How B2B marketing has changed during the pandemic

The events of 2020 have hit all marketers hard – but their impact on B2B marketing has been arguably the most significant of all. New research from LinkedIn shows that B2B marketers are more likely to find themselves with reduced budgets – and pressure to shift brand investments towards more tactical activity. However, those same marketers are now more confident about the future than their peers in B2C. They’re embracing the opportunity for greater cross-functional collaboration, exploring new routes to market, and helping to drive a shift in perceptions of marketing’s role.

In a recent LinkedIn survey of 1,200 marketers, they found that three out of four of those in B2B had experienced budget cuts, compared to only two-thirds of those working for B2C brands. However, the survey also found that B2B marketers were more confident in their chances of defending budgets going forward. A majority describe themselves as optimistic about the next 12 months, including roughly half who say they can reshape perceptions of marketing and prove their value to the business.

Rebalancing brand, demand and creativity

Understandably, the period of the pandemic has shifted marketers’ focus towards short-term priorities – both for themselves and their customers. In this survey, 38% said there had been more focus on the tactical execution of marketing campaigns – and 51% expected this to continue in some form. Similarly, 47% said they’d been forced to shift marketing priorities – and 39% expected to be able to take fewer risks with marketing campaigns going forward.

Could focusing on customers help B2B marketers balance immediate tactical priorities with the need to keep building brands?  It is vital to find room for longer-term initiatives such as brand advertising. This is because the key benefit is felt later, during recovery, when markets are rebounding and the returns on that investment will be much greater. On the other hand, short-term direct response advertising is likely to experience reduced returns because its effects occur immediately, while sales are generally still depressed.

Creativity is a vital ingredient in effective brand marketing – and there are encouraging signs in this survey that marketers are finding ways to keep creative thinking alive. Although 30% say that creativity has been impacted during the pandemic, only 15% see this as a significant concern going forward.

Adapting business models and routes to market

The disappearance of face-to-face sales meetings and in-person events has created obvious challenges for B2B marketers. However, many have responded by exploring new routes to market and new ways of delivering content. Roughly half see the acceleration of digital transformation at their business as a positive outcome of the pandemic.

It’s not just the digital delivery of content that’s provided fertile ground for B2B marketing innovation. Responding to new customer needs has enabled businesses to build innovative propositions around their products – and tap into new forms of demand.

 What’s crucial is how we convert feedback from sales about client concerns into a content, marketing and communications response.

Emphasising emotion and values in content and creative

Covid-19 has driven significant shifts in content and tone for marketing. Just under half of B2B marketers say they’ve placed more emphasis on their company’s vision, mission and strategy, and four in ten have adopted a more emotional style in creative. This aligns with content trends on LinkedIn over the pandemic period. Brands generate greater engagement when their content is uplifting and inspirational.

It’s not just the tone of content that acts to reassure audiences, of course. At the same time as focusing on the human element which is why we are always looking at new distribution channels for all our clients: from engaging with influencers, to rolling out more podcast advertising, to revamping client YouTube landing pages and redefining strategies.

Taking the opportunity to redefine B2B’s role

The pandemic has created many challenges in B2B marketing – but also one highly significant opportunity. In an era of virtual relationship building and self-directed buyer journeys, the contribution to business growth has never been more obvious. Co-ordinating a response to changing demand and customer needs has both raised marketing’s profile – and provided the opportunity for cross-functional collaboration.

Effectively communicating the value of marketing is more important than ever. We attribute and measure everything we do – from how products are being used to what customers best respond to and our client marketing remit includes every aspect of the customer experience.

Cross-functional, collaborative conversations allow different perspectives to surface and be evaluated in the right way. It’s about tightening the focus and truly understanding the problem we are solving for. We have always worked very closely with our clients but this year our collaboration and co-creation has really taken on a new shape.

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