While many blog posts out there will claim that the list of potential B2B marketing channels is vast, endless, and confusing, I don’t believe that’s quite true. In most cases, B2B companies drive growth on a select few digital channels; the ones which are well-known and established. So, no need to feel FOMO.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to find your recipe for success. With countless variables, bootstrapped budgets, and the urgency to grab market share from competitors, it’s vital to nail performance on the channels that yield sustainable return. Even when there are only a few routes, it’s still a huge challenge to find the perfect harmony between audience, message, product, and channel.
In this guide, I’ll explain how you can choose the right B2B channels to test – and how to validate their performance. But first, let’s make sure you’ve got the right strategic framework (and mindset) in place…
Setting Up Your Strategic Framework For B2B Growth Experiments
Before we dig into the question of how to choose and validate the right B2B marketing channels, let’s zoom out quickly and talk about something vital: your strategic framework for achieving growth.
In my mind, there are four main parts to the broadest version of this framework:
- Overall strategy: The vision, the offer, and the brand
- Landscape: Competitor analysis, research, and benchmarking
- Implementation: Tactical execution and channel experiments
- Evaluation: Measuring performance and growth
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you’ve nailed your vision, offer, and brand strategy – and you’ve got a handle on the competitive landscape. Now you’re shifting into gear 3 – the implementation phase – where you’ll test B2B marketing channels and start to drive more growth in your business.
How to Set Up the Implementation Phase to Test B2B Marketing Channels
Within the implementation phase, I also use a step-by-step process – which you can follow:
First, you need to understand the who? In B2B, this means the firmographics (the target account/business) and the persona (the target individual’s job role and demographics/psychographics).
Next, it’s customer journey mapping – which involves channel planning, funnel mapping, and the creation of messaging frameworks. We’ll discuss channel planning specifically later in this article.
Then, it’s the messaging framework. What specific messages are you communicating to each persona at each stage of their customer journey? This is tactical, but also needs a strategic mindset so you can empathise with how they feel and what they want (or don’t want).
At the same time, you need to define your funnel mapping which is the process from each channel to the next stage. This has a lot of possible variables. For example, taking someone from a Facebook post to a mobile app download is a very different funnel experience to taking someone from a Google Search Ad to a call-back form or chatbot.
In order to build an optimal customer journey, you need to also have the right technology stack in place. For example, if you take users to a mobile app download, you need to be able to deliver push notifications within the app and track mobile app attribution.
And due to the fact the testing process is cyclical – you need to be able to effectively measure results and gain insights that can be pumped back into the experiments as you learn more about the audience, journey, messaging, and technology.
Key Takeaways: How to Get Ready for Marketing Channel Experiments
You can’t make effective decisions about channel deployment without total clarity on the audience, funnel, and messaging. And you can’t effectively run tests without the right technology stack or a solid way to measure performance. These are foundational in order to gauge which channels drive growth.
The minute that you start spending money on resources, creatives, and technology – you’ve shifted from pure strategy to a new execution phase. In my experience, businesses get into trouble here when they’ve made foundational mistakes in their strategy and start to burn cash on channels before they’re ready.
Channel Planning: Choosing, Testing, and Validating B2B Marketing Channels
How to Choose the Right B2B Marketing Channels to Test
So far, I’ve refrained from giving you a neat-and-tidy list of the most effective B2B marketing channels. This is because it depends so heavily on each industry, business, offer, and audience. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which marketing channels are most suited to your B2B company.
The simple reality is that you need to rely on two things to decide which channels to test:
- The individual experience of the specialist(s) who lead growth
- The insights and studies from the wider marketing community
The challenge when trusting industry studies is that channel categories overlap, for example, SEO and content marketing. And the data isn’t always useful. For example, when a survey tells you that social media is the most effective channel for B2B marketers, which of the dozen major platforms is the best? And what about the question of paid versus organic social? You can’t always get hold of this information.
