B2B Exchange. Attendance included representatives from multinational companies such as Cisco, Dell, and Unilever. Our strategic partners Adobe and LinkedIn sponsored the event with discussions about the opportunity gap in thought leadership and delivering great customer experiences (CX).

This year’s theme centered around creating the ideal future state for B2B marketing. Presenters were tasked with defining this enigmatic destination through their research; approach to data, analytics, and CX; and organizational imperatives. The 2019 Exchange made one thing clear: the B2B customer is more dynamic, discerning, and vocal than ever before. The ideal future state of B2B marketing will come to look entirely different than it once did, when a job title and company name were the standard identifiers of a target audience. Today’s B2B customers are so much more than that.

Customer Experience

CX featured in many of the presentations. Adobe’s Jill Steinhour underscored the generational shift responsible for a changing customer journey: 73% of millennials in the workforce are involved in making buying decisions, and millennials will comprise 44% of the workforce by 2025. Millennials behave differently than their older colleagues: they prefer digital-first environments to conduct research, eschew middlemen, and are more likely to switch vendors. B2B marketers are focusing more on their brand’s values than product features, partly due to the fact that millennials care about a brand’s reputation and its ability to resonate on a personal level.

Merkle’s Peter Vandre further illustrated the need to deliver great CX to customers and spoke to its challenges while contending with privacy law. Proposed workarounds to targeting under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s impending California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) include investing in a private identity graph that allows you to connect customer touchpoints across channels tied to a single person’s ID and building a private “data clean room,” which is a privacy-compliant environment with licensing restrictions.

Merkle’s Margie Chiu led an interactive workshop that illustrated how marketers can move from a tactic-based strategy to a customer-centric one. Enablers of a customer-centric strategy include having a future vision, integration of technology and data, proper staff, and KPIs that are aligned with customer-focused goals. Establishing processes and prioritization is key here—the quickest way to fail at a customer-centric strategy is to approach it without first ensuring all the pieces are in place to execute.

Data driven insights are a significant enabler of great CX, as Ugam, A Merkle Company’s Manu Sharma explained in his presentation. Sharma described how a brand’s first-party data, coupled with external customer, competitive, and supplier data can provide marketers with the insights they need to offer intuitive, informed, and personalized experiences.

Technology Integration and Innovation 

Two presenters, Merkle’s Matthew Mobley and Forbes’ Will Thompson focused on technology’s benefits and limitations. Technology innovation is widely touted as THE key ingredient to a marketer’s success, with automation leading the way. What marketers need to realize, as highlighted by Mobley and Thompson, is that technology can’t do all the work on its own.

In the case of a tech stack’s assembly, integration is greater than the sum of its parts. Identity needs to be the lynchpin to any successful tech integration, therefore enabling resolution of data from different sources as it relates to individuals. When vetting vendors, the ability to innovate, as well as the ability to reconcile overall business goals with those of IT, should be priorities.

AI, for all its promises to change the world, can’t in fact automate everything. A prerequisite for AI’s decisioning capabilities is a lot of data. AI is also unable to understand context to the extent that a human can and shouldn’t serve as a substitute for marketing strategy.

The Importance of Thought Leadership

LinkedIn’s Tusar Barik provided details from LinkedIn’s study with Edelman on thought leadership’s relationship to demand generation. The report analyzed survey results from over 1.2 thousand US professionals to determine how marketers should think about using thought leadership as a sales tool. Barik’s recommendations included finding uncommon topics, establishing trust with an audience, and striving for relevancy. While great content can translate to new business opportunities and loyalty among customers, irrelevant or poorly written thought leadership can be very harmful to a business.

The Modern Creative Challenge

Merkle’s Don Sklenka and Seth Hutchings provided details on dynamic creative optimization (DCO), taking the group through the basic uplift seen in market, and how creative and media teams can work together to produce great results; they cited a 58% increase in machine sales for one client. DCO helps move the needle on producing enough content to support the number of customer journeys, a major pain point in data driven marketing. Merkle’s Michael McLaren challenged the audience to find ways to test and implement more modern, dynamic approaches to creative.

As you map the path ahead, it’s important to glean insights from the experience of other industry leaders. Events like this one allow for the in-person sharing of ideas that don’t always occur in digital environments. We look forward to continuing the conversation next year, when we’ll be able to see the outcome of this year’s predictions. For access to this year’s content, or to request an invite for the 2020 B2B Exchange, click here.