Gone are the days when building a simple website and utilizing a couple of basic online B2B marketing tactics constituted an acceptable B2B marketing strategy.

The Most Creative B2B Marketing Tactics Online

In today’s increasingly crowded and competitive online marketplace, for small technology companies to grasp their audience’s attention, they’ve got to cut through the noise and earn it by utilizing creative and engaging B2B marketing tactics that distinguish them from the competition.

OpenView examines this issue in its latest report, “Above and B2B-eyond: A Look at the Creative Marketing Tactics Leading B2B Technology Companies Are Using Online.” The report highlights 10 successful, outside-the-box B2B marketing tactics that have helped separate these companies from the competition.

Read on to find out more, or download a PDF copy of the full report by clicking “Download” to the right of your screen.

Some of the companies featured in the report, like Salesforce.com and HubSpot, will be familiar, while others such as Tableau Software and RightScale may not. Regardless, what they all have in common is that they are very successful at executing online marketing and are each employing at least one tactic particularly well, as evidenced by their online presence, success at selling their products, and the many marketing awards they’ve won.

Using a combination of written descriptions and embedded videos, this report highlights one tactic that each company excels at using and provides key takeaways that you can adopt in your own online marketing strategy.

Ultimately, this report will demonstrate how some of the world’s best B2B marketers are going above and beyond the typical execution of common B2B marketing channels, and provide growing B2B businesses with examples of new best practices they can integrate into their own marketing strategies.

It is important to remember that although this report does not offer a comprehensive look at all of the potential online B2B marketing tactics, the key takeaways that are provided are applicable across virtually any medium. Implementing them will help your business differentiate its presence in an increasingly crowded online marketplace, which in turn will help you optimize your marketing efforts and allow you to engage customers and prospects in a more meaningful way.

SOCIAL MEDIA TACTICS

Even though B2B marketing tends to target organizational buyers, those buyers — whether they’re users, managers, or senior executives — are all human. They each possess the same innate need to gather information and exchange ideas and opinions with their peers — all of which social networking is very well positioned to address.

Importantly, social media is no longer just a channel for B2C companies. According to a January 2012 survey by Penton Marketing Services, 60 percent of B2B marketers have either already implemented a social media strategy or are planning to this year. Three B2B companies — Marketo, Salesforce.com, and VMware — are all leading that trend, going well beyond standard social media best practices.

Marketo and Facebook: Capturing Customers with Visually Unified Content

While many B2B companies have a Facebook page, few take advantage of the benefits that having one provides quite like Marketo. A leading provider of B2B marketing automation software, Marketo boasts a well-designed Facebook page that features photos, videos, infographics, cartoons, and more, much of which is designed specifically for the company’s Facebook campaign.

The company’s unified color scheme and rock-star graphical style sets the tone for the page and its content, which includes detailed post summaries enhanced by a visually consistent theme that manages to be both engaging and memorable.

While most B2B Facebook pages simply use the standard Facebook-provided page elements and organizational themes, Marketo’s presence is customized and features unique subpages and tabs that contain links to its other Web accounts, including YouTube and Glassdoor, where it posts videos, job openings, and other relevant content.

Additionally, the company appeals to its visitors’ interests by adapting its messaging to describe its software as a “social marketing automation” tool rather than as a “marketing automation” or “revenue performance management” tool as it does on its own website. It’s a slight adjustment, but one that goes a long way toward appealing to prospects learning about the product on a social media platform.

Other highlights of Marketo’s page include perks and promotions, which reward visitors with decals and other company swag in exchange for “likes,” essentially enlisting their help as brand evangelists who help spread Marketo’s pages and content across their social networks. These and other tactics have helped Marketo’s Facebook page garner more than 20,000 likes, while enhancing its overall brand recognition in the process.

Key Takeaway

Playing to Facebook’s strengths and the interests of your audience can go a long way toward promoting deep social integration and interaction. By using fun, interactive content you can brand your company in a way that makes it very accessible, something that may not always be as possible on your corporate website.

Salesforce.com and Twitter: Humanizing a Social Megaphone

Salesforce.com Twitter

Watch the video included in the full report to learn how Salesforce.com utilizes Twitter in far more creative and personal ways than the typical B2B company.

“The marketing industry is undergoing the biggest transformation it’s seen in 60 years thanks to the unprecedented growth of social networks. Forward-thinking chief marketing officers understand that customers, prospects, analysts, advocates, and detractors are social and are having important conversations that either need immediate responses or hold valuable data about your products and operations. These CMOs are reinventing their businesses into social enterprises, re-thinking their strategies, and ultimately becoming part of the conversation.” — Marcel LeBrun, SVP and GM of Salesforce Radian6

Key Takeaway

B2B brands have a reputation for being somewhat robotic and faceless. By having employees — everyone from the product developers to the CEO — sign their tweets and actively engage with customers, you can make your brand much more personable and approachable.

