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Adrian Nash
By
August 09, 2021

The Impact of COVID-19 on Technical Marketing: According to the Data

Like most of you, we at engineering.com were thrown for a loop in 2020. Since 2014, we have surveyed technical marketers to understand how these professionals think about and execute their marketing strategies. We took a break from the annual survey during the pandemic last year, but we are back this year and armed with the results.

In addition to our usual survey questions on the effectiveness of specific marketing tactics, budget allocation for particular activities, etc., this year, we also asked survey respondents specifically how COVID-19 affected their operations in the immediate wake of the lockdowns. We also asked respondents how they expect the pandemic to impact their marketing strategies moving forward. We have distilled our findings on this topic into the blog post you are currently reading!

Read on to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the field of technical marketing, and how marketers like you are changing their strategies in 2021 as a result.

COVID-19’s Immediate Impact on Marketing

In the early days of the pandemic, almost all industries and professions were preparing themselves for negative economic repercussions. A poll conducted by McKinsey in April 2020 found that 61% of executives across all sectors were predicting that their organization would see a decrease in profits over the next 6 month period. Thus, the immediate, and at the time, most logical reaction of the business community was to prepare for economic disaster and begin cutting costs.Budget Changes During C19

The field of technical marketing was no different in this respect. Immediately following the introduction of lockdown measures, 47% of those marketing to engineers reported that their budgets were (temporarily at least) reduced.

In retrospect, we know that this was probably the wrong move. Business didn’t continue as usual, but it did continue. Restaurants, retail stores, and others in the service industry temporarily shut down, but most office workers could work from home. At the same time, factory floors and industrial workspaces faced temporary setbacks, but many got up and running safely again by working at reduced capacity and requiring employees to take additional safety and sanitation precautions while onsite.

Rather than reduce activity through budgetary cuts, marketers should have funneled existing resources into more pandemic-friendly activities. As we will see in a later section of this article, this is what marketers are doing in 2021. Still, given the uncertainty prevalent in the early days of the pandemic, it is easy to understand why many panicked.

Negative Impacts of COVID-19

We promise not to dwell on the negatives for too long, but it’s essential to understand where marketers were starting from at the beginning of 2021.

In addition to budget reductions, marketers faced office closures, decreased company sales, loss of team cohesion, and layoffs. 37% of marketers reported their physical place of business was closed during the pandemic. This is a significant number but still seemed relatively low to us at first glance. However, while roughly 67% of all businesses in the broader economy went remote to some degree during the pandemic, only 44% of businesses went fully remote. So, in actuality, 37% of marketers experiencing workplace closures and going fully remote is fairly in line with the rest of the economy.

Layoffs were also widespread in the wake of COVID-19. For example, Statistics Canada data shows that 40.5% of businesses across the country laid off at least one employee due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By contrast, only 22% of technical marketers reported the same, according to our survey data. Thankfully, marketers outperformed the broader economy in this respect.

Finally, 28% of technical marketers also reported a loss of team cohesion and a decrease in sales as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 37% of marketers going remote, it isn’t surprising a fair share of these felt their team’s cohesiveness took a hit. And while 28% of respondents reporting decreased sales is undoubtedly bad, this still means 72% of marketers did not see any negative impact on their organization’s sales.

Onward and Upward

We now know where marketers were in 2020, but where are they going in 2021?

Well, the short answer is upward – but cautiously. While budgets declined in the short-term, most marketing teams see the same or even increased budgets for 2021. Specifically, 32% of marketers reported a larger budget this year, while an additional 50% reported their budgets would be about the same as last year. This means only 18% of marketers forecasted smaller budgets this year, which, although higher than past years we’ve conducted this survey, is understandable given the impact of the last year and a half.How Budgets Changed in 2021

Marketers are also feeling positive about where they stand in comparison to their competitors. For example, about 42% of marketers think their company is growing revenue faster than their rivals, while another 43% feel they are growing at the same rate. This is all very optimistic and points towards positive signs of rebounding and growth after a year of setbacks and repositioning.

On the whole, while the results are more muted in 2021 than in past years, technical marketers are still experiencing positive trends in budget and revenue growth. However, there are more stark changes in how marketers are using increased budgets to achieve their goals. So let’s examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way technical marketing is conducted.

Marketers Adapt to an All-Digital World

Marketing has been digital for a long time, but in 2021 marketers are taking this even further as a result of the pandemic.

