2014 calendar on computer screen

Digital was, of course, the theme of 2014. This wasn’t hard to guess, but in our 2014 B2B Marketing Outlook, we expected to see three specific trends:

  1. The role of the marketer would continue evolving as marketers became more confident in their digital strategies
  2. Native advertising would proliferate
  3. Mobile and social usage would continue to intensify

So how much has changed, and how did our predictions stack up?

Prediction 1: The Continuously Evolving Role of the Marketer

What we said a year ago. “The rapid advancement of technology doesn’t mean that traditional marketing is over, but it does mean that it’s increasingly important for marketing executives to be able to conceptualize – and implement – digital approaches into marketing campaigns that creatively integrate traditional methods. While the digital age is causing marketers to doubt themselves, we predict that 2014 will be the year they gain confidence in their digital strategies.”

What really happened. Just one year ago, B2B marketers were questioning their digital marketing strategies. But this year, the CMO Council reported in their annual “State of Marketing” study that an incredible 81% of marketers surveyed “believe management mandates for top-line revenue growth and market share are realistic and attainable in the next 12 months.” The issue of confidence has clearly largely disappeared, and a new and different concern has appeared: less afraid to take advantage of big data and analytics, marketers are now finding that they need a way to unify their “digital marketing solutions, touchpoints and silos of digital data.”

Prediction 2: Content Marketing & Native Advertising: the New Dynamic Duo

What we said a year ago. “[Marketers] will be more likely to be creative and take risks in their content marketing strategies. Given the proliferation of content marketing, it’s no surprise that native advertising saw an uptick in 2013. We predict that 2014 will bring about an explosion of native advertising as B2B marketers look for new and more effective ways to connect with target audiences through valuable and engaging content.”

What really happened. Content production is reaching unforeseen numbers. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) “B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends,” “70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did one year ago.” That’s an impressive number. And last year, the report had no mention of native advertising or sponsored content, but this year 34% of marketers reported native advertising usage. Though publishers are still trying to figure out how to present and label sponsored content alongside their editorial content, it definitely won’t go away: eMarketer recently reported that both publishers and media buyers are very fond of native advertising. Of course, the most important opinion is that of native advertising’s audience, but the news is positive on that front too: Nieman Lab – a journalism foundation – reported on a study revealing that readers feel “more or less the same about the credibility” of a site that uses traditional advertising versus native advertising.

Prediction 3: Mobile and Social Usage Continues to Intensify

What we said a year ago. “Devices will only continue to proliferate, and so will social usage on those devices. Though B2B was hesitant to take the leap this year, we predict that in 2014, all marketers (including B2B) will increase efforts to engage prospects on those platforms.”

What really happened. The past year, reports and studies focused less on how many people are using devices and social media. It’s become a given at this point that your audiences are engaging with mobile and social. So the only question is, have marketers started to responded? According to that 2014 CMI Benchmarks study, 92% of B2B marketers are using social media (not including their blogs). But they have been more slow in embracing mobile experiences, as a recent VentureBeat report shows. This will have to change, and it turns out that Google will now be forcing companies to provide mobile-friendly websites by “launching a ‘mobile-friendly’ label” that appears on search results, according to FierceCMO.

The end of the year always offers an important chance to take a look back, and review what’s working, what isn’t, and what lies ahead. Marketers were kept busy with digital this year, and they’ve certainly adopted new tactics – we’re excited to watch the momentum continue into the new year!