Data will never be any less important than it is at this very moment. Through virtually every digital interaction, data is being created at an unimaginable rate. And when more data means better marketing insights and in turn greater return on investment, the future of data-driven marketing is looking very rosy.
In fact a recent Forbes study found that leaders in data-driven marketing are six times more likely than laggards to report achieving competitive advantage in increasing profitability, whilst data-driven organisations are almost three times more likely to have increased revenues. But the study also revealed that while data-driven marketing is experiencing an upsurge, around half of executives feel their efforts are lagging, largely because they fail to capture most types of customer data beyond demographics.
Another new study also found that more than half of marketers would label their ability to act on insights derived from customer data as either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.
What is the problem?
While there might not be a shortage of data, companies are still struggling to deal logically with all the information at their disposal. And when the move towards data-driven marketing is inexorable, it’s those who have hesitated to leverage data-driven practices that are getting left behind.
It’s these companies that will also experience elevated challenges operating in an era of multichannel, multimedia, multi-device, always-on connectivity that has dramatically, and perhaps irrevocably, swung the dynamic of power into the hands of buyers.
We’ve witnessed the rise of a customer class capable of conducting most of its ‘buying journey’ behind the scenes, and today buyers can surreptitiously flit from one informational outpost to another, gradually building a purchasing opinion. In the B2B space, for example, 65% of buyers are electing to “self-educate” before engaging with a salesperson.
We can try to influence this self-guided journey, but today it’s ultimately the prospect that makes the decisions. At best, we are dropping breadcrumbs along the path to purchase and hoping that the consumer will choose to follow them. Our greatest strength is seeing who picks up those breadcrumbs and understanding why. And this can only be achieved via streamlined data collection.
How can it be solved?
Companies need to equip themselves with the right tools to draw insight as to where in the buying cycle the prospect sits in order to get closer to them. Because in reality, so many marketing programs raise a sales pitch too early or too late. But now, with analytics from virtual interactions, marketing and sales teams have an opportunity like never before to develop and pursue highly qualified leads and massively increase return on investment.
According to market research from SiriusDecisions, one marketing tool that has seen an upsurge in popularity to “help drive the buying cycle” is webinars.
Today not all webinar software is created equal. Many marketers are still using teleconferencing and virtual meeting tools as a way to communicate to their customers and prospects without realising there are webinar marketing platforms purpose-built for marketers, designed to facilitate engagement driven webinars, collect interaction data and intelligently score their leads based on how they interact with the brands content. Big brands such as Microsoft, IBM and Google are reaping the rewards by using webinars as an incredibly powerful marketing tool that allows them to accelerate prospects through the sales funnel.
More than any other marketing vehicle, webinars enable buyers to dictate the pace of the engagement. For example, for some buyers, it may be too early for Q&A, let alone polls or social sharing. For others, however, the urgency may be greater. More of their buying journey may already have been completed and direct engagement may be sought.
At this point in time, no other marketing vehicle is capable of recruiting, converting, and propelling buyers across the entirety of their journey; of employing a variety of interactive tools that deepen buyer engagement; and of generating increasingly nuanced forms of behavioural analytics that integrate seamlessly with conventional marketing automation and sales CRM tools.
This is the big demarcation between old-school webinars and their modern counterparts. Where not so very long ago webinars were still used largely as presentation vehicles aimed at luring buyers into the top end of the sales funnel, progressive webinar software today uses a combination of rich content, interactive tools, and data to facilitate the entire journey and gauge sales readiness.
So what makes webinars the ideal tool for B2B marketing today? Let’s take a look at the three distinct requirements of the modern marketing organization and, by extension, the ways that each parallels the intrinsic strengths of the webinar – Content, Engagement, and Data:
Webinars are one of the most immersive content experiences available. No other tactic sees prospects interacting with content so thoroughly for extended periods of time. In addition to an assortment of interactivity features, prospects can ask the presenter questions and participate in live conversation with peers, and the interactive nature of this content consumption makes it extremely impactful.
Additional resources such as white papers, videos, social feeds and web links can also be very easily provided to attendees on the fly during the webinar, giving marketers the added benefit of delivering the planned content while offering further content in real-time. This allows us to move prospects down the funnel much faster.
The evolution of engagement
In the old way to webinar, we just took our leads and dumped them on our sales team, who would then have to decide how to follow up, and whether to follow up. We didn’t really give them very much information to work with. But when we emphasise creating opportunities for prospects to engage, we can identify where they are at in their buying cycle and arm our sales representatives with valuable ‘conversation starters’ based on their interaction data. In other words, we can turn engagement into pipeline, and turn pipeline into revenue.
Today we need to drive more prospects to a platform where they have an opportunity to truly engage with our brand. And when our brand tracks content engagement, it gets actionable data about what matters to its prospects. In a webinar, each engagement provides information about how interested a prospect is in buying, and provides vital information around how the brand should communicate with that prospect in the future. Ten years ago, marketing was all about volume; today it’s about value. At the end of the day, we don’t just want more leads, we want to get better leads. That means putting to focus on engagement.
You can’t hide from data-driven marketing
If we put out good content, that’s good; and if people like it, that’s really amazing. But the demographic data we get from the registration form isn’t going to tell us much about where those prospects are in the buyer journey or what they want to accomplish. And without that information, we’re marketing blind.
Unfortunately most marketing campaigns only deliver demographic data, but in reality it takes multiple touches before we can even begin to build a behavioural proﬁle on that contact. Often a prospect who hits all of our demographic marks is, from a sales perspective, a dead end. Even though they looked perfect on paper, they just weren’t looking for a solution like ours.
Webinar marketing platforms provide a means of monitoring the degree to which leads consume and engage with content. Only when companies have this information can they truly understand which content is resonating with which buyer at which stage of their journey, and use that data to deliver leads that are less expensive to pursue and more likely to end in a sale.
Michael Savanis is the Asia Pacific, VP and MD for ON24, a global webinar marketing organisation. He’s an enterprise technology veteran with extensive experience in international business operations and unique skills in Digital Marketing and international business growth. His career has seen him lead large-scale divisions of global players like Adobe and Oracle and manage Fortune 500 relationships including IBM, Cisco and Microsoft.
 Source: “B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends,” Content Marketing Institute