VMware and Its Community Page: A Central Hub for Social Engagement

Having shown you examples of companies with great individual social media pages, we’re now focusing on a company that does a fantastic job of bringing multiple pages together to one central location.

VMware, which sells a wide range of complex virtualization and cloud computing solutions to a variety of buyer personas, has created a community page that integrates Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and other social media feeds from nearly 100 individual VMware accounts into one all-inclusive hub. Each feed is distinctly geared to either interact with particular customers or serve a specific purpose. There is a Twitter account for VMware’s vCloud product (@vCloud), for example, that boasts 20,000 followers. VMware Knowledgebase (@VMwareKB), its customer support account, has an impressive 11,000 followers. Other feeds in VMware’s community page include Facebook (the company boasts more than 57,000 Facebook likes) and LinkedIn (it has more than 54,000 followers).

VMWare’s community page ranks its most active and important members. Its Twitter page offers an organized list of important influencers — the Top 100 VMware People and the Top 25 Bloggers, for example — as well as a module of popular hashtags that guide the conversation around specific VMware products and services.

Ultimately, for a sophisticated multi-product company like VMware to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media tools as a communication channel, it needs to make it very simple for customers to find the right account to engage. The company’s community page delivers on that goal, driving targeted engagement across all of its social media accounts.

Key Takeaway

While VMware’s approach to social media might be overkill for many early stage B2B businesses, it nevertheless provides a very important lesson: Conversations about your brand happen across many different channels, so it is essential to make them all accessible and easy to find. Plus, by studying how and why customers engage with your various social channels, you can create an environment that’s more targeted to their needs.

PROMOTIONAL OFFERS

Because B2B software products can be marketed to many different types of customers, each with unique budgets and needs, B2B companies often use complex pricing structures and promotions to create broad appeal. Unfortunately, efforts to customize product pricing to fit every single customer need often result in a buying process that is more confusing and intimidating than it needs to be.

Some companies avoid this problem by obscuring pricing and configurations altogether, requiring interested buyers to contact them directly for that information. This practice creates additional friction in the buying process, negating the impact of other marketing efforts.

Three companies — New Relic, Atlassian, and Tableau Software — have avoided that pitfall by simplifying both their pricing scales and sign-up forms, and incorporating tactics like cause marketing, cash giveaways, and other unique contests to make signing up for their products simple, anxiety free and, in some cases, even fun.

New Relic and Free Trials: Converting Tire Kickers into Paying Customers

New Relic

Free trials can be an extremely effective way for B2B businesses to convince visitors to take their product for a test drive. For free trials and promotional offers to have any benefit, however, they have to be prominently displayed, not hidden or buried under layers of Web content.

New Relic, a company that develops Web application performance management software, makes its free trial impossible to miss. Visitors to its website are greeted with a simple statement: “Try New Relic. Get Free T-shirt.” The company also includes a free trial banner at the top of its homepage, and mentions the offer on both its blog and pricing page. The call-to-action buttons on New Relic’s homepage are attractive and brightly colored, while its free trial sign-up form is a simple pull-down window that’s easy to find without being coercive. Even better, signing up for a free trial is incredibly easy — after entering some basic information, visitors can sign up with one simple click without leaving the homepage.

The free T-shirt offer is a nice touch — it enlists prospects as New Relic marketers — and one that frequently resonates with the IT community. With more than 20,000 accounts to date, it’s clearly working.

Key Takeaway

The goal of a free trial offer is to entice visitors to try your product, with the hope that they will be sufficiently impressed to convert to paying users. Make the promotion obvious and don’t put up roadblocks with a complicated sign-up page. By simplifying the offer, customers are much more likely to take advantage of it.

Atlassian and Its Pricing Page: A Case Study in Transparency

Watch the video included in the full report to see how Atlassian’s flagship product, Jira, and the various promotions — including a crafty cause marketing option — and free trials have helped the company sell more than 100,000 starter licenses.

Key Takeaway

As Atlassian shows, B2B companies don’t have to give their products away to attract new customers, nor do they need to hide their pricing structure to keep prospective companies interested. By clearly displaying the value of each pricing tier and using tactics like cause marketing, businesses can make their promotional offers much more attractive to their prospective buyers.