Economies around the world are beginning to open up again, and gathering restrictions are loosening. But marketers still aren’t convinced in-person events will make a complete comeback in 2021. We asked marketers to select their top 5 marketing tactics for 2021 from a list of 16 options. When we asked this question in 2019, 49% of respondents selected trade shows as a top 5 tactic. When we asked this question again in 2021, only 23% of respondents said the same.

Top Tactics for 2021

Undoubtedly, some in-person trade shows will be held in 2021, but a full return for trade shows will likely not happen this year. Instead of holding out for trade shows and other in-person events, marketers are emphasizing digital avenues of event delivery.

Webinars are experiencing a significant popularity spike in this year’s survey. In 2019, webinars were the 9th most popular tactic chosen by marketers, while in 2021, they have risen five spots to be the 4th most popular tactic used by our respondents. Now, marketers have had a whole year to learn and use webinar tools to host virtual learning events, and they plan on continuing to use this knowledge in 2021 (and likely years to come).

At engineering.com, we firmly believe in the value of trade shows. However, we also think digital events and gatherings are here to stay. We predict that digital events will continue to be the primary means of connecting large groups of people for most of 2021, but that towards the end of the year and into 2022, we will begin to see a hybrid model emerge. Rather than have an exclusively digital or exclusively in-person event, we believe physical events will also have virtual twins so attendees can interact in both settings. This way, participants who are able and willing to attend in-person events will do so, but attendees will also have the option to access the same information virtually.

We have even developed a platform to support this concept called ProjectBoard. By augmenting and supplementing one another, in-person and virtual events will attract an even larger audience than they did before the pandemic! Another key advantage is that with virtual events, the show lives on long afterward, and valuable information from the event is widely accessible for years to come.

Email Takes the Cake

Ahead of even webinars, email marketing took the top spot for most valuable marketing tactic during the COVID-19 pandemic. A full 44% of marketers listed it as one of their five most effective tactics during the pandemic.

As office workers began working from home 100% of the time, email became one of the most useful assets in the marketer’s toolbox. As we know, email marketing is so popular with marketers because it’s targeted (you can reach a specific audience with personalized messaging at a date and time of your choosing), it’s measurable (email marketing platforms provide robust interaction tracking to measure success), and it’s cost-effective (no print, postage, or ad space required). These three qualities made email marketing a perfect tactic during the pandemic, and marketers experienced such success with this tool that they’re continuing to use it at increased levels in 2021.

AdobeStock_361542321Recall earlier when we stated that Webinars had risen to the 4th most preferred tactic for marketers in 2021. Similarly, email marketing rose six spots this year to take the top spot as the most preferred tactic. Undoubtedly, this has to in part be attributed to the success marketers experienced with email during the pandemic.

We also speculate that the directness of email marketing is another reason why marketers are leaning so heavily on it in 2021. Unlike more passive marketing tactics like search marketing (which relies on prospects finding you), email marketing provides a more active approach. Marketers can reach out directly to contacts with personalized messages and offers, which often helps generate more engagement in less time.

As economies worldwide are reopening in 2021, marketers will surely want to take advantage of this increased economic activity. As such, taking a more proactive approach to marketing through email makes sense if generating leads in the immediate is the goal. Email also contributes to long-term results by nurturing prospects, keeping them engaged, and moving through the sales funnel. And, finally, when you provide quality content and promotional offers to customers via email, this turns those customers into evangelists of your brand!

Technical Marketing in 2021: A Whole New World?

The short answer? No, not really.

Certain strategies and tactics are receiving more emphasis in 2021 than they did before COVID-19 (e.g., email marketing and webinars) - this much we know. But, no tactics are going unutilized; as we saw, even trade shows will likely become viable for marketers towards the end of the year – at least to some degree. Especially in industries with tangible products like a CNC Machine or 3DPrinting/Additive Manufacturing.

The pandemic forced marketers to adapt by re-allocating resources to specific marketing strategies and tactics, but it didn’t upend the entire way technical marketing was being done. For example, marketers were already using email before COVID-19 - it just became more effective during and after the lockdowns because so many people worked remotely. Similarly, marketers were already using webinars before the pandemic, but they became a far more impactful solution in a reality where in-person learning and conferencing events were not possible.

Sure, technical marketers have had to adapt, but no reinventions of the wheel were required. The pandemic pushed marketers to lean into digital marketing methods even more than before, but this is just increasing the speed of an existing long-term trend.

For more information on what technical marketers are thinking and doing heading into 2021, download our full report called 2021 Marketing to Engineers Survey Results.

 

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