How the Coronavirus crisis has affected B2B marketing
From the outset of the Coronavirus crisis we have seen different ‘waves’ of how B2B marketers have approached the changing situation.
These waves appear to have occurred in three stages – respond, recover, thrive.
During this first wave marketers where concentrating mainly on ‘keeping the wheels on the road’. We saw marketers desperately trying to keep up awareness levels and leads flowing through every point of the funnel from the top, mid and bottom.
This meant moving a lot of lead generation activities online. As reports appeared of people consuming more media online than ever as the pandemic pushed on, we saw a surge in popularity in webinars, events turning virtual and an explosion in ‘relevant’ content being pushed out online.
With the country in full lockdown and likely to remain so for some time, wave two rolled in and we started to see more strategic planning from marketers around their digital approach.
Businesses started to arm their inventory with a much wider variety of tools such as paid and owned social, retargeting and expansion of their usage of digital event platforms across different channels and across media, from social to digital; driving audience and customer engagement online.
Marketers paid closer attention to improving their online targeting and retargeting through use of paid social, online advertising and content placement homing in on their messaging to ensure they’re relevant and of value to the challenge’s customers face today. We’ve seen a surge in cleverly thought through campaigns and messaging, relevant in particular to working, remote management and time management.
Now we start to move into the third wave – life after lockdown – which is by far the hardest of the three phases because the world is still working out what ‘after lockdown’ really means. Is this another transitional phase or is this current state going to stabilise long enough for us to start to develop a considered perspective?
At this stage, marketers are now looking at what has changed, what they’ve learnt about their customers during the pandemic, and how they can put that into practice in their own marketing plans.
One significant behavioural change has been the shift to remote and digital engagements. This has grown so exponentially that it is clearly here to stay. Thirteen million people in Latin America made their first ever eCommerce transaction in the last eight weeks, so what does that mean for B2B marketers?
Re-assess eCommerce strategies
Recent research shows that B2B eCommerce has grown by more than 20% during the global pandemic. It’s no longer just the domain of B2C but is now a main route to purchase for B2B buyers too, forcing many businesses to prioritise the need for clever, carefully considered redesigns of omnichannel selling strategies that focus on the customer ‘journey’ and their pain points rather than just direct selling.
Websites are an ever more important part of a marketer’s omnichannel strategy; the ‘shop window’ of our products and services. Websites aren’t simply brochureware to only be viewed when the customer knows what they are looking for. Use third party content which recent studies show customers find more trustworthy, to drive prospects back to your site.
Marketers must also make it as easy as possible for customers to search and find relevant content online by creating clearly defined journeys based on buyer type and the stage of the buyer journey.
Adapt gating strategies that hide certain content behind a paywall, so customers aren’t hit with a ‘form’ as soon as they touch you. Rather they connect with engaging high value content first across a range of channels and media types that entice customers to take action and lead them to your ‘gated’ hero content for when they’re ready to buy.
Creating a ‘breadcrumb trail’ that leads individuals through unhindered to what you want them to consume is key in today’s new virtual world.
Customers want self-serve tools but at the same time marketers need to be more strategic with their use of online chat and virtual assistants, so the offer of a human touch is available, when needed.
The role of online events has evolved through each ‘wave’ of change during the pandemic. Now in the ‘thrive’ phase, such events are an integral part of a curated online experience, here to stay for the foreseeable.
Online summits will remain but taking on a new role. Rather than just an event online there is an opportunity to create a truly digital experience – for example, can you book a meeting rather than just download content? Can you deliver demonstrations that let visitors touch and feel your products rather than just view them?
Physical events will return in some form, and at some point, and when they do, don’t forget the need for localised engagement. Rather than national and global events, think about optimising travel time and making connections locally.
How to operationalise these strategies?
According to the British Chamber of Commerce 50% of firms are still unable to fully restart their operation despite easing of restrictions.
This means that as businesses continue to adapt and change, ensure to provide different ways to engage at every stage through different media and channels.
Be clear on the right messaging at the right time, content type and delivery mechanism for each of your audiences, and at each stage of their decision journey – from pre funnel through to known funnels – to better orchestrate demand.
Ensure your business has the speed and agility to react to a constantly changing environment by encouraging your teams to monitor any change in expected customer behaviour. Increase level of testing to ensure you are optimising channels and media and are confident your messaging is resonating right across your target audiences.
And ensure data remains at the forefront, captured along your customers’ journey to learn as much about them as possible. What we learn, how we track profile and behavioural insights on an ongoing basis, and how we share these insights across our own teams in as near to real-time as possible becomes increasingly important to drive success.
Finally, marketers will continue to be asked to do more with less so ensure to automate your processes to be as efficient and as effective as possible. If you can create relevant rules around ‘it’ then it can be automated. This will aid accuracy of data and enable your teams to focus on creative thinking, performance and optimisation.
It all comes back to ‘people’ – ensuring that your teams have the right skills to implement effective marketing strategies using the right martech, to reach the right audience. It’s no longer about ‘technology, process, people’ – today it must be about ‘people, process, then technology’.