Old Way: Outspend | New Way: Outlearn

This might be the biggest shift in B2B marketing that nobody’s talking about. 

Entire growth engines are stalling out. 

And most companies are struggling to diagnose the problem. 

* Hey, are we not doing marketing right?

* Where’s the leak in our bucket?

* Is it just the economy?

To understand what’s really going on though, we have to zoom out. 

Here’s a simplified version of how most B2B companies have been approaching growth: 

  1. Go light on message/creative/content
  2. Pay whatever needed to get it in front of people
  3. Learn about incremental stuff (ex: this ad better than that ad)

Compare that to the approach we’re now seeing winning companies move to: 

  1. Go hard on message/story and keep iterating
  2. Respect the distribution challenge and balance with organic
  3. Commit to a process that optimizes for max learnings – continuously

Several reasons for this shift, but one of them is obviously that performance marketing is no longer what it once was. 

Before channels got too saturated, paying whatever it took to get distribution was an option. And real learning was largely an afterthought. 

But outspending the competition alone doesn’t get it done anymore. 

Some have said marketing essentially boils down to content (broadly defined as everything from messaging to presentations in this context) and distribution (everything from online channels to physical events). 

We don’t necessarily disagree, but there’s a third element that deserves equal focus: learning. 

And it all works together.

Distribution is changing, the bar for messaging/content is being raised and learning is now a bigger opportunity than it ever has been. 

The question becomes: 

Can we facilitate, nurture and learn from a community of buyers and customers based on what we put out there? 

That’s a fundamentally different question than the old: 

How much do we need to spend to reach X number of buyers with our ads/content?

And by the way, outspending went way beyond paid media. Tradeshows. ABM programs. Not to mention hiring, especially on the sales side – you know those armies of BDRs/SDRs… 

That whole outspend approach came from “all growth is good growth” and “growth at all costs.”

We’re operating in a different paradigm now. 

And see if you agree with this: 

The only thing you can truly control is your approach to learning.

And we haven’t even yet talked about how when times get tougher. 

We won’t have more marketing dollars next year relative to our targets. We won’t have more people. We won’t have more buyers ready to pull the trigger as soon as we get in front of them.

We’ll be in that classic “do more with less” situation. 

Which is why learning about what actually matters to – and resonates with – buyers is one of our biggest opportunities. 

It’s the most effective way to be efficient.

We’ll have to look beyond obvious metrics though. 

This is about executing against a growth hypothesis and placing bets far bigger than ad variations. It’s about learning what can truly have an impact. 

No more gambling with growth. 

It’s time to build learning into our marketing strategy and make it a competitive advantage. Might not sound super sexy, but learning faster than the competition is a real thing. 

Outlearn > Outspend