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The coronavirus pandemic has permanently changed B2B communications. A lot of what worked in 2019 and before won’t work in 2021 and beyond.
According to research by McKinsey, B2B transactions will work much differently in the aftermath of the pandemic:
What does this all mean? If your marketing has relied too much on outdated digital experiences or cookie-cutter content, your brand is at risk of falling behind better-prepared competitors. And, you can expect the ROI from your tactical efforts to plummet.
Fortunately, you can right the ship even in troubled economic waters. B2B marketing success in the post-COVID reality will mean doing three things well: deploying relationship-building content, creating immersive virtual experiences, and deeply empathizing with your customer base.
Course-correct wherever possible along these dimensions, and you’ll be ready to meet marketing and sales benchmarks in the permanently-altered landscape we face.
Now more than ever, human connection is paramount. It’s always been a cornerstone of successful marketing, but there’s been a fraught debate in the B2B arena about whether brand messaging should appeal to human emotion at all.
But that debate is over. According to Forrester’s 2019 survey of global tech buyers, up to 65% said vendors were pushing too much information, and 59% considered all that extra content useless.
The missing link? A lack of connection and trust.
After the kind of year 2020 has been, B2B content must run up the classic “know, like, and trust” score by being worthwhile for human decision-makers — who have emotions and thoughts, wants and needs — to consume. Here are some ways B2B marketing collateral can be upgraded to forge real bonds with audiences post-pandemic.
Our brains are wired to respond to stories. We like to follow a journey from beginning to end as a likable character experiences a burning desire, encounters hardships along the way, and ultimately gets what she wants.
To do better in this area, make sure you focus on collecting personal case studies, which can take the form of short interviews and monologue-style customer testimonials. While written case studies work as lead magnets, the emphasis should be on producing them in video format. Podcasts are yet another medium that lends itself well to customer-centric stories.
Also, revisit and revamp existing whitepapers, brochures, blog posts, and web copy to talk less about your expertise and years of experience, and more about how your services will help customers in these times.
To get inside your customers’ minds while building engagement in this painful era, ask your customers directly for feedback.
This can be as simple as it sounds: asking more questions of your audience in your blog posts and on social, and sparking discussions in the comment sections of those respective channels.
Be thoughtfully responsive once those comments start coming in. Not only does this open the door to sales conversations — it’s a token of your brand’s goodwill towards the market in unprecedented times, which your customers will appreciate.
Online communities drive conversation, and in 2021 and beyond, you can’t afford to ignore them.
In the 2020 State of Community Management report by The Community Roundtable, 40% of those surveyed said COVID-19 either accelerated or significantly accelerated plans for community-building. As more marketers the light, they’re quickly taking ground and forming loyal buyer tribes in every industry.
As far as external outlets are concerned, LinkedIn Groups are an obvious option to spark community growth. But don’t count out Facebook, which has made groups a definite focus for its organic algorithm since 2017.
Another option is to have a self-contained “microsite.” This asset should be distinct from your main corporate website. Its whole purpose is to bring your ideal prospects together to discuss timely industry news, share your company’s product and service highlights, and disseminate content that addresses real customer pain points.
Wherever you choose to focus your community-building efforts, ensure that you have a program in place for moderating the back-and-forth, responding with heart, and drawing your audience into a more substantive brand experience.
A ubiquitous experience in the time of COVID is the oft-dreaded, now mundane “Zoom call.” We may have gotten used to it, but it’s key for B2B marketers to see videoconferencing and related technologies as part of the new normal.
Good marketing post-pandemic will depend on these methods to open conversations with prospects, qualify leads, and share insights that lead to sales. Consider how the following could make your digital marketing efforts more resilient.
Video is crucial for meeting your customers in the moment. With so many businesses operating remotely today, live online events are often the perfect vehicle for reaching them. LiveStream’s joint survey with New York Magazine reveals that 80% of consumers would prefer to watch a live video than to read a blog post.
