What we learnt from our 2023 B2B marketing research study

Rob Cullum | Strategy

Article Published: 30th August 2023

B2B marketing research study Rob Cullum

In early 2023 we conducted a survey of 300 decision makers in IT, Engineering and Manufacturing companies to find out what their key business initiatives and marketing priorities were for the next 12 months. During the pandemic, without in-person contact, digital marketing and a strong online brand had gained importance, and we wanted to gauge where companies were, especially with their online presence.

There were a lot of similarities in the responses across technology, engineering and manufacturing companies, with digital marketing being a key priority, followed closely by increasing sales growth through lead generation and the importance of online brand. However, there were also some key differences. IT companies were seeing more success in lead generation while engineering and manufacturing companies are not achieving the same regularity of leads and are investing more in website enhancements, for example.

What was common to respondents across the board in our 2023 B2B marketing research study, was that those companies that outsourced all or part of their marketing were achieving a higher level of success in their marketing initiatives, than those that did not.

Here we take a look at some of the key areas covered by the B2B marketing research study and how outsourcing to the right agency can be a real boon for marketing and business success.

Online brand is more important than it was 3 years ago

Is your visual brand identity give you a competitive advantage? – Almost two thirds (65%) of our B2B marketing research survey respondents agreed that their online brand is more important than it was three years ago. But despite the importance of an online brand, less than a third of our respondents thought that their visual brand identity is currently strong enough to give them a competitive advantage.

Online brand importance – The pandemic had a huge impact on how businesses were able to engage with customers. Tradeshows, exhibitions, conferences and in-person networking events were all put on hold. With most activities now online and B2B buying teams conducting their research online before even approaching your company, ensuring that you have a strong visual brand identity that competes in the market is now more important than ever.

Successful branding goes a long way in achieving competitive advantage. Evaluating the market place and the brands within it is just one of the steps that companies that are looking to improve their visual brand identity need to consider. Finding your company’s visual identity is a balance of considering your target audience, competitor analysis, key differentiators for your company as well as the logo design and graphical elements. Find out more about “The ‘science’ behind building a competitive B2B brand”.

Branding is a difficult area to get right. 72% of our respondents stated that their current visual brand identity was either “company heirloom” or created internally, with just over a quarter having outsourced it to a create design freelancer or professional brand agency. Whilst some companies do have the relevant expertise to get their branding right, it is also possible that some companies may be falling prey to some of the common mistakes our lead creative specialist identified in one of our blogs: “8 common B2B branding mistakes businesses make”.

The importance of good branding for B2B

  • Your visual brand is the first thing your potential customers see and how your business is judged first and foremost. It is the tip of the brand iceberg, which also includes the quality of your products, services, responsiveness and innovation, for example.
  • Many technology, manufacturing and engineering companies have inherited brands that don’t really do them justice. Is your brand highlighting your high quality and innovation? Does your brand reflect the the large projects that you can handle?
  • Your visual brand should open the doors to sales for your business, demonstrating its value and expertise and differentiating your business from the competition.
  • Your brand should position your technical and industry knowledge effectively. From cyber security, to rail electrification, civil engineering and fluid dynamics, your visual brand is a key foundation for communicating effectively with your target customers.
  • And, in conclusion, 78% of the respondents in our B2B marketing research study agreed that visual brand identity has a “Reasonable” or “High” influence on the cost value of what they sell.

Companies are investing in website enhancements, but more needs to be done on content and SEO

Our B2B marketing research study showed that for IT, engineering and manufacturing companies, digital marketing communication activities, website enhancements and increasing sales through lead generation were the top three marketing activities for the next 12 months.

Websites are your shop window – driving sales leads

Websites are the main shop window for companies in the B2B world and the first touchpoint that many potential customers have. For over half of our respondents their websites are delivering and providing them with quality leads on a regular basis. 44% of our respondents are receiving quality leads from their website on a weekly basis and 14% are receiving quality leads daily. The numbers of quality leads received weekly, however by manufacturing and engineering companies (36%), is lower than for IT (52%).

Why the move to website enhancements for manufacturing and engineering?

Since the pandemic, website enhancements have also been the most important focus for manufacturing and engineering companies in particular. Why this focus on website enhancements?

  • Looking at the stats on quality leads generated by websites, and the lower percentage of leads received by manufacturing and engineering companies versus the IT sector – the need for sales leads is probably a key driver to website improvements being sought.
  • The switch from face-to-face events has definitely seen a shift to a focus on the website. If competitors have been re-investing, and using their events and offline marketing budgets to pour into digital activities, then the impetus has been to follow suit, rather than being left in an uncompetitive position.
  • Online behaviours and habits have changed for many customers and stakeholders. With prospects carrying out more and more research online. Potential customers want to educate themselves before reaching out to a company.