Below, I’ve done my best to narrow down some B2B marketing categories in a way that makes sense:
- Traditional and digital PR: Tapping into trends and current affairs
- Unconventional PR: Publicity stunts and viral marketing campaigns
- Paid Search Engine Marketing: Google Ads and Bing Ads
- Social and Display Ads: Paid social media advertising and display networks
- Offline Ads: TV, billboards, and newspaper/magazine ads (AtL)
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): Improving organic keyword rankings
- Content Marketing: Blogs, webinars, eBooks, industry reports, interviews
- Email Marketing: Building (or buying) a list or leveraging other lists
- Building Communities: Slack groups, subreddits, and other forums in your niche
- Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate programs/networks for B2B products
- Engineering as Marketing: Building tools or widgets for your audience
- Business Development: Partnerships, outbound, and commercial relationships
- Offline Events: Trade shows, workshops, and speaking engagements
Naturally, within these categories there are various channels. For example, in social advertising: Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Instagram Ads, Quora Ads, YouTube Ads, Twitter Ads – and the list goes on.
Remember: there’s a direct link between the channels you use to drive growth, and the type of customers that you’ll acquire. For example, LinkedIn’s platform may have more active users from large enterprise organisations than Facebook or Instagram. Even if you solve the same pain point for an SME owner, this difference means the average lifetime value of an acquisition via LinkedIn could be superior.
Boiled down to its most simple form, our process for choosing which B2B marketing channels to test is:
- Here is the full list of potential channels
- Next, let’s narrow it down to 5-6, based on:
a) Our experience
b) What other marketers are saying
- Now, let’s run experiments to see which channels perform best
Caveat: The marketing funnel might impact your channel mix prioritisation. See the next section.
I’ll talk in more detail about how to handle the testing process later in this article, but generally you should iteratively work your way through the channel shortlist by testing two at a time, rather than overburdening your people and technology with too many variables and channel experiments.
How the Marketing Funnel Influences Your Channel Prioritisation
Another way to think about the prioritisation of channels is to ask where the people are who have an acute need state. You should always start with targeting your tightest ICP (ideal customer profile) – the people who definitely have the problem you’re trying to solve, and experience it right now – rather than trying to nurture everyone from the top of the funnel (i.e. from awareness or curiosity phase).
This impacts channel mix, because it means you should first test the channels where people are looking for solutions. In a lot of cases, this means channels like Google & Bing Ads (or SEO) – but it might also be forums, dark social, affiliates, or events. Places where people actively seek an answer. Once you’ve picked the lowest-hanging fruit, you can move up the funnel and start to educate colder audiences.
Which B2B Marketing Channels Are Growing?
As I’ve already mentioned, research can be taken with a pinch of salt – but one study by Salesforce does indicate which B2B marketing channels seem to be growing in popularity. Again, beware of the overlaps and categorisation issues, but here are the findings from Salesforce’s survey of 7,000 respondents:
Let’s dig into three of the most notable growth trends from this report:
1. Search Engine Marketing:
The largest growth rate is in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – with +40% between 2018-2020. In this context, SEM includes paid and organic search channels. The key benefit of SEM as a B2B channel is that search has intent built into it. By targeting keywords, you can make sure that budget is being spent on prospects who are in a need state – whether that’s at awareness, consideration, or buying stage. This reduces ambiguity, and means that attribution and evaluation is easier than with many other channels.
2. Customer Communities:
Close behind is customer communities, with a growth rate of +35%. With trust at an all-time low, people are looking to reduce bias and risk by leaning on referral and recommendation more than ever. We live in a review culture, and this affects B2B as much as B2C. I believe this is why B2B marketers are leaning more heavily on online communities, forums, and messaging groups: to build credibility and trust.
3. Mobile Apps:
The +34% growth in popularity of mobile apps as a B2B channel is down to the increased prevalence of high-powered mobile devices (and mobile connectivity) in our society. This impacts the channel approach for B2B marketers, because mobile apps ads aren’t cookie-based – they’re device ID-based. And the programmatic advertising setup is unique in this field. The exchanges, media buying, and software is different – and there are lots of interactive and passive ad formats to choose from.
Key takeaways: How to Choose B2B Marketing Channels
There are indeed a lot of channels to choose from, but the process of selecting which ones to test comes down to good old-fashioned domain knowledge. This knowledge, combined with the right foundational strategy (audience, funnel, messaging), means that you’re able to test hypotheses in a way that doesn’t burn budget unsustainably – and in a way that gives you the maximum insights to use for optimisation.
