B2B marketers are trying to figure out their approach amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Having managed agencies through multiple recessions, 9/11 and the financial crisis, I find that some companies react faster than many others, and these are typically more experienced marketers, and their instincts are usually correct. These “early adopters” will be followed by the rest of the industry over the months to follow.
The strategies and tactics that worked just a few weeks ago need to be quickly re-evaluated today, and in a lot of cases, tossed out or rebuilt to address the opportunities that exists within the “frantic market of right now” and eventually in our new “normal” which will exist in a few months. However, any new strategies and tactics still need to be based on audience alignment, personalized to need, industry, product offerings and current commitment, as well as existing and new sales cycles and sales channels.
Having access to what is happening inside our client base provides some unique insights to what formal research will show in a few months.
Here is the B2B marketing playbook that is emerging among our more progressive clients:
Brand & Brand Story
The stories, messaging and brand pillars that you promoted yesterday may be gone forever — and most companies don’t realize it yet. While the foundational elements of your value proposition may remain consistent, there are a number of known and unknown variables that are creating opportunity for savvy marketers to engage audiences with messaging that will resonate and provide opportunities over the short-term.
Your audiences sit somewhere along the spectrum of absolutely buried with work to sitting on the sidelines and wondering what an uncertain future holds for their businesses. Coupled with varied recession projections, the timeline will be fluid for the next 12-24 months.
It is more critical now than ever to know what your audience segments need to hear, avoid assumptions and provide a relevant story that engages audiences around their current and future challenges, and departing from legacy messaging that panders to days gone by.
Businesses that understand that engagement is key for maintaining market share and navigating new opportunities as they arise are quickly moving their brand stories to demonstrate relevance and empathy, promoting confidence throughout their competitive sphere.
Toss the book out when it comes to the typical timelines and processes most marketers are used to operating by. What some companies would usually spend months or even a year on planning, developing and then executing, is now being accomplished in days. The idea behind agile marketing isn’t new, but we’ve seen recent studies that demonstrate up to 86% of traditional marketing teams struggle to align tactics to business objectives when moving quickly.
This is especially challenging in the B2B marketing space, where there’s been hesitation to adopt a model that relies on data driven insights to address shifts within the audience. However, with recent pressures and timelines, clients now have to trust the new data (or work with partners who can) to make faster decisions, get programs launched quickly and tested in a shorter time to maximize ROI and pivot when necessary to align to new opportunities. The more intentional teams are about pivoting to an agile model, the less painful it will be for them — because the market will force their hand sooner or later.
Event Budget Re-Purposed
Traditionally in B2B marketing budgets, trade shows and conferences rank number one or two in terms of budget priority for companies targeting procurement professionals with their products and services. However, the trade show and live event space will be vastly different over the next two to three years, and maybe forever. The B2B marketing space had been moving dollars from the event world to the digital space over the last three years but this will accelerate over the next 30 days thanks to Covid-19.
Our early adopters are already moving the rest of their 2020 event budgets into the digital space. Below are where B2B businesses are reallocating those funds. (source)
- 32% Content Production
- 24% Webinars & Virtual Conferences
- 18% Social Networks
- 11% Paid Inbound Marketing Campaigns
- 8% Increased Outbound Marketing Efforts
- 8% Other
In some businesses, their fate rests on their ability to quickly transition and scale with the new activities, while still providing a consistency of brand experience and value in their customer engagements.
New Community Building Tactics
Most marketers intuitively understand they have to avoid presenting their business as seeking to profit from the vulnerabilities and challenges of their customers during these current conditions. However, your customers want to continue to engage.
We are seeing our more progressive clients re-imagine B2B digital engagements having them quickly take on more of a consumer flavor and flair, as the B2B and B2C digital work converge because of COVID-19 and its impact across all sectors of the global economy. This doesn’t mean the rules of the game have changed, but it has opened the door to creatively expand into new tactics and technologies. Nothing is off the table but you have to be willing to take chances and actively listen to your audience.
Generating ideas, gauging interest and impact can be achieved through intelligence collection through social media channels such as LinkedIn. You can observe what your audience is posting about, engaging with and where there are gaps that can be addressed. Your internal teams who are actively engaged with customers are a fantastic source for fine-tuning your content and community engagement strategy as they’re fingers are consistently on the pulse of existing and prospective customers.
Focus on Expansion and Top of the Funnel
It has been estimated that up to 71% of B2B organizations have decreased their marketing spends in the wake of the current economic shifts and projections. For marketers, this creates challenges in knowing where to apply increasingly scarce funds to drive the most engagement and opportunity.
Additionally, 78% of businesses either are experiencing or anticipate seeing a decline in purchasing intent within the next 1-2 weeks. (source)
While many projects, initiatives, budgets and plans have been frozen, we have seen remarkable success in activities that are focused on top-of-funnel awareness and driving opportunity from expansion into new verticals and markets. The availability of content topics and themes are abundant as we look to position our client’s brands as solution providers during this time of uncertainty and increased challenge.
Online events and webinars are leading the way in top of funnel activities.
Online events are an excellent example of the successful B2B marketing pivot. B2B marketers have gone from using online meetings and collaboration technologies sporadically to almost exclusive reliance on them in today’s Covid-19 economy.
