ABM is Hot, But Are Brands Forgetting the “A”?

Posted on January 11, 2016

Account-Based Marketing (“ABM”) is hot as B2B brands rush to yet another set of technology tools (IP-targeted ad delivery + website personalization) to deliver relevant information that engages prospects.  But instead of marketing to the account level, are some just exercising “VBM” (vertical based marketing) in disguise?

I just completed a comprehensive ABM vendor evaluation for a B2B demand generation agency as part of their 2016 marketing planning process.  One of the four categories that I am evaluating is website content personalization.  As many of you already know, the ability to personalize website content delivery based on the visitor profile is key to increasing relevancy and engagement.  In a conversation with Jason Jue, CMO at Triblio, an interesting topic emerged. Namely, are brands pursuing ABM strategies truly personalizing website content at the “account” level or are they stopping short and opting to personalize for vertical industry?

Because IP-based company identification of website visitors is 80-90% accurate, it means that 10-20% are incorrectly identifyied.  Even the best claimed (audited) accuracy rates are 90% so that still means that 1 out of 10 visitors to a website will be mistakenly identified as working for the wrong company.  So the idea of personalizing content on your website using IP-based identification could be risky if you personalized a message for 3M and it turns out that the website visitor is in Minnesota, but actually works for American Express.  For this reason, brands are apprehensive to personalize messages that include the names of companies and are opting to deliver messaging focused on vertical markets (e.g. government, healthcare).  But is the best they can do?  Is this level of website personalization really worth all the trouble when today’s B2B websites already have a main menu category entitled “Industries?”

As Jason and I spoke further, I offered an alternative form of personalization that could be beneficial for brands to use — business cycle context.  To illustrate, I will use a small enterprise software development company where I worked as a contract CMO earlier this year.  Headspring is a developer of custom enterprise applications but wanted to transform itself into a mini version of Cognizant or HCL by advising CIOs on portfolio rationalization strategy, developing custom apps, and migrating on-premise apps to the cloud.

One of the use case situations where Headspring was able to secure large revenue contracts is helping companies integrate disparate systems of record (SOR) and systems of engagement (SOE) resulting from merger and acquisition activity.  Deciding which apps to extend, sunset, migrate to the cloud, etc. is very profitable business.  So one of the techniques we used was to create online alerts and track target industry periodicals to identify pending or completed M&A deals where we knew we could help the CIOs sort through the IT systems “spaghetti” that they just inherited to support LOB leaders.

So now imagine if we created an audience segment in our website personalization platform that contained the list of companies facing this M&A systems integration challenge and then personalized content delivery on the website that talked about how Headspring helps CIOs navigate these systems integration challenges.  Imagine that as part of the narrative, we named companies currently active in the M&A market and cited them as potential use case examples for our services.  What has now been done is to help the visitor to the website either identify with the narrative because it aligns with their business life cycle situation, or because they see their company name listed, or because one of the companies listed is an industry peer/competitor.

Rather than merely creating relevance via vertical industry association, we are now creating relevance because we are describing a specific use case situation we can solve and specific companies that can benefit from our solution.

Oh – but it gets better.  With ongoing monitoring of press releases and online news about your ABM target company list, you can continue to update the IP-based content delivery to adapt/align with what is going on in the lives of those companies.  Back to our example — let’s say that a Company X had been visiting the Headspring website and seeing M&A related messaging but did not engage.  Four months later, you receive an alert that Company X has seen sales decline due to poor online commerce user experience and lack of mobile app access.  The CIO subsequently announces the company is going to invest $5M to replatform their ecommerce solution and invest another $1M in mobile application integration.  BOOM!  We now create content that speaks to Headspring’s ability to help companies implement SaaS ecommerce and provide custom integration into legacy systems of record, while extending mobile functionality.   This is lifecycle-based personalization that aligns with the changing needs of an ABM target prospect.

IP-based content or ad delivery (like most marketing disciplines) will require ongoing experimentation and testing to figure out what works best. However, the key will be overcoming challenges such as IP data accuracy or “me too” copycat strategies for message personalization.

If you have specific experience you’d like to share — please do.

Good hunting.

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