Subscribe to The Marketing Scope Newsletter

The Most Effective B2B Marketing Strategy: SEM

Marketing at its finest delivers value to both the customer and the brand. For a B2B marketer, it’s a matter of placing your information or message at the right place at the right time so that just the right prospects can see it—easy, right? If only it were that simple. As we all know, there are a lot of variables along the way, and that often means a marketer carries a heavy load when it comes to developing effective B2B marketing strategies.

SEMCommon questions marketers struggle with include things like what are the “best” marketing methods (and metrics) for B2B companies. What key elements need to be included in B2B marketing strategies? Where should the budget go? How much? How do you measure ROI?

Well, you’re in luck, because the Content Marketing Institute’s annual benchmarks report — B2B Content Marketing 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America — can help give us a little insight as we dig into some of those questions. Where do most B2B companies see the most bang for their marketing buck… Spoiler alert: it’s Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The result isn’t all that surprising considering the obvious importance of search engine results and your overall presence when prospective customers search for your products or services.

As we dissect this report, think about your company’s marketing efforts and see if you can relate to any of the findings. Hopefully you’ll gain perspective on where other B2B companies are both succeeding and falling short, and be able to use that information to your advantage as you develop and continually fine-tune your own strategies.

The Report

For the fifth year in a row, CMI has conducted their study examining what B2B companies are doing, and planning to do, to up their marketing games. Of the 5,167 total respondents, the results were distilled from the responses of just over 1,500 marketing professionals located in North America. Here’s what they found.

Who’s Doing Content Marketing?

The report came from the Content Marketing Institute, so you can logically assume that content marketing was covered in the data. Content marketing is, as they define it, “…a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Eighty-six percent of B2B marketers polled said they used content marketing, and 47 percent even have a group within their company dedicated to its success.

How SEO, SEM, and Content Play Together

Content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and search engine marketing (SEM) a/k/a paid search, all impact one another and work together. To that end, think of your company in terms of a family reunion: SEO, SEM, content marketing are the cousins chatting away in the corner. They’re different people, but they’re always going to be related to one another. They stay in touch, talk to one another, and work together to get things done. When your business produces SEO-optimized content and puts it in the right places, in front of the right audiences, focusing on the right keywords, it can have an impact on your organic search results. Specific to SEM, your success on that front relies on your ability to produce content to feed those efforts. Whether it’s downloadable assets (ebooks, whitepapers, etc.) or webinars, product demos and other lead generation tactics you’re using, content feeds the engine all the way around.

SEM is the Most Common Paid Advertising Tactic for B2B

According to the report, and of no real surprise, SEM is the most used paid advertising tool for B2B marketers. To be exact, 58 percent of respondents said their company uses SEM more than any other method. Print or other offline promotion came in second at 52 percent, traditional banner ads were a close third with 49 percent, and social ads landed at a solid 48 percent.

And SEM is the Most Effective Paid Advertising Tactic for B2B

SEM is the most popular paid advertising tactic for B2B marketers for a reason: It works. Over half — 52 percent of respondents — indicated they rely on SEM as the most effective channel, with another 41 percent responding that promoted social media posts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.), were very effective as well. Social ads also did well in terms of effectiveness, coming in at 38 percent. You can see the rest of those results in Figure 2 from the report.

Why is SEM so Effective?

Want some insight into why SEM is so popular?

  • It’s relatively simple to track ROI on your investment and watch leads turn into profits, especially using with popular tools like Google AdWords and Salesforce.
  • You can easily target and define the audience of choice for your paid online presence, meaning more clicks that matter for your business.
  • Your content can be distributed instantly and quickly modified if it doesn’t appear to be working. SEM is nothing if not adaptable.
  • You can use retargeting to stay top-of-mind for interested parties, increasing exposure that’s likely to result in action.

What’s Next for B2B Marketers and Their Budgets?

One point worth noting is that while B2B marketers report a high degree of reliance on “print or other offline promotions” and “traditional online banner ads,” they report their effectiveness as being very low. This comes as no surprise to me, and I doubt it does to you, either. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad? Or relied on a display ad to deliver results for a campaign you were promoting? That’s not to say that traditional offline marketing tactics can’t work, but for best results they probably need to be combined with some component of an online initiative as well.

Search engine marketing (SEM), however, is important to B2B marketers. And it is the key to the kind of ROI that marketers seek. We see this all the time from our own clients, and the challenge is always to find the right vendor partner with whom to work so as to deliver great results. And that? Not always an easy task. The other significant challenge to marketing strategies overall reported by marketers was a lack of budget. I suspect that part of the lack of budget issue is related to the fact that it’s easier to get a budget allocation for traditional offline marketing tactics and banner advertising, which are things people are comfortable with, and more difficult to get those dollars shifted away, to online marketing tactics like social advertising, SEM, etc.

What do you think? What do you see in your business? How does your business approach SEM? What about content marketing? Are you dipping your toes in the water, or do you already have a team dedicated to its success? Regardless of what methods you’re relying on, you can definitely learn something from this study of B2B marketers: they’re using SEM, and it’s working. If you’re not yet using SEM, along with paid social advertising, it might be time to start.

Additional Resources on this Topic:
Is Content Marketing Worth the Squeeze? Sixty-One Percent of Consumers Prefer It
The Buyer’s Journey: B2B Lifecycle Content Marketing
10 Habits of Highly Effective B2B Content Marketers

By Shelly Kramer – Contributing Writer, Co-CEO of V3B & BroadSuite Media Group
Website:, Twitter: @ShellyKramer