Online events and virtual trade shows are much easier to plan, execute and collect ROI from than traditional events, so there is little surprise that B2B marketers are turning to them as their most popular marketing method at the present time. Online events provide them with reliable, measurable data—which is a great plus point. Digital events make it easy to track which aspect of the event is in highest demand, and to measure how long visitors stay on at the event platform during each segment. The sales team will find these metrics extremely insightful.
In addition, with a virtual online event—all of a prospects’ employees can attend, and a product or service can quickly become a talking point at a prospective customer’s company, especially if the opportunity is used to unveil something new or exclusive at the event.
Webinars are traditionally one of the best practices used to educate prospects about a B2B product or service and they are great testing grounds for future brand activations. Leads are generated reliably and engaging an audience with an interactive Q&A session at the end of each webinar allows marketers to take on board new understanding about areas of traction and areas of weakness, and solve problems for greater impact.
A great webinar is based on supporting content that successfully engages prospects and customers. Therefore, professional B2B messaging and a well-planned content marketing strategy are both integral to the success of any webinar that you produce. It is important to have quality content if marketers want to be successful with webinars, as mentioned, and we are seeing a reallocation of some of the B2B marketing event budget into content development and messaging strategy.
That said, remember that webinars are gated content, and can be based on other gated assets that marketers have already created like case studies, videos, eBooks, white papers and training. In other words, the content that a prospect gains in the webinar should be educational and valuable content that is otherwise closed off or difficult for them to find elsewhere. Prospects fill out a form and hand over their email and contact details in return for access and that trade-off is considered fair to them.
Some of the best B2B on-demand webinars are based on content that may already exist, product demos, how-to and trouble-shooting guides. Since audiences at the moment are mostly glued to their seats at home, many have time to listen to what marketers have to say. That in itself demonstrates the enormous opportunity that a good webinar can provide for B2B marketers and sales teams to meet prospects and demonstrate B2B products or solutions first-hand to an attentive audience. Webinars are great because they facilitate a conversation during the unfolding of the story, and encourage the audience to ask questions and get answers in real time.
Account Based Marketing Shifts
Account based marketing is changing rapidly. With the movement of employees to work from home environments, furloughs, and companies closing, most account-based marketing programs have been thrown for a loop. Companies are suspending these efforts and moving those dollars into other programs for the next three plus months. It’s hard to know who to target if people are no longer in their jobs, or even if certain targeted businesses will exist in their current form.
Brand Impressions and PR on hold
The world is scared and afraid. Over 65% of B2B marketers are worried about their jobs, a deep recession, or global depression and almost everyone is worried about their health and the health of their loved ones. Brand building and PR initiatives are being put on the back burner for those who have acted quickly (with the exception of health care and finance plus a few others, of course).
Audiences want hard core information about products and services that help them, and not pretty pictures and feel good images that build a brand. The world is so noisy that most PR or brand work not tied to COVID-19 is not finding an audience and is a waste of money. Quick acting B2B marketers have already made the changes.
While earning revenue is essential, an important focus during this time should be on compassionate communication with your B2B prospects, who are like all of us, going through a difficult time. It is important to be considerate in your messaging, and strategize innovative ways to show that we are all in this together.
B2B Covid-19 Content & Messaging
Content and messaging that is published around COVID-19 is actually resonating with audiences. Typically marketing theory would suggest that one should steer clear of connecting content and messages to a pandemic. If you can create messages and content that informs, provides value and isn’t about selling your product or services — guess what, you are more likely to sell more over the next sixty to ninety days than staying on the content course that you set before COVID-19!
The best messaging aims to make a positive difference and show your brand is together with your prospects in the struggles they face. Many brands are following this strategy, releasing complimentary live streaming series content and giving away free product to those in need or on the front lines of treating the sick.
Another approach is to develop meaningful content on relevant solutions to help people during this crisis and digitally disseminate this with the aim of raising awareness, working with other companies, communities and leaders to bring about change that will help mitigate this crisis and ensure it will not be as severe in the future.
Note on CRM’s
B2B businesses that have not adopted progressive CRM’s are really hurting right now. Their ability to target content, send out different messaging types to different audiences, adapt and change to the waves of information they should be creating is severely hampered versus the competition. I think B2B businesses that don’t have CRM’s will make that a critical part of their technology stack in the next year so they can survive the next world changing event.
One Final Thought
I am tired of seeing these self-serving blogs and emails that say businesses that spend more money on marketing, or the need for marketing now is more critical than ever. While that can be true in some industries, it is not about more — it is about being smarter.
Marketers need to be very flexible and fast to move dollars into strategies and tactics that will work over the next 60 to 90 days. Then, B2B marketers will have the challenge to again align their strategies and tactics to whatever is the “new normal” post COVID-19. That could include a recession, depression or who knows, explosive growth.
About the Author:
Scott Miraglia – President
Scott is a balanced risk-taker with nearly three decades of experience starting and growing advertising and marketing agencies. His business acumen is matched with a drive to build creative teams that thrive in open, collaborative work environments. Scott seeks out the best creative individuals, not only to provide quality service to clients but to also help shape the future direction of Elevation Marketing.