February 18, 2019

The Evolution of B2B Digital Marketing in the 21st Century

When digital marketing first came about, all that mattered was having a web presence. In those earlier days of the internet, marketing was primarily done through outbound means, and the idea of optimization or content marketing hadn’t been developed yet.

As technology developed and became more accessible to consumers and businesses alike, digital marketing changed too. Strategy and methodology adapted to the new methods for spreading brand messages.

Evolution of Methodologies

Since the internet empowered consumers to search out products and services themselves, outbound marketing lost its effectivity. With each new technological development changing the manner in which prospects search for solutions, the strategy used by marketers needs to adapt to the new technology as well.


When search engines started to gain traction, SEO became almost synonymous with Digital Marketing. Marketers utilized keyword stuffing and forced as much content into a page as possible to appeal to search engines and rank higher.

Over time, search engines caught onto that and improved their algorithms so that high-quality content would rank better than merely “optimized” content. This led to SEO strategies to become intertwined with content marketing strategies.

Lead Generation

Lead generation focuses on bringing the right people into your website through optimization and paid advertising. Prior to digital marketing, all leads had to be purchased through outbound means. With the advent of business websites and SEO, leads could be brought in more organically.

Once leads were brought in, companies started adding conversion points to guide them to valuable pieces of information. At this point, those conversion points were primarily BOFU offers like demos.

However, many of the leads brought in from lead generation weren’t ready to purchase immediately which led to the inbound methodology.


The idea behind inbound marketing is to offer valuable content on your website that will attract and engage prospects. Lead generation focuses on bringing in and converting prospects. Inbound marketing creates content that does the additional legwork of adding initial value.

Companies that adopted the inbound methodology started creating quality content that accounted for the changing SEO algorithms and also helped buyers better understand their own problems and the different ways they could address them.

This educational content combined SEO and lead generation strategies into a clear conversion path that brought prospects to the business’s website and then helped them move through the stages of the buyer’s journey.

Demand Generation

Demand generation builds upon all the methodology that came before it to cover the spectrum of both attraction and engagement, while also taking action to create demand through any means necessary.

Inbound is the ideal marketing strategy, but when those efforts peak or cap off, demand generation helps supplement inbound strategies with specific outbound tactics like account-based marketing.

Demand generation also follows prospects from initial attraction all the way through marketing and sales to when they close as a customer.

We’re now seeing a shift from lead generation to demand generation because a lead will only get you so far and nurturing a prospect will only get you so far, so if you’re not focusing on the entirety of your funnel through to your flywheel, you’re missing out on a key component of what your marketing efforts should be providing for your business as a whole.

Since demand generation focuses on the entire funnel and takes an interest in the marketing-sales handoff that other methods ignore, conversational marketing also comes into play.

Conversational marketing is the newest demand generation tool to make the marketing-sales handoff as quick and efficient as possible by capitalizing on the immediate interest that visitors have on a website. People don’t browse B2B websites for fun; if you can capture that reason in the moment through a chatbot, the chances of converting the lead are much higher than if a follow-up email is required.

Download the Essential Guide to Demand Generation

Evolution of Channels

The channels that marketing communications are carried out through come in waves. There will always be new channels coming into existence as technology develops, but the existing channels won’t necessarily lose relevance — they just have to share the bandwidth a little more.


When all that was required for digital marketing was a website, word-of-mouth was the way news of your business got spread. While we have other methods of driving website traffic now, word-of-mouth marketing is still effective. Review aggregators are basically a high-tech version of word-of-mouth marketing. Companies want visitors and clients to have positive experiences so that they share those stories with other people.

Keywords & Link-Building

When technology developed enough for SEO to become the backbone of digital marketing, keywords became the way to get noticed. At first, this was accomplished through keyword stuffing (trying to fit the same keyword into your content as many times as possible), but as search engine algorithms became more refined, keyword strategy changed to developing content around long-tail keywords that contribute to your overall content marketing strategy.

When the quality of content began to matter more than the number of keyword uses, link-building came into play by helping to establish credibility in the eyes of search engines. If relevant, high-quality domains link to yours, your website’s authority can also increase.


Bringing a prospect to your website doesn’t mean they’re ready to become a customer. Email became an essential tool to forge relationships and nurture prospects into clients. It allowed more direct, targeted marketing efforts to occur and opened the potential for additional interactions.


Youtube was one of the original social media networks and provided one of the earlier opportunities for user-generated content. Making online video creation and hosting more accessible content opened up new avenues for storytelling in B2B content marketing strategies.

Social Media

Social media has boomed in the past decade and is continuing to change and evolve. Maintaining a social media presence is now a necessity for businesses and, when used correctly, social media can help humanize your company while simultaneously establishing credibility.

Additionally, social media provides new opportunities for B2B marketers to connect with potential customers to add the most value. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn can help a company provide thought leadership through their content, and employees can also help establish a brand, so clients can connect with both the product or service offering and the culture that brings that offer into existence.

Chatbots & Direct Messages

Chat has seen a lot of growth recently and is now starting to see growth in the B2B industry on social media as well. Chatbots on websites help shorten the marketing-to-sales handover and give prospects timelier feedback than they might receive through emails. Chatbots on social media allow people to engage with businesses in their own space.

Potential recruits can message a company’s Facebook page to ask if they’re hiring. Marketers can develop strategic partnerships through Twitter conversations and direct messages. Sales Reps can use LinkedIn to discover information about good-fit leads and connect through direct messaging outreach.

And new channels will continue to be created and adopted to build upon the existing media.

The Takeaway

Digital Marketing goes far beyond just the digital aspect. The evolution of technology changed not just the means through which you market, but also the thought process behind marketing efforts.

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Guido Bartolacci

Guido is Head of Product and Growth Strategy for New Breed. He specializes in running in-depth demand generation programs internally while assisting account managers in running them for our clients.


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