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Adrian Nash
By
February 10, 2021

B2B Marketing Trends Fueled by COVID-19

AdobeStock_67228705As we entered 2020, there was no way to anticipate the pandemic's impact on our personal and business lives. Predictions in articles like "What to Expect in 2020" or "The Decade Ahead" were woefully wrong as the top priorities for most people shifted to staying safe, remaining positive, and being gainfully employed. Thankfully, vaccines have now been developed and are rolling out worldwide. Although it will still take time, there is increasing hope and optimism.We have been thinking recently about how COVID-19 has changed marketing strategies and tactics since it began. We scoured the current research to identify patterns and also spent time reflecting on many conversations with clients over the past year. Through that exercise, we have identified a list of 6 leading trends that have been top-of-mind for B2B marketers in 2020 and will continue to be important in the year ahead.

Like many trends at a given point in time, these are not new or revolutionary. But they have emerged as the most relevant priorities, and all of them became more important due to the business challenges caused by the pandemic.

#1: Focus on Websites and SEO

Having a solid website has been essential to marketing for decades. However, last year, many companies were caught flat-footed in terms of their website quality, appeal, and functionality. It should come as no surprise that the top investment made by marketing departments last year was in website development.

For most larger companies, these investments provided a much-needed website refresh and update. For smaller businesses, it usually meant creating a web experience that was far more professional-looking and engaging than before. For organizations with products or services they could sell online, moving to e-commerce after years of procrastination became a necessity.

Giving prospects and customers a way to find and interact with companies online is crucial for almost every business. As in-person sales meetings and location visits transformed into web meetings last year, the look, feel, and messaging on company websites became more critical than ever.

A great website is the starting point, but it will be invisible if it doesn't show up on the first few pages of a web search. To help get more quality traffic to websites, companies are investing more time, attention (and expense) into SEO.

We won't go deep into SEO best practices, but here are a few high-level focus areas to consider:

  • Create content with SEO in mind. Decide on the keywords you want to rank for and write content that aligns with them. An SEO-oriented content strategy will drive more of the right kind of traffic to your website.
  • Pay attention to your On-Page SEO. This is the best starting point to improve SEO. It's not overly difficult and it can often be done internally using free tools like Yoast or RankMath.
  • Put some energy into your Off-Page SEO. This takes time but produces strong results. A few simple examples are getting credible external sites backlinking to yours (possibly partners, suppliers, customers) and guest authoring on another company's blog. There are many excellent online resources to help with this.

#2: Cleaner and Stronger Messaging

With all the uncertainty this past year, the last thing we want when we search for products or services is complexity. Whether shopping for ourselves or our companies, we want information that is easy to digest. We don't want to hunt for crucial highlights we need to know, but we don't want to glaze over from excessive technical detail. Companies have realized that the messaging must be clear, relevant, and easy to find and interact with when creating content for their audiences.

After a year where nearly all interaction has been on a computer screen or phone, marketers are changing how their messages are delivered as well. Emphasis is being placed on more human-centric and personal approaches - talking with an audience as real people rather than just information gatherers. Being relatable, writing in a light and casual tone, and adding a bit of humor (when appropriate) all help make readers more inclined to engage with content.

#3: Interactive Content and Communication

People will forget even strong content when they are distracted (which is much of the time). In some cases, the messaging will be remembered but not associated with the brand. The more passive interactions are, the more likely they are to be ineffective. So how do you help people remember who you are and what you offer? The answer is simple: encourage them to take action and interact with your content.

An easy way to do this is through social media. Engaging posts that include links to valuable content encourages people to share them with their networks. In the B2B world, LinkedIn is a good choice for engagement, but choosing channels depends where most of the prospects and customers of a business will hang out most. Some creative ways marketers are making content more appealing and easier to digest include:

  • Sharing Videos: The majority of people would rather watch a video than read an article on the same topic. Up to 70% of B2B buyers watch at least one product video before purchasing.
  • Using Infographics: Like the appeal of a video, an infographic is an excellent way to get high-level facts about a topic in a visually pleasing and digestible form. Infographics also have the benefit of being small image files that are easy to send and share digitally. Marketers have been creating videos and infographics for a long time, but the pandemic has bumped them up the priority list as ways to help better engage and break through the clutter.
  • Creating Quizzes: The survey is a marketer's best friend for understanding an audience. Think of quizzes as bite-sized surveys, where you can ask a few questions of the respondent to get to know them better while letting them learn a bit more about your company. Think of BuzzFeed quizzes: they're quick, fun to do, and often shared with friends! Now, we're not suggesting that you create a "What Type Of Bagel Are You?" quiz for your company, but the concept has merit. Running a quick survey showing product prototypes to determine which one people like most will highlight what the company does, encourage a response, and increase the odds of being remembered.