Tableau Software and Contests: The Gamification of Customer Acquisition

Tableau Software

While a lot of B2B businesses experiment with simple contests and giveaways to provide perks to potential customers, very few companies take it to the level that Tableau Software does. The Seattle-based company, which sells business intelligence and analytics software that allows you to build interactive charts to visually represent data, hosts “Biz Viz” (one of three annual contests) that offers both individual and enterprise-level customers the chance to win a trip to San Diego for Tableau’s annual User Conference along with $2,000 in cash. To enter, users are simply required to download Tableau’s free trial product — Tableau Public — and create a visualization that shows a creative business use for the software.

The marketing benefits of the Biz Viz contest are significant. Not only does it drive downloads of Tableau’s free product, generating leads, product awareness, and usage, it also encourages contest entrants to help Tableau market its product by demonstrating the power and various uses of its software. Lastly, because contest entries are attractive visualizations with low text counts, they can be converted into infographic content for Tableau’s website.

Key Takeaway

Contests drive new users and motivate them to experiment with your product. They can be delivered through many different mediums, including a company’s website, social media channels, or e-mail campaigns. While the prize matters, it doesn’t need to be a large cash sum. Take your audience into consideration, offer a reward they will value, and experiment with unique contest formats — such as games or competitions — that will keep entrants highly engaged.

ONLINE TOOLS AND ASSESSMENTS

Generally speaking, there is one simple question that all buyers want vendors to answer before they commit to purchasing a B2B software product: “How is your solution going to improve my business or impact my bottom line?”

Some B2B technology companies attempt to answer this question with a simple ROI calculator or alternative online analysis. While those tools can be effective, the three companies profiled below — RightScale, HubSpot, and Zendesk — have each developed far more intricate tools and assessments that go beyond their product’s basic value proposition to assure customers their products are right for them.

RightScale and Its TCO Calculator: Qualitative and Quantitative ROI

RightScale

RightScale, a provider of cloud management solutions, doesn’t just provide a quantitative ROI calculator on its website. It offers a TCO (total cost of ownership) tool, which factors in data such as potential hidden costs (administrative hours, for example) and each prospect’s individual computing needs.

The result is a comprehensive output that reveals a prospect’s potential upfront and annual cost savings. To provide a truly customized analysis, RightScale’s TCO tool also factors in non-quantitative benefits (reducing server provision time from weeks to minutes, for example) that speak to each customer’s specific needs or pains (such as improved agility, customer service, or product control).

The tool is easy to use, especially since the TCO calculator pre-fills some data fields based on the type of application a prospect is interested in. After a result is calculated, it is cross-promoted with relevant content that reinforces the calculator’s conclusion.

Ultimately, the TCO estimate gives non-technical decision makers who are making a technical investment a clear-cut view of RightScale’s overall impact on their business.

“In B2B marketing, we focus on helping customers move through the key stages of the buying cycle. RightScale provides a cloud management platform, so calculating the costs of cloud infrastructure is critical. Our TCO calculator provides customers with a customized cost-benefit analysis that helps them understand how they can save money by using cloud infrastructure.The tool has been used by thousands of prospects and is an important element of our online marketing efforts.” — Kim Weins, Vice President of Marketing, RightScale

Key Takeaway

B2B buyers love ROI calculators. Although this particular tool is relatively simple — based on straightforward arithmetic — it is nevertheless extremely useful because it allows the company to show prospects how its product provides value beyond the bottom line, making a much more compelling argument for using RightScale.

HubSpot and Its Graders: Quick, Painless, and Comprehensive Marketing Assessments

Watch the video included in the full report to see how HubSpot’s marketing grader balances complexity with incredible ease of use to provide visitors with very specific recommendations for website improvements.

“Ultimately, HubSpot’s grader tools are just an extension of the fundamental rule of inbound marketing: Give your prospects what they need and want. Some companies do that with downloadable eBooks, while others offer webinars or simple calculators. Graders are just another way we try to give prospects something that can truly help them in their jobs.” — Amanda Iglesias, Inbound Marketing Consultant, HubSpot

Key Takeaway

HubSpot’s graders are very difficult to build, but the concept behind them can be tweaked to better fit B2B companies with fewer resources and less marketing expertise. Developing a tool that demonstrates your company’s expertise via an online assessment can provide the kind of evergreen value and historical context that will keep them coming back for more.

Because it is based on data the company has already culled from its existing customers — who are able to segment themselves based on their unique needs — Zendesk’s benchmarking tool can provide excellent customer-specific insight without the coding infrastructure required to build something like Hubspot’s Grader.com.

The beauty of the benchmarking tool isn’t in its simplicity, however. By using the aforementioned data, Zendesk is able to compare information by industry (nonprof­it, education, manufacturing, and retail, for example), target audience (businesses, consumers, or internal), and company size to make its benchmarking outputs more relevant to individual visitors.

