Opinion

Four ways to rethink B2B marketing for the post-COVID-19 world

John Hewitt

,

17.05.2021

rethinking b2b marketing post covid-19

Marketing never stands still, and today's B2B marketers need to navigate a constantly changing landscape, so they can maximise budgets and reach customers as effectively as possible.

So, as a B2B marketer, what do you need to know to make the most of your brand and maximise sales in 2021? More importantly, how can you get ahead and stay ahead of competitors who are already embracing change? Let's start by establishing what the overall marketing landscape look like as it emerges from COVID-19.

UK marketers are focusing more on innovation, agility and measurable effectiveness in 2021, and this trend is likely to support further growth in digital media in the immediate future.

  • 55% of respondents said they would focus more on campaign effectiveness
  • 53% were willing to be more innovative
  • 53% would rely more on digital media to ensure greater agility
  • 47% expected media buying arrangements to become more flexible 
  • 33% anticipated a greater focus on purpose-led marketing
  • Only 4% believed that COVID-19 would have no long-term impact

This is today's reality, but how can B2B marketers thrive in it? Here are our key insights into business-to-business marketing for today's digitally transformed, post-Covid world.

1. Make an emotional connection

"Hear a piece of information and three days later you'll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you'll remember 65%."

Conventional thinking has always held that consumer marketing and B2B are different. You may need to appeal to consumer's emotions when selling chocolates or cars, but marketing to business customers was traditionally perceived as a much more rational process. Give them the facts about your product or service and they'll buy it.

Recent research suggests that the fundamental rules of marketing now apply just as much to B2B as they do to B2C communications. And one of those fundamental rules is that you can only succeed by appealing to potential customers on an emotional level.

The statistic that opened this section is from a book by developmental molecular biologist John Medina's "Brain Rules", and it puts the need for that emotional connection in the clearest possible terms. 

The job of all marketing is to get information noticed, remembered and acted on. That's true whether you're selling plastic piping or perfume. If, as Medina suggests, 90% of all hard information is forgotten after three days, it follows that no amount of purely factual communication is ever going to have the desired effect. 

The person who orders widgets from a factory office is the same person who chooses which coffee shop to pop into on the way to work, or who gets her new glasses from Specsavers after laughing at their latest ad on TV. We are all consumers, driven by how brands make us feel.

That's why, for B2B marketers, forming an emotional connection is the way forward. And that means building relationships and providing product information in an engaging, relevant, original and distinctive manner. The facts alone are never enough. Context matters. Think of it as common-sense salesmanship. No sales professional would walk into a customer meeting and launch straight into a hard sell of the product without first shaking hands, smiling a lot and establishing a rapport. Making your B2B marketing creative and emotionally engaging works on the same principle. Apart from anything else, it's just good manners.

Case study: Starbucks

When coronavirus struck, Starbucks quickly had signs up in their shops thanking customers for wearing face coverings. So far, so predictable. But they also ran an ad that tackled the mask issue with empathy and humour. It showed a coffee cup with the usual customer's name written on it, except that the name was what the barista tends to hear when you're muffled by a mask — "Mphfffh".

2. Be open to using multiple channels, because your customers are

"85% of adults consume content on multiple devices at the same time."

Online channels were already taking over the world. Then COVID-19 locked most of us in our homes for a year and the ongoing digital transformation zipped into fast-forward mode. 

Everyone is now online practically all the time, and that isn't restricted to millennials. It includes customers who are middle-aged or older. Typically, in their private lives, they are checking their social media timeline while watching a film on Netflix, playing music on Spotify or listening to a podcast. Similarly, during working hours they are often chatting online while working on a document, checking their office emails and simultaneously streaming music.

We live and work in a multi-channel world, and COVID-19 has made this more so. We now network and attend industry events online as well. As a result, reaching a B2B customer involves selecting from a range of new touchpoints. There are more of them than ever before. 

Reaching these people means being open to using whichever channels they use, and working with a data-savvy marketing agency to discover what they are. 

Does that mean we can forget about 'legacy' digital media, such as email? Not at all. Around 80% of marketers have reported an increase in email engagement over the past 12 months. So embracing the new digital channels can't afford to be at the expense of the more established ones.

Case study, Zurich Insurance

To take account of the fact that its customers use many different media, Zurich has provided its agents with a multichannel portal. This enables them to provide customers with a consistent, data-driven, omnichannel experience regardless of how they prefer to interact. It also enables them to see a complete picture of each customer's activity across all the channels.

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3. Learn what consumer brands already know: prioritise the customer experience

An enhanced and individualised customer experience has become the norm for consumers, especially during the months they have spent at home because of COVID-19, making most of their purchases online. 

They get personalised recommendations and communications regularly from Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and the supermarkets and other retailers they shop with. Yet when they go to work and become a business-to-business customer, all that stops. B2B companies have an average customer experience score below 50%, whereas B2C companies average up to 85%.

So, if you are continuing to treat customers as people who only exist when making a purchase, beware. Your competitors have already woken to the value of creating long-term relationships — providing a customer experience that makes people want to come back again and again.

Your business will thrive as a result, as these findings, also reported by Forbes, make clear:

  • Two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge comes from its customer experience
  • Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers
  • Digital transformation and focusing on customer experience can generate a 20-30% increase in customer satisfaction, resulting in financial gains of 20-50%

If your marketing is mainly account-based at the moment, there's even less excuse not to provide an enhanced customer experience. The relationship with regular buyers is already there, it's just a case of getting it working for you.

Start by analysing the customer journey. Seek regular feedback and be proactive in tackling customer pain points, rather than just waiting for complaints to arrive. And make the most of the fact that your customers are active on social media. Partner with an agency, such as BBI, that can add social listening to your marketing mix. Customer-centricity is the future for every business across all B2C and B2B channels.

Case study: Adobe

At software giant Adobe, one of their customer experience tactics is to temporarily turn employees into customers. They hold “experienceathons” at which front-line staff can test new products and provide honest feedback, identifying potential issues and offering fresh perspectives. As a result, when customers use the products, they are dealing with customer service people who can empathise with what they are experiencing.

4. Embrace video — and beyond!

"By 2022, global internet traffic from video will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic."

Traditionally, B2B marketers rarely advertised on TV, so their use of moving pictures was largely restricted to two of the least inspiring words in the English language: "corporate video".

Now it's reaching the stage when there's little point in being online unless video is part of the content mix. And it isn't just a case of having to do it because everyone else is. Video drives engagement. According to Twitter Business, tweets that include a video clip get ten times more engagement than those without. 

No wonder 87% of video marketers report that video has increased traffic to their website. And 54% of consumers say they want to see more video content from a brand or business they support.

What kind of video marketing will work for you? One answer is the problem-solving kind, because 70% of YouTube viewers watch videos for "help with a problem" they're having in their hobby, studies or job.  

And where is online video heading next? In the direction of virtual reality and gamification. 

Case study: Lowes

According to the Lowes home improvement stores business in the USA and Canada, reported by Hubspot, "how-to" videos that are shown in VR had a 36% higher recall compared to views of the same content on YouTube.

Start reinventing your B2B marketing

At BBI we have been helping business-to-business clients to embrace their essential digital transformation since 2011, and it doesn't have to be a painful or traumatic process. Why not start by taking our free strategy health check? Then you can find out more about our unique Customerology™ methodology and our Transformation Sprint approach to kickstarting your progress towards growth and profitability.

References

Quoted in WARC Data Points, March 2021

brainrules.net/vision

Quoted in the WARC Guide to Rethinking B2B 

Hubspot: The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Statistics for 2021

B2B wakes up to the benefits of customer experience

Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018-2023)