We've just lived through the season of predictions in our industry, when every observer and practitioner forecast what they believed will become the year's key storylines and trends. Will this be the year that Facebook PPC becomes a prominent advertising outlet? Will Google get serious about its keyword-less auction experiment? Is this finally the year of mobile search, with smartphone adoption expected to continue at a breakneck pace?
These questions represent just a cross-section of the conversations that are occurring across the search industry. And as those questions are being pondered, the reality is that the answers are inconsequential. The debate is healthy; search is alive and well.
So as I contemplated what I wanted to accomplish professionally this year, I resolved not to chase trends or seek answers to questions like the ones posed above. Rather, for me, this year is about embracing a much more significant challenge: I'm seeking to reinvent best-practices for B2B search.
Legacy B2B Search
The differences between B2B and B2C search engine marketing have already been documented. B2B search typically has to take into consideration a lengthier purchase consideration process, which can extend several months to even a year or more. As a result, B2B search tends to be far less transactional in nature, requiring successful programs to focus on a series of "micro-conversion" events that operate as nurture mechanisms to the eventual sale.
But perhaps the most under-appreciated facet to B2B marketing is that, typically, purchase decisions are made by several stakeholders within the organization. The entire process involves a multi-disciplinary team, each weighing the pros and cons of possible solutions. And each stakeholder in this process brings his/her agenda, perspective, and bias to those discussions.
What this means for B2B search marketers is that our programs must engage and influence the entire multi-disciplinary team. No single channel or message will get the job done. We have to shape the perceptions of a broader "community of customer."
Allow me then to propose a new paradigm for B2B search. Let's call it "Neo-B2B" search.
In order to live up to search's full potential, Neo-B2B programs must be constructed to directly address the needs of that diverse decision-making team. This means that the specific keywords and text ad creative not only have to appreciate the distinctions between an early- and late-stage mindset, but must also consider the unique vocabulary used by various functional roles in the organization. Search is unique in its ability to help discern that vocabulary. Neo-B2B search programs capitalize on that.
Neo-B2B search also understands that its intended audience is comprised of human beings, and those human beings are no different than you or me. They often behave online in very consumer-ish ways, act impulsively and out of emotion. They can even be irrational at times. Think of them as consumers with neckties.
And, perhaps most significantly, those business consumers are now "working" in ways they never have before. With the advent of advanced mobile technologies and a global business environment, "work" now transcends time and space; it's more a state of mind than it is a physical location. Business consumers are now searching from myriad geographic locations and across multiple platforms and devices, seeking answers and solutions when and where they find themselves in an "at-work" state of mind and in need of information.
Neo-B2B search understands these new dynamics, and operates fluidly to meet the needs of prospects searching in unique ways.
The Role of Analytics
This deeper, richer insight isn't possible without smart analytics in place. Analytics can shed light on a host of critical data points: search queries, technology platforms, mobile devices, time of day/day of week highlights. There is also a plethora of new engagement and measurement tools available to enable a smarter investment in SEM, depending on the specific needs of the marketer.
The Holy Grail in all of this is having insight into the search behavior patterns demonstrated by specific organizational roles, by company size. Imagine being able to filter the metrics noted above by visitors from organizations whose annualized revenues exceed $100 million, and again by C-Suite executives within those organizations.
Cutting-edge technologies now enable that level of insight. Neo-B2B SEMs will take full advantage and develop a new best-practice standard.