Additionally, the tool’s summary report calls out interesting facts and trends, while its “Improve Your Metrics” option provides best practices for improving un­favorable benchmarking scores and links to webinars for more thought leadership and prospect engagement.

“We knew helping our customers compare their support metrics with their peers would be useful, but we were shocked when over 10,000 customers opted into the Zendesk Benchmark. By focusing on customer satisfaction, ensuring the tool was meaningful for all of our customers and, perhaps most importantly, making it fun, we’ve enjoyed tremendous success and have made our benchmarking tool not only an important marketing campaign but an integral part of our product.” — Sam Boonin, VP, Product Engagement, Zendesk

Key Takeaway

By tapping into prospects’ natural desire to compare themselves to their competitors, benchmarking tools can be an extremely engaging marketing tactic. Using existing customer data is an excellent way to lessen the time and resources needed to build out a worthwhile benchmarking tool.

Eloqua and Content Marketing: More than Just Great Content

Eloqua

Our 10th company doesn’t fit into any of the other categories we’ve listed above, but is nevertheless noteworthy for its content marketing efforts. After all, content is no longer just a fad. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s “2012 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends” report, 90 percent of B2B organizations currently market through content. The CMI’s report also revealed that, on average, B2B marketers employ eight different content marketing techniques and spend more than a quarter of their marketing budget on the channel.

Of course, like each of the marketing tactics covered in this report, it’s not enough for B2B companies to simply create content. It takes high-quality content to stand out, and the best content marketers offer a diverse content mix (infographics, videos, podcasts, eBooks, blogs, and curated articles) to fully address their target audience’s needs. Eloqua, one of the pioneers of the marketing automation industry, does all of that and more by organizing and promoting its content in ways that make it easy for customers to discover and share it. Taking a page out of Yahoo’s book, the company rotates its content on its homepage, with popular content regularly replacing less popular items.

The company’s website provides multiple navigation schemes that guide visitors to various content topics, themes, and formats. Eloqua also lists the length (in pages or minutes) of its content, which appeals to visitors who require varying levels of depth and expertise, or who are simply short on time. Additionally, each piece of content includes a “next steps” tab that subtly nudges visitors through the sales funnel, allowing Eloqua to achieve a critical content marketing goal: delivering the right content to the right audience at the right time.

“So many companies are publishing original content these days that it has become exceptionally difficult to be heard on the Web. That’s why you have to get really creative with your content so that it stands out, gets discovered and, most importantly, gets shared.” — Joe Chernov, VP of Content Marketing, Eloqua

Conclusion: Online B2B Marketing Tactics: Lessons from the Best

Ultimately, this report shows that the world’s most effective B2B marketers do much more than simply use online marketing channels in a cookie cutter fashion. They explore each medium to its fullest, implementing unique characteristics and functionalities that help them stand out from the crowd and better engage their target audience.

The 10 companies discussed in this report also continue to focus on some or all of the following factors:

  1. Content quality: Successful marketing campaigns need great content that speaks directly to their target audience’s needs and concerns. It is important to note that quality content does not necessarily mean content that is flashy or overly in-depth. Rather, it is the context and message of the content, and its ability to consistently relate with a specific customer segment, that dictates success.
  2. Delivery and execution: Most B2B marketers understand the need to participate in their market’s most important channels. But having a presence on a channel alone isn’t enough to be successful. As businesses like Marketo and Salesforce.com have shown, it is equally important to consider creative delivery mechanisms and unique execution to establish differentiation.
  3. Social appeal: Everything about modern B2B marketing needs to be designed with human psychology in mind, including people’s needs and behaviors. By incorporating “social hooks” into your online marketing, as many of the companies in this report have done through social networking tools and other tactics, you can appeal to your customers on a different level, greatly increasing your chances of success.

Lastly, it is important to note that although this report includes several very large, high-growth B2B businesses, effective B2B online marketing does not require a big business budget. In fact, because many of the B2B marketing tactics, tools, and channels listed in this report require very little overhead and investment, they can be leveraged without incurring significant costs.

Moreover, there are numerous channels and tactics that are not featured in this report, and new marketing mediums sprout up every year. By exploring new opportunities and experimenting with creative ways to engage your target audience, your B2B company can stay one step ahead its competition and ensure that its voice is heard in an increasingly crowded and ever-evolving online world.

Download a PDF copy of the full report by by clicking “Download” on the right side of your screen.

Additional Reports on B2B Marketing Tactics

For more insights to help take your marketing strategy to the next level, read the other reports in our B2B Marketing Tactics Series:

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