B2B brands are diving into digital transformation (DX), and investing more and more resources into the process. In fact, half of the top executives recently surveyed by Forbes believe that their companies will be, “vastly digitally transformed” in the next two years.
Digital transformation is the process of moving business activities in any (or every) department to digital platforms and channels in order to maximize efficiency. It is the reality that technology impacts virtually every part of our society, and business is not exempt. This reality is the reason that the buyer’s journey is longer and more self-directed than ever, that users expect seamless cross-channel communication, and that SEO has become a key strategy for any industry.
To get a deeper understanding about how digital transformation is impacting B2B sectors, and what role SEO is playing in those transformations, we reached out to Stephanie Miller (@StephanieSAM). Miller leads the digital transformation business in the U.S. office of Econsultancy, a global research and training firm that helps organizations deliver best-in-class digital experiences.
Some B2B companies, and some whole industries, have been resistant to making the switch to digital. We asked Stephanie about the straw the broke the camel’s back and inspired them to finally make the change.
The short answer is “customers.” All of us, everywhere, all the time, are expecting brands to provide amazing digital experiences, and to recognize us across channels. This is true for all stages of the buying cycle and for all types of companies—from banks to retailers to social networks to restaurants to insurance companies to bicycle shops.
This desire to be more customer centric is the driving force behind the digital transformation of most companies. It’s an opportunity to engage and learn, stay competitive, and grow revenue and loyalty.
When companies think of digital, they immediately go to improving their tactics, but it also has to be about improving the process.
How are brands specifically reaching customers by going digital? If the impetus is a desire to be more customer-centric in general, how, specifically, are B2B brands using digital to accomplish this?
Since so much of B2B marketing is driven by content strategy, that is where many B2B companies focus. This is usually much more than a website upgrade, or a social publishing push—although those things may be part of the strategy.
A good place to start is to refine the content creation processes and centralize around the technology platform(s) used to publish. Train everyone on what “good” looks like, and how content helps achieve the business goals. In this way, content strategy can be very actionable and practical, and a solid content creation approach then leads to media mix optimization, which helps address breakpoints at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Awareness and evaluation stages in particular are very competitive.
How do the brands you work with view SEO in the general framework of digital transformations and improved content marketing strategies? We like to keep SEO and content close from the beginning, but we asked Stephanie how her clients were actually merging the two.
Search marketing is always a central element in any digital marketing. Frankly, it’s how anything gets found today. We don’t type in the address bar: we Google it.
Also, since content is such a huge part of both B2B and B2C marketing, ensuring that content is “findable” is a key challenge. Search ranking and value is just as important as the content itself.
Search ranking and value is just as important as the content itself.
Once found, we all hope that our content gets shared … which, of course, also factors into our future page rankings and authenticity. This kind of “earned” media is not as predictable as it once was.
Given the rise of algorithmic curation, declining organic reach, the increased availability of native advertising placements, and the limited impact of any singular piece of content, it may be that it’s time to reconsider what “earned media” means, and how search and social can be optimized together.
SEO is more than just content, so we were curious how Stephanie’s B2B clients are using SEO outside of content marketing.
Search is the alpha and omega of all acquisition programs—and the best place to test ad copy and audience profiles. Those learnings are very valuable for social and display advertising, and even landing pages. Certainly, I always support including search as part of the core strategy, particularly for persuasive design and responsive design projects.
Search is the alpha and omega of all acquisition programs.
Some key considerations that Econsultancy cites in our research are the explosion of bid management (and the risks of automating too many decisions), the growing and ever-changing library of ad extensions, and connecting search landing pages to broader campaign management and engagement (marketing automation) programs. A successful search visit is not the end, it’s the beginning.
SEO can’t be done in a silo; it requires buy-in and insights from all across the business. We asked Stephanie what advice she gives her clients for creating a great SEO team.
Here’s one tip for anyone looking to expand internal teams’ appreciation and acumen in search marketing: customize your message.
Search is one of the digital disciplines where the line between “practitioner” (analysts, strategists, designers) and “owner” (product manager, sales director, or digital manager) is most firmly drawn. Most people who benefit from successful search (the owners) are not the people who actually set up and manage search. Transformation has to happen at both levels, but the information and guidance you give those two different groups has to address their scope of work.
Want your practitioners to help transform the business? Challenge them to think differently, explore new technologies, integrate search more broadly through the customer lifecycle and fail fast and early. Set big goals with clear metrics and offer big rewards.
Want your owners to help? Give them training on how to draw insights from search reports. Encourage them to share as much as possible about the customer journey and motivations with the practitioners. Let them share in the goals and the rewards.
You built a successful business on taking care of your customers, and a digital transformation is the continuation of that trend. Your audience is on digital devices and platforms, so meet them there. A seasoned consultant like Stephanie can help guide the process if you’re not sure where to start.
If you decide to set out on your own, just be sure to take SEO with you. Modern SEO strategies and techniques can help guide everything from website navigation and development, to content marketing strategy and promotion. Like digital transformation, SEO is “all about the customer.”
Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. An experienced marketing technology strategist and thought leader, she is a mar-tech consultant and serves as the managing director for Digital Transformation for Econsultancy. Contact her directly at stephanieSAM DOT miller AT gmail DOT com, or @StephanieSAM.
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