Live streaming video content can take many forms: an interview with an expert or one of your biggest customers, a roundtable discussion about new developments in the industry, or a webinar that teaches your customers an important tactic.
Whatever the case, make room for live streaming in your content strategy. And remember, your video content should add value, not noise.
Augmented reality (AR) has a freshness that hasn’t yet worn off. At the same time, it’s no longer considered the latest digital marketing gimmick. It can be a practical way to connect with and persuade your prospects. Mindshare and Zappar have determined that AR experiences are up to 1.9 times more engaging than their non-AR equivalents.
AR can be used to give live tours of your facilities, show off product use cases in a virtual “showroom” environment, or share technical specs and details in an arresting visual format. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, what you sell, and how many ways you can demonstrate its benefits.
The goal isn’t to be flashy, but to invite your customers into as “real” an experience as they can get remotely. If done well, AR can be a natural extension of your content strategy, fitting right in with story-based content and live video touchpoints.
As mentioned before, good B2B marketing does need a touch of “humanness.” But it can’t stop there. It’s time to refocus on empathy.
That means understanding your customers like you never have before. You should know how COVID has affected their processes, how their needs have changed, and what obstacles and threats lie before them due to the pandemic’s economic impacts. Here’s how you can do this effectively.
The fallout of the pandemic for those you serve can consist of scaled-back sales and customer service operations, a drop off in demand for their services, personnel layoffs, and more.
How do you find out what their distinct challenges are? The only way is to do the legwork of talking to your customers, one by one...starting with your most loyal, long-term relationships.
Get the whole story, even if it seems irrelevant to your normal sales cycle. Context can shine a light on unique opportunities to serve your market in new, transformative ways.
To really leave no stone unturned, you must break down any barriers between sales and marketing. In Informa’s research, 34% of B2B marketing teams find misalignment between sales and marketing departments to be the biggest obstacle to conversions. And in today’s uncertain business landscape, sales and marketing silos are just too costly. Sales reps are invaluable allies as they often have their ears to the ground, and can relay information about customer hardships you would never learn otherwise.
You can also gather intelligence by engaging in social listening, running paid traffic campaigns to collect in-depth survey data, and inviting business owners in the niches you serve to virtual roundtables where they can make their voices heard.
After doing the research, it’s time to infuse your marketing with an empathetic awareness of your audience’s struggles.
That means more than just putting out a few content pieces that commiserate with your customers on a surface level. To do this right, you want to think of empathy as informing campaign strategy from a 10,000-foot view.
For example, within the classic “Awareness, Consideration, Decision” framework of the buyer journey, you might:
Now is also the time for marketing to collaborate with other departments within your company on messaging. In addition to sales, R&D, product management, and customer support (or the equivalent for your organization) should be involved in sharing insights and devising a compelling, consistent brand message built up from empathy.
By having all hands on deck, you’ll move towards serving your customers at the highest level.
An eventual global pandemic was predicted by public health experts. But no one could have foreseen the harsh economic fallout or the complex realignments it would cause in the business world.
Even in this environment, some B2B firms will flourish while making a positive impact in the marketplace. Your brand can emerge as a winner too, but it might entail changing the way you think about and carry out your marketing.
You can get there by revamping your content strategy to build relationships, creating immersive brand encounters that are as powerful as in-person connections, and doubling down on empathy. Accomplish those tasks and you’ll give your company the marketing heft to resonate with customers now, and ensure solid footing in a better world to come.
Chris R. Benjamin
Published on Mar 9, 2021
<p>Since COVID has permanently altered the business landscape, B2B marketers must adjust accordingly. It involves going deeper than surface-level changes, and thinking about how to respond strategically to the specific impacts of COVID on the brand's target audience.</p><p>These 3 steps are key for shoring up a marketing approach in these times: infusing all content with a more engaging tone, gathering deep intelligence on the pandemic's effects on the market, and building campaigns around empathy.</p>