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Growth marketing trends 2021: Why we’re not going back.

Read Time: 6 Mins

If 2020 showed us the power and reach of digital, 2021 continued that trend but also exposed its weaknesses. Here are the growth marketing trends that caught our attention in 2021, and what they mean for the year ahead.

To say it’s been an exciting two years for marketers is an understatement. Last December, we looked back at 2020 and marveled at the creativity and energy that marketers brought in the wake of a total shutdown of one of their most important tactics, live events. We predicted that the experimentation of 2020 would give way to a year of innovation.

We weren’t wrong, but the most exciting growth marketing trend of 2021 was not the refinement of virtual and hybrid events, but the cementing of the digital transformation. Marketing organizations didn’t just focus on how to do digital interactions better. They invested heavily in how to drive growth in a world where digital is the default, data is the driver, and the customer has complete control.

Here are the growth marketing trends that stood out to us and what they mean for enterprise B2B marketers in 2022.

Trend #1: Marketing organizations invested heavily in their tech stack.

We’ll look back on 2021 as the year that ABM finally went mainstream. Terminus found that 87% of marketers believe that augmenting traditional lead-based strategies with a stronger focus on account-based strategies is the best way to maximize revenue generation. And, according to HubSpot, 70% of marketers reported using ABM in 2021, up 15% from 2020.

While we’re excited to see more marketers sharing our conviction about the value of ABM, what stood out most was that they were also acting on this conviction, in a big way. Investments in ABM and sales enablement platforms, such as Outreach and Gong, were through the roof, leading to explosive growth for these companies.

These investments demonstrate an innate belief that digital transformation broadly, and account based approaches specifically, are vital to growth. And that’s a major shift from previous years.

Underneath this optimism, though, we heard disappointment and frustration that it’s not working yet. This disconnect is not surprising. Investing in resources is only the first step. These efforts won’t bear fruit until they are backed up with new organizational processes, especially greater and more meaningful collaboration between marketing and sales, and the change management to sustain it.

Trend #2: There was a ton of consolidation among technology platforms.

2021 saw technology platform providers across the digital marketing landscape joining forces through acquisition or integration. For example:

  • Virtual event and webinar platform providers joined forces with physical event platform providers in an effort to provide the same quality of data from virtual, hybrid and in-person events.
  • Traditional sales enablement providers sought to shore up their capabilities with the addition of AI. (For example, Zoominfo added conversational AI capabilities through acquisition of Chorus.)
  • Intent providers, such as Demandbase and 6sense, pursued integrations that bring more offsite, customer voice-driven interactions into the intent mix, adding providers such as Bombora, G2, TrustRadius, LinkedIn and Facebook.

This has been necessary for a while. The proliferation of digital experiences has produced a massive amount of data. But extracting a clear picture of prospect and account preferences and intent from this data is incredibly challenging, especially when the majority of engagements take place offsite.

We’re thrilled to see the integration of data sources finally getting the limelight it deserves. The consolidation and integration of these platforms is a huge step toward helping marketing and sales separate the signals from the noise to drive the unified conversation that buyers expect. Like the other trends we’ve observed this year, this foundation must be built upon

Trend #3: Buyers embraced remote interactions.

While marketing was doubling down on digital, many sales organizations were hanging on to the belief that when things open up, sales motions will go back to business as usual.

They won’t.

B2B purchasing has changed, and a big part of this is who is influencing and making the decisions. Today’s B2B tech buyers are digital natives who expect control over their buying experiences. They move fluidly from device to device, prefer to explore and learn on their own time and in their own way, and don’t tolerate content and experiences that are not relevant and personalized. Swipe right, I’m done.

COVID didn’t make this happen, but it did accelerate it. Touch points that were not yet digitized, such as events and sales outreach, were forced to move online. It turns out, a majority of B2B buyers prefer it this way. Remote interactions are safer, don’t require travel and, significantly, are easier to schedule.

The key now is not to chase prospects and convince them of your value prop, but to be where they are with the right information and when they’re ready to buy.

This means letting go of traditional sales playbooks—someone who has been researching your solution for weeks doesn’t need, or want, to start at square one with a demo. Instead, sales must seek to understand as much context as possible about where the prospect or account is on their journey and strive to provide exactly what they need to move forward.

Sales can’t do this alone. As the keepers of engagement and intent data, marketers must take an active role in not only curating this data for sales, but training them on how to interpret and act on it. This is a huge missing piece today.

Other growth marketing takeaways from 2021.

Not everything digital was a slam dunk in 2021. Here are some of the challenges organizations will face in 2022.

Finding the right hybrid event format is still elusive. 

Many, including us, expected the hybrid event to emerge as a key tactic to marry the data and reach of virtual events with the human touch of in-person events. The arrival of the Delta variant, and the resulting uncertainty, slowed this progress. While we saw four models for hybrid events emerge, the effectiveness of hybrid is not as clear cut as it was for virtual. One thing is clear—creating hybrid events takes a lot of resources and organizations need to think carefully to come up with the right event mix for their goals.

It’s still really hard to rise above the digital noise.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s even harder to rise above the noise. People are taking back ownership of their time—and that’s a good thing. To keep their attention, marketers must have something good to say and say it fast. Companies that can connect with their audience on a human level will rise to the top, while those that continue to chest beat and talk at their audience instead of with them will find it harder and harder to be heard.

Investment in performance media won’t pay off without checks and balances. 

Performance media provides an incredible opportunity to target specific audiences and gain understanding of their needs. For these reasons it’s one of the top tactics being used for ABM. As with other digital tactics, the sheer amount of data available about performance media campaigns can set marketers down the wrong path. Clicks are never the full picture and when looked at in a vacuum can lead to false positives. To get the most out of these investments, marketers need to make sure they are connecting the dots between digital media and their other engagement tactics.

Having high quality, relevant, personalized content is more important than ever.

The self-service buying model means that buyers are looking to be able to answer more—or all—of their questions through content that they can access where and when they need it. This means not only packaging your content into different formats to meet different needs, but removing gates, timed drips and other barriers to self-driven research, and producing more content designed to address questions that used to be handled in live sales conversations.

The Iron Horse insight.

At the macro level, organizations are embracing digital and ABM as critical drivers of growth. At the tactical level, many of these same organizations have not caught up—leading to lackluster results. Investments in tools is not enough. Change is a process and needs to be nourished. To sustain this momentum, organizations will need to slow down and learn how to get the most out of these investments. Everyone has data, and everyone has the tools now to make use of that data. The companies that stand out will be the ones that can use these resources the most efficiently and effectively to create unified, meaningful experiences for their customers.

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