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OPINION27 March 2017

What can we all learn from B2B trends?

B2B Data analytics Opinion UK

Circle Research’s Andrew Dalglish points to five themes on marketing departments’ radars that show the way for market research trends.

Every year Circle Research and B2B Marketing Magazine rank the UK’s top B2B marcomms agencies. ‘Hold on Dalglish, you’ve got the wrong website’ I hear you say. ‘Research Live is a forum for the research industry, not those marketing types.’ Bear with me though.

Who’s the primary consumer of a marketing agency’s services? The marketing department. And who’s a key stakeholder for most client-side and agency researchers?  Yup, the marketing department. 

So, the health of marketing agencies is a bellwether for the research industry. What is more, marketing agencies often boast close relationships with the marketing team which gives them a particular insight into the CMO’s priorities (and therefore the likely nature of their research needs). And don’t think that just because the focus of this study was B2B it’s not relevant to consumer researchers – many of the agencies in the league have a parallel consumer offering and regardless, with around 45% of ‘UK PLC’ being B2B focused, B2B has a significant impact on B2C.

So, what have we learned?

Well, it looks like client-side budgets for marketing services are safe for the time-being. Sixty-two per cent of agencies describe the current market as ‘good’ and a further 26% go so far as to say it’s ‘strong’. That comes on the back of a good year in 2016: 85% of marketing agencies have grown revenues year-on-year, with an average revenue increase of 9% and an average rise of 31% in net profit. To fuel this, the number of people employed by agencies has jumped by 19% year-on-year.

And what might be on the marketer’s research agenda?

One quarter of agency leaders feel that personalised marketing ( 14%) and marketing automation ( 13%) will be a priority. These closely linked trends will see marketers increasingly treat their target audience as ‘markets of one’ using technology and behavioural data to automatically tailor their message based on individual preferences. 

This could go one of two ways for researchers. Some marketers may argue that primary research is obsolete as analysing behavioural data and conducting A/B testing of different messages will reveal how best to target each individual. To an extent, that’s true. However, I would argue that technology can determine which message to serve, but these messages still need to be developed and that requires a deep understanding of buyer personality, motivations and preferences. So the best approach is for behavioural data and primary research to go hand in hand.

Linked to this, agency leaders are also excited about the rise of big data, with one in ten ( 7%) seeing data mining and predictive analytics as key themes for 2017. The insights revealed by these techniques are expected to become an integral driver of marketing strategy. As with personalised marketing, this doesn’t mean that primary research will become obsolete; rather, it means that researchers will need to embrace new sources of information and integrate these to provide joined up insights.

But all this talk of data doesn’t mean that creativity is in decline. Quite the opposite – one fifth ( 20%) of agency leaders flag creativity as the central theme for 2017. There will be a stronger focus on building the brand, tapping into buyers’ emotions and taking a more innovative approach to campaigns. Once again, research has an integral role here as it is the very foundation of these activities.

Finally, one in ten ( 9%) agency leaders see an increased focus on customer experience as the key priority for marketers in 2017. This means that good old customer loyalty studies will remain in favour. After all, to enhance the customer experience marketers need to understand the customer journey, the drivers of delight and benchmark performance against these.

So, there we have it. Five themes which will are likely to be on the marketing department’s radar – personalisation, automation, big data, creativity and customer experience. Are you ready to provide the insights required?