If you need our help to choose and test B2B marketing channels for your business, get in touch with Kurve today. You’ll benefit from our experience, knowledge, and strategic frameworks – and you’ll access new levels of sustainable growth through digital channels.
How to Test and Validate B2B Marketing Channels
Whichever B2B marketing channels you choose to try out, you should apply a standardised process for gaining insights, understanding channel performance, and iteratively improving your results (optimising).
To do this, I use my own version of a growth experimentation framework, which you can see below:
If you can structure your channel experiments with this step-by-step method, you’ll have far more clarity about what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll also be able to report more easily to other stakeholders.
For each channel, you’ll need to understand:
- Who exactly is going to be executing the work?
- How much am I willing to spend on the channel test?
- What technology do I need for implementation and evaluation?
- What content and creatives will I need for the channel?
What makes things more complex is that each channel will have a different mix of the above factors.
And as I mentioned earlier, you should test iteratively. Even large businesses can get lost in the forest of information overload by testing too many channels – or too many subtle creative variations – at any one time. So, after you’ve narrowed your channels to a shortlist, test two. If one performs significantly better, drop the other and introduce the next. Double-down on what works best as you go through the shortlist.
Validating B2B Marketing Channel Tests: What Does Success Look Like?
There are three things that B2B marketers might look for in a successful marketing channel experiment:
- People saw the ad: This is the old-school view of marketing, focusing on eyeballs and volume
- We got good ROI: For every £1 we spent, we got £2 in revenue, which equates to a 100% return
- We acquired users cost-effectively: Often used in the B2B SaaS world, where businesses lose money on the acquisition with the aim of scaling quickly and monetising users in the future
So, to know what success looks like on a channel level, you need to have a broader understanding of what success means for the business. One of these objectives should always be in mind. Let’s ignore #1 for now, because as the famous Ogilvy quote goes, “don’t count the people that you reach; reach the people that count.” Instead, let’s look at #2 and #3 – with the example of Facebook Ads:
With Facebook Ads, you only have four main levers to experiment with:
- Who are you targeting?
- What are you saying to them?
- What is the journey and funnel?
- How is the campaign structurally set up?
So, when testing Facebook Ads as a B2B marketing channel, you can try different audiences, different offers, and different journeys to find out which variation gives you the best return on investment (#2) or the cheapest cost-per-acquisition (#3). So, your channel validation depends on these specific factors.
Note: It’s important to remember that if you’re experiencing a lack of performance, this is sometimes not down to simply choosing ‘the wrong channel’. As I mentioned in the introduction, marketers need to find harmony between audience, message, product, and channel. Common mistakes here include:
- Targeting the wrong people
- Targeting the right people with the wrong message
- Targeting the right people with the right message on the wrong channel
- Targeting the right people with the right message on the right channel with the wrong product
So, as you can see, the channel is just one piece of the puzzle.
Summary: Finding the Perfect Mix of B2B Marketing Channels
It’s unlikely that there’s a mystery B2B marketing channel that you haven’t heard about, but that doesn’t make it much easier to efficiently and sustainably drive growth. But there are five key steps to take that will get you closer to finding the right marketing channel mix for your B2B company:
- Getting the strategy right: Brand, audience, customer journey, tech stack, etc.
- Leveraging expertise and experience: Shortlisting the most promising channels
- Using an experiment framework: Standardised process for running channel tests
- Learning, improving, and evaluating channels: Measuring success of experiments
- Optimising and doubling-down: Getting the most out of your proven channels
The fourth and fifth steps are vital, and over time they will become more important than testing new channels. The earlier you are in your growth journey, the more diversified your tests will be.
As you learn, you will begin to shift towards optimising proven channels rather than distributing budget across lots of different channels. These approaches aren’t contradictory: you’ll see a totally natural progression.
If you need our help to choose and test B2B marketing channels for your business, get in touch with Kurve today . You’ll benefit from our experience, knowledge, and strategic frameworks – and you’ll access new levels of sustainable growth through digital channels.