#4: Increased Adoption of Account-Based Marketing

Focus and efficiency have been key drivers for most businesses over the past year. A trend that has been picking up steam for many years now is Account-Based Marketing (ABM). ABM is a strategic and targeted approach to market and sell into well-defined (and aligned) market segments and companies.

This approach has been shown to better coordinate sales and marketing, ultimately producing higher ROIs than broad-based marketing. In fact, ABM programs can deliver upwards of 50% larger deal sizes and 10% increase in revenue within its first year. Others state a 97% increase in ROI relative to other marketing activities.

Implementing an ABM strategy is not easy, trivial or inexpensive. It requires a significant shift for an organization and typically involves consulting training and new or upgraded technologies. Also, ABM is more applicable to enterprise-level sales organizations with larger and more complex clients.

Although touted as one of the hottest marketing trends in 2020, ABM made progress but was put on hold in many organizations due to budget and resource constraints. As we closer to post-pandemic life in the year ahead, ABM will undoubtedly live up to last year's expectations.

#5: Further Reliance on Artificial Intelligence

You can do everything right and have all the information a customer could ever want on your website, but they will still have questions. Depending on your web traffic, answering these questions can be a full-time job, which usually isn't something anyone wants to spend their whole day doing. Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) now lets us build robust chatbots quickly and easily.

The disruption of last year brought about more self-serve technologies than ever before. Chatbots served as increasingly valuable tools, spanning applications such as sales and marketing on websites, call centers, and emergency response. The chatbot market, valued at over $17B in 2020, is projected to grow at a whopping CAGR of 34.75% into 2026.

There are many other ways that marketers are using AI. Some are visible, and other applications are inherent in technologies such as marketing automation platforms. An example is the automated analysis of incoming data from web leads to define customer personas. This data also helps marketers better personalize communications and automate customer journey workflows, freeing up time while the AI works in the background to bring in higher-quality leads.

There is no doubt that AI continues to play a pivotal role in helping marketing become more effective.

#6: Customers Matters Most!

When things were at their most challenging last year, new customers were hard to come by. One of the most critical lessons reinforced for many companies during the pandemic was that their customers are the difference between staying in business or not.

Business leaders understand how valuable customers are - both from a revenue perspective and as a source of leads from referrals and testimonials. To that end, most companies were doing everything possible to keep their customers as informed and satisfied as possible in 2020. Doing its part to foster customer satisfaction will remain a continued focus for marketers in the year ahead.

Here are some customer-focused areas on which marketing can have an impact:

  • Get involved with corporate communication practices: How many times have you reached out to a company, only to be put on hold for hours at a time and then brushed off with a standard, non-helpful response when you finally do manage to get someone on the line? Don't let that be your company. Chatbots are a great way to start, and you can set up different bots depending on if the visitor to your site is an existing customer or not.
  • Ask for feedback: No one expects perfection from a company, and sometimes it helps if you admit you have room to improve. As you look to grow, reach out to your customers and ask them if there is anything you can do to make their experience better. Just make sure you follow through on the requests, or you risk your customers feeling that their feedback is falling on deaf ears. You can also request testimonials from your customers to share on your website or social media.
  • Engage on social media: Your social media accounts don't always have to be platforms for you only to post updates. Engage with your audience! Take a look through your mentions on different platforms and engage with your followers. From a follower standpoint, a company account feels nice to be noticed and helps to humanize that company. It also reinforces your company's responsiveness if you are actively seeking out what is being said about you on social media and answering questions.
  • Offer discounts: Everyone loves a deal, but promotions are often run solely to attract new customers. Show your existing customers some love with a loyalty promotion, either on a product or service they already get from you or on a related product or service that would benefit them.
  • Welcome new customers: As we've mentioned before, your company exists today because of your customers. Ensure that every new lead you convert feels valued by your company and makes them feel like you have a personal stake in their satisfaction – because you do!

#6: Customers Matters Most!

All of the points we've made here are just different ways of saying that you should have strong communication with your leads and customers to make sure they understand how important they are to you and your business. And make sure the communication is a two-way street! Let them talk to you as much as you talk to them and work on improving together.

Whether you are a large or small company, one thing that remains true in 2021 is that we are all looking for a bit of humanity. We hope that by taking the time to read through these areas of focus, you have learned about some ways to apply these trends to your business and improve your success this year. If you have any additional tips or comments, let us know what you think!

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