2013 Global BMA Conference:
9 Key Take-Aways

June 7, 2013

Over 650 business marketers from 320 organizations gathered in Chicago last week for the BMA Conference, purportedly the largest B2B marketing event of 2013.

There’s no question that the B2B marketing world is experiencing massive change and innovation is flying at blazing speeds. Hence the theme of the BMA meeting -- “BLAZE” – was entirely appropriate. Attendees heard from at least 75 presenters over two and half days – including several CMO’s from the Fortune 500, to prominent thought leaders from B2B agencies and consulting firms.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it, here are nine quick snippets from the meeting that stood out for me.

1. On the changing B2B marketing landscape:

• Daniel Pink told us: “We used to live in a world of “buyer-beware.” Now it’s a world of “seller-beware.” Why? Customers now have more control over the sales cycle. With mountains of ubiquitous information readily available, prospective customers can do more on their own with little or no assistance from the brand. They essentially enter the sales funnel at a later stage much closer to the bottom, meaning less control for marketers in terms of shaping perceptions. Sellers beware!

2. On the evolving role of the CMO:

• Used to be that B2B marketers were described as “the guys who blew up the balloons at trade shows.” That’s far from the case these days. The role of the CMO has expanded dramatically – from a job that was mostly about brand communications and lead generation programs, to now including everything digital, social, mobile, analytical, and experiential. CMO’s are more deeply involved in corporate strategy, product design and the entire lifecycle of the customer experience. One CMO cracked: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

3. On the biggest challenges facing CMOs today:

• If the recent past was about holding costs down, there is broad consensus that the challenge today is all about growth. How do I build the top-line? With greater responsibility, comes more pressure to get more done faster. One CMO said: “Time is my biggest challenge. Time is the new black!”
• There is broad consensus that we are indeed living in the age of the customer. In fact, according to one study noted by a panelist: “78% of CMO’s say their #1 goal is to get closer to their customers.” One CMO said: “My biggest challenge is making sense of all the data. How do I get one view of the customer throughout the entire customer lifecycle?”

4. On social media and B2B:

• B2B marketers all over the world are in the process of transforming their marketing models to embrace social. No longer is social viewed as the simple Facebook page and few timely updates. B2B marketers are increasingly embracing social as a mission critical way for their brands to have conversations with stakeholders.
• “Social selling” came up several times. For those of you a little fuzzy on the concept, social selling is about using social to empower field sales people with content and social tools so they can develop their own personal brands and content strategies to communicate with their personal customers.

5. On content marketing:

• We’ve moved beyond the day when simply creating content and putting it out there is enough. If anything, we have too much content. Now’s the time for “epic” content according to one presenter -- content that delivers relevant benefits that matter most to customers – functional, economic, or emotional or better yet some combination of all three.
• What’s the biggest marketing opportunity in content marketing? Answer: Slideshare. Thank you, LinkedIn.

6. On brands and brand storytelling:

• We heard an interesting twist on the definition of a ”brand”: Brand = the sum of the promises kept, divided by the sum of the promises made, over time. We think the math works.
• Brand storytelling was another hot topic. “Great story telling usually contains 4 elements …character, conflict, a hero and a conclusion,” suggested one presenter. “The stories your brand tells will grab an audience and draw them in if you focus on these elements.” In B2B, the characters are a myriad of players, the conflict is often a world of complexity, the hero is the brand, and the conclusion are the functional, economic or emotional benefits you offer customers. Another panelist commented: “A great brand story has to be authentic and true to the brand. Beware of loaded words!” Sound advice.

7. On mobile marketing:

• These are still early days, and no one has yet quite figured out how best to harness this amazing and still relatively new channel. We heard that marketers plan to spend upwards of $26 billion on mobile apps in the next 4 years. We also heard that 90% of senior execs say mobile sales-enablement is a top priority in their companies.
• And in case you were wondering, what do you call the fear of not knowing where your phone is? How about: “NoMoPhobic.”

8. On big data…

• We heard an interesting presentation from GE on what that company is doing to harness ‘big data’ and to put it to work to create competitive advantage. Ten years ago GE was all about equipment – big iron, as they say. Now every machine GE makes is inter-connected with other machines via the Internet. A GE jet engine has hundreds of sensors collecting terabytes of data every minute. And with insightful analytics all that information becomes a critical source of competitive advantage. As the speaker from GE said, insight occur at the intersection of different data sets, not just one. Insight is the ability to separate the signal from the noise.

9. On ‘real time’ marketing:

• David Meerman Scott gave an impassioned speech about what he calls “real time marketing” and why that’s the new imperative for brands. Marketers have at our fingertips the ability to monitor all the events taking place in the world right now, and respond with precisely the right content at the right time. We heard from several brands who are doing this (Cisco, ADP or Inland Real Estate Group), who have formed teams that look and operate very much like news rooms -- monitoring newsfeeds 24/7, and publishing content with the right story-line at precisely the right time.
• The goal is to be timely and super relevant – to essentially hijack the news, getting publishers to reference your brand in their editorial as an authority on key topics of relevance to your target audience and your brand. Of course, this is easier said than done. It takes a lot of pre-planning and decisions on questions like – What stories do we want our brand to be associated with? What messages can we create in advance so we have a database of pre-approved sharable messages that can be distributed on a moments notice? And when something totally unexpected happens, how do we stay on message? Fascinating stuff.

This is a just a small slice of what was discussed on-stage and in the networking sessions. Congratulations to the BMA for hosting a really great conference. If you attended the conference as well, please let us know what you thought.

Image Attribution: Johnny Ainsworth