What’s on the Horizon for B-to-B Marketing in 2020?


The end of the year is a time of reflection, of looking back and planning ahead for a better future. As someone who cut her professional teeth in the pre-internet world of the daily local newspaper, I know it’s also a time of low-hanging fruit for editorial fodder. Story ideas come easy this time of year, regardless of your beat. Take the general topic of marketing, for example. Here’s a quick and dirty brain dump of ideas that could fill several days’ worth of print or online content: 10 Best Ad Campaigns of 2019; Marketing Trends to Expect in 2020; Crisis Communications: Who Weathered the Storm in 2019?; Walking on Broken Glass: How Tesla Turned an Electric Truck Debacle into Media Gold; Social Media Sensation: Greta Thunberg and the Future of Political Movements.


You get the idea. Look back on the year that was and explore some of the trends. Or, look to the year ahead and make prognostications. At best, you’ll revisit your story in 365 days and pat yourself on the back for your spot-on intuition. And, at worst, you can shrug off educated guesses that never bear fruit the way local news viewers absolve meteorologists who under- or over-estimate the looming snowpocalypse.


Never one to let an easy blog topic pass me by, I would be remiss if I failed to seize a no-brainer idea. So here goes my predictions for the next big trends in marketing in 2020—with a particular focus on the b-to-b vertical:


Prediction One: Video is King

Smartphone camera technology will continue to improve, driving the barrier to entry for video marketing ever lower in 2020, opening the medium to more and more businesses. The ability to create passable-quality, DIY video content opens untold opportunity for small orgs and nonprofits with limited production budgets to create and distribute their own video messages.


And audiences are hungry for video. According to Forbes, half a billion people watched video content on Facebook every day in 2019. That’s roughly equivalent to the combined (documented) population of the U.S., the UK, France and Canada watching Facebook videos on any given day. That’s only Facebook, which, while a behemoth in the social media world, still runs a distant second to YouTube when it comes to video distribution. Done right, video messaging stands a better chance of going viral than the written word, as some 92 percent of mobile video viewers share content they like with other people, according to Wordstream. Yet, until now, video promotions have largely focused on the b-to-c market. I think we’re about to see a tipping point in the year ahead, as business to business vendors take advantage of this as-yet untapped medium.


To rise above the fray in 2020, video marketers will need to keep it short and sweet—under 30 seconds—if they want the best chance of capturing and retaining attention. According to Hubspot, Instagram videos in the 26 second range score the most ‘likes,’ and viewers have roughly the same attention span across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.


One edge b-to-b video marketers enjoy over their b-to-c peers is a smaller, more specific audience with typically tightly-defined niche interests. This factor makes customizing content a little easier, if you’re paying attention to your target audience and its unique pain points. An important point to keep in mind when taking your first dive into video marketing is the need for content that translates with or without audio. If you believe the widely reported but unsubstantiated statistics that indicate some 85 percent of social media video viewers consume content with the audio muted, then the value of quality closed-captioning and visual storytelling is critical to getting your message across. Give your pitch deck and overhaul in 2020, and turn it into a compelling, entertaining—and brief—marketing video.


Prediction Two: Quality over Quantity

Call me an eternal optimist with this oh-so-hopeful prediction, but 2020 will finally be the year we see a shift away from the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to content marketing. The modern worker is inundated with information every waking moment and, in the b-to-b space, this means businesses in every sector are in a constant battle for the time and attention of their customers and prospects.


Last year, the number of e-mail users worldwide topped 2.9 billion, with these users sending and receiving more than 246 billion e-mails every single day, according to a report from the Radicati Group, a Silicon Valley-based market research firm. Beyond the inbox, adult social media users spent, on average, 2.5 hours each day consuming content across the big four social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Somehow, U.S. smartphone users also managed to send an average of 94 text messages each day, or roughly 33,834 over the course of a year. And that doesn’t begin to touch on the time spent surfing the web, reading the estimated 600 million blogs published in 2019, nor does it take into account the estimated 60 million adults who listened to podcasts each week in 2019.


Information overload is a fact of modern life. Unfortunately, marketers continue to add insult to injury, churning out inestimable number of emails, social media posts, eBooks, print mail campaigns, Google ads…the list goes on and on.
The most effective content marketing in the coming year will be customized, targeted and—most importantly—of a higher quality. Attention spans are getting shorter by the day, but informative, well-conceived, thoughtfully crafted content will stand out in 2020.


Prediction Three: Back to Basics

In business as in life, reputation is everything. The proliferation of online review platforms have put the power to make or break a company’s status in the hands of customers—satisfied, disgruntled and otherwise. For the most part, b-to-b businesses have flown under the radar in this arena, as Yelp, Google, Amazon, TripAdvisor and other review platforms have largely comprised b-to-c product and service reviews. I expect we will see a shift in 2020 as b-to-b customers who have grown accustomed to easily finding feedback from other product purchasers when they are shopping outside of work will begin to seek out—and even demand—similar advice prior to making an investment in a b-to-b product or service for their business. It only makes sense that they would; as a general rule, b-to-b services require a much larger investment of both time and money than, say, a new pair of running shoes.


Assuming this trend toward online reviews pans out in the b-to-b world, businesses operating in the sector will be well-served to proactively solicit customer feedback in public-facing review channels. At the end of the day, a million dollar marketing and branding campaign might garner the attention of prospective customers, but when it comes to closing a sale, you simply can’t put a price tag on the value of honest feedback from a satisfied current customer whose lived experience speaks volumes to a prospect who’s still on-the-fence.


TL; DR: The Cliff Notes Version

1. B-to-B marketing in 2020 will see an even greater emphasis on short-form video.
2. Content marketers will zero in on personalized written, audio and video content, with a focus on delivering quality messaging, rather than on sheer volume.
3. Reputation management will finally become a priority in the b-to-b space, as prospective clients seek out online reviews. Proactive marketers will collect and publish reviews from their current base of satisfied customers.