Why relevant and quality content is key to website success

The respondents in our B2B marketing research study are definitely seeing the value of adding content to their websites with 46% enhancing their websites through the addition of content on a regular basis. Engaging readers with relevant, educational content is key to improving the level of engagement on your website.

Content projects come in all shapes and sizes, from technical data sheets and white papers to blog articles. Developing the right short form and long form content can help with engagement of a range of different prospects, from the technically savvy to the commercial buyer. As a technical marketing agency, we have helped our customers to develop:

  • Technical introduction guides to explain the ins and outs of complex fibre optical technology, such as Wavelength Division Multiplexing.
  • Blogs educating IT managers on how they can transform their IT infrastructure with solutions such as SASE (secure access service edge), and
  • Cybersecurity product web pages – starting our with keyword analysis, right through to develop messaging, infographics and icons and promoting the content through digital marketing campaigns, such as Google Ads and Linkedin sponsorship.

Just to name a few.

SEO is part and parcel of successful website engagement

You’ve spent time developing essential content for your website readers and see it as important to update content on a regular basis. Without spending time on keyword analysis and SEO, investment in content can go unseen if it lands up further down the page ranking than your competitors. While our IT respondents saw the value in technical SEO, for example, (41%), only 27% of manufacturing and engineering respondents were enhancing their websites with this type of SEO.

Why having a good SEO strategy is a good return on investment

Investing in SEO provides the most sustainable source of website traffic (compared to paid channels, such as pay-per-click or display advertising) and delivers the most long-term ROI. Compared to paid advertising, SEO is relatively inexpensive to implement.

  • By investing in SEO and targeting competitive and long-tail keywords that are related to your business, you will be able to reach prospects with a high intent of purchasing your products or services. A user with high-intent is more likely to engage with your content and perform high-value conversion actions, than those searching for broader terms.
  • Through optimisation of your webpages with carefully selected keywords you will also improve your keyword rankings in search results, increasing the visibility of your online brand.

SEO is a long-term investment, however. But, with constant nurturing, it delivers value over time and will continue to be a profitable channel bringing the quality sales leads that the vast majority of respondents in our B2B marketing research study are looking for.

Outsourcing B2B marketing is delivering good results, particularly when using a sector or technical specialist agency

Outsourcing helps achieve results – 82% of the respondents in our B2B marketing research study had outsourced some or most of their marketing activities in the last three years. A significant trend across our study was that those businesses that outsourced most of their marketing were also seeing significant benefits. For example, those receiving leads on a daily or weekly basis where twice as likely to have outsourced most of their marketing activity.

Specialist skills are in demand – The survey also showed that outsourcing was mostly driven by requirements for external skills and using a marketing agency can certainly augment skills, particularly for companies needing technical assistance in areas such as SEO/PPC, website improvements, social media and content development. At Motion Marketing we have experts in all these areas. However, our customers also benefit from outsourcing to us as a full-service agency. A full-service agency can not only take care of the technical details, but help determine your marketing strategy and develop a visual brand identity, as well as the implement marketing campaigns.

An agency’s industry expertise is crucial – The B2B marketing research study also showed the importance of selecting an agency with a thorough understanding of your specific industry and the B2B sales environment, and for those companies that did outsource to a specialist industry agency (IT, Engineering or Manufacturing), they were impressed with the agency’s understanding (74%) and highly satisfied with the results (78% rated them “good” or “excellent”).

Key benefits of outsourcing B2B marketing

There are a lot of strong benefits to outsourcing marketing, including:

  • Getting a fresh view on your current marketing activities and identifying new and exciting opportunities for the business.
  • Providing an alternative outlook and familiarity with the target market and industry you are selling to, that has been gained from working with similar brands to your own.
  • Improved marketing knowledge, with experience in delivering marketing campaigns and strategies and the expected results you might gain.

Why not compare your marketing initiatives and results?

How is your website performing? Are you getting the number of quality leads you need on a weekly or daily basis? What are the main business drivers behind your marketing activities?

To compare how your company is marketing, versus others in IT/Technology, Manufacturing and Engineering, why not download our B2B marketing research study and make sure that you are ahead of the competition.

Intrigued by the results? Download the report now

Doing your own market research?

Finally, if you are looking to do your own research project, take a look at our blog on how to choose the right B2B market analysis company and create compelling content to promote your findings.