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The Path Forward for B2B Marketers in 2021

Published on Mar 10, 2021

The Path Forward for B2B Marketers in 2021
Lauren Starnes
Lauren Starnes Industry Dive

2020 was the portrait of abnormality, and in its wake lies a new path forward for B2B marketers in 2021.

By Lauren Starnes & Denton Myers-Pollock of Industry Dive 

Even as the phrase “new normal” becomes so overused it requires air quotes, we can all agree that 2020 was the portrait of abnormality. We were hit with massive change in every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Unprecedented challenges emerged, and with them opportunities for leaders to reinvent. At Industry Dive we run thousands of digital B2B marketing campaigns in 20+ industries, giving us a rare glimpse into how marketers are successfully adapting their strategies in targeted verticals. While we don’t have all the answers, we have learned a few things along the way. B2B marketers everywhere must chart a new path forward, paved by the critical lessons and outcomes of the events of 2020. While each program is unique, our three essential takeaways can be applied to all B2B marketers as they blaze new paths forward in 2021.

Invest in your brand

Long considered a hallmark of B2C marketing, the power of emotional connection should not be neglected in B2B – especially during times of crisis and change.

The term business-to-business can be a misnomer because we’re not really talking to businesses. We’re talking to people. Sure, the sales cycles are longer and there are more spreadsheets involved, but humans are still the ones making the buying decisions at the end of the day. And time and time again we see that people buy from people they like and trust.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model urges brands to “start with why.” He talks about the idea that people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it. This principle rang true for our clients as they navigated a crisis situation. Companies who stayed true to their mission and core values were able to more effectively navigate the pandemic, emerge as thought leaders and build trust with their customers and prospects.

In April, a lot of the marketers we work with expressed fear over putting out a message that would come off as tone deaf. As a result, many watched and waited for their competitors to make the first move. The companies who stayed centered on their ‘why’ were able to mobilize quickly and share their point of view. They took stock of the new industry landscape, determined where they could provide unique value, and empowered their prospects with content to help them succeed in this new environment. History shows that brands who treat marketing like an investment rather than an expense will emerge from a downturn stronger than they went into it. We suggest building your brand recognition within targeted communities, rather than trying to tackle your entire industry at once. The outcome will be more measurable, and every dollar spent will drive the highest quality engagement and help you build more authentic relationships.

Reimagine digital

Find new ways to engage virtually with your prospects in a meaningful way.

No one is going to bed right now thinking to themselves, “Darn, I’ve consumed all the content I possibly can – I really hope someone comes out with a new webinar.” There is no shortage of content or people signing up for it today. What’s declining is the number of people actually consuming it. The sheer volume of digital information we have to manage on top of our steadily mounting workload makes the time we choose to devote to content increasingly precious. It puts the onus on brands to create digital experiences that are compelling enough to keep their audience coming back. What if instead of touting products and ROI (and don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for that), our content fueled intimate relationships with people who are invested in not just what we do, but why we do it?

One way we’ve seen marketers answer this call is by making their prospects active participants in the conversation. Put another way, by talking with them, not at them. Did you notice how in the last paragraph I asked you a question to get you thinking, and then you probably were more invested in my perspective on the answer—(wasn’t that fun)? That’s the interaction you want to mimic with your prospects to keep them coming back for more content.

Recently we’ve seen a trend toward short pulse surveys that capture what your prospects are thinking and feeling at any given moment. This approach fits within the rapidly changing industry landscape, where dense market research will go stale by the time it launches. A series of quick surveys deployed on a regular basis will help you track and measure the audience response over time. Not only is this valuable data to guide your strategy, but it also can inform high quality content that your prospects are more invested in from the start. Now you’re sharing perspectives on challenges you know they’re facing, not ones you think they’re facing.

Target your message

Insert your perspective in places where your most engaged prospects are likely to find it.

It’s not enough to create content that speaks generally to your value proposition. Now more than ever, your content must connect with real experiences and pain points in specific job functions and vertical industries. For example, one of our cloud management clients successfully tailored their messaging around remote work to appeal to both IT leaders (who care about implementation) and HR leaders (who care about employee engagement). From a vertical perspective, we saw a major player in telehealth target their content to address the unique concerns of retailers, payers and providers in the shift to virtual care. Both of these brands connected their expertise to job-specific challenges while maintaining a cross-functional identity.

Equally important is how your content connects with different stages of the buyer journey. The best content will reach its audience at the optimal intersection of value and demand. During the pandemic, we saw an immediate need for certain solutions that quite literally helped businesses keep their lights on. Take for example restaurants who were forced to shut down their dine-in service. The resulting demand for delivery models was so high that companies like DoorDash successfully promoted low-funnel offers that converted new merchants off a single touch point. If demand for your product is low because you’re addressing a long-term challenge or a future need, the burden is higher for your content to create trust and value and illuminate a problem your audience doesn’t even know they have. We see this playing out in HR where the current spike in temp jobs will create a long-term need for workforce training and standardized hiring processes. Companies who educate HR leaders around these issues today will build relationships with future customers and shorten their sales cycles tomorrow.

Remember these four steps marketers can take to drive predictably strong results:

  1. Segment your key buyer and influencer personas

  2. Put yourself in their shoes to identify their top priorities and challenges

  3. Craft content that will solve their problems and incite action

  4. Promote your content on channels your target audience already knows and trusts

Who knows if we’ll ever reach the proverbial “new normal.” In the meantime, we hope we’ve shown you how to apply new context to tried and true marketing principles to create value for your audience and drive ROI. 2021 will surely be another pivotal year for marketers and for our verticals. We at studioID will continue to arm our clients with the tools and strategies they need to achieve successful results from brand to demand.