If there is one buzzword that has repeatedly cropped up on the marketing-trends-to-watch lists this year, it’s account-based marketing (ABM). It’s not surprising, given the general trend towards personalisation in marketing. One survey shows that 37 per cent of companies have adopted ABM already and another third are launching it or considering it.
What is ABM?
ABM isn’t new but is surging in popularity again, fuelled by a wave of accessible and affordable marketing technologies that make it easier than ever to mine data and define target accounts.
As the name implies, ABM is about targeting specific accounts – but there are different approaches. At one end of the spectrum, that could simply be a campaign targeting a number of companies of a specific size in a specific industry sector, perhaps even in just one country or region. At the opposite end of the spectrum, ABM can be aimed at just one high-value target organisation. And not just that one organisation but specific individuals within it.
Clearly, the nature of ABM makes it a higher-cost marketing tactic than more traditional campaigns but the potential rewards, if done right, are also much higher. This is particularly important in B2B marketing where, for example, one big-ticket software sale to a big bank or retailer could run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds.
As Jon Miller, founder and CEO of Engagio, explains it: “If marketing automation is fishing with nets, account-based marketing is fishing with spears. It’s about actively targeting the big accounts that make the biggest impact on your revenue, instead of waiting for them to turn up in your demand-gen trawls.”
What is the role of content in this new wave of ABM?
Much of the same kind of content used in regular B2B content marketing programmes will be used in an ABM campaign. Think whitepapers, blogs, webinars, infographics, ebooks, videos, social posts and more. But in an ABM campaign, marketers and content creators will need to know the individuals they are targeting and also how those individuals prefer to engage with and consume content.
And whereas much B2B content marketing is focused on high-level thought leadership, ABM content will by its very nature often be much more niche and focused on the specific issues, challenges or technology strategies of the account being targeted.
But there can be some quick wins too without creating this kind of content from scratch. At the other end of the ABM scale, highlighted earlier in this blog, it’s an opportunity for marketers to sweat some of their existing content assets. For example, generic whitepapers could be repurposed to make them more relevant and focused on a specific vertical industry sector, or a specific account’s challenges.
However, what marketers need to remember is that, with ABM, it is about targeting individuals and not traditional buyer personas. And with B2B purchases, particularly something such as a high-value technology procurement exercise, it will be a range of people at different levels of seniority and in different departments who will be involved in that purchase, from the initial research to the selection and signing off.
Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, says ABM is about looking at these individuals as a tightly integrated cross-departmental team and facilitating the ‘collective learning’ of the team rather than appealing to each individual’s parochial needs. He explains: “Instead of simply creating content for each persona in a buying group, create content that helps the buying group align their agendas around the solution.”
But there is one note of caution. David McGuire, creative director at Radix Communications, says that misusing ABM and sending generic content down that narrow marketing funnel simply turns it into “laser-guided spam”. He warns: “That’s why so many B2B marketers end up shoehorning generic content into supposedly targeted nurture flows, where it only kind of fits. My fear is that’s what we’ll increasingly see with ABM. The investment in technology, data and training means you need to send something – so instead of creating something really good, you sort of make the best of what you have.”