B2B marketing has undergone a dramatic change in the last 5-10 years. Previously, the key focus of B2B marketing was networking with the objective of securing a face-to-face meeting with the relevant C-level executive in the target company. This was a clear differentiator that separated B2B from B2C marketing. Now, however, it’s more difficult for B2B marketers to define exactly who they are selling to:
The B2B marketing funnel has become longer and more complicated. B2B buyers now conduct much more research on their own before speaking to a seller, and expect the same digital experience they encounter during the B2C sales cycle with their B2B purchase decisions. As such, B2B marketing has become much more similar to its B2C counterpart, and digital marketing has become an extremely important component of B2B marketing. The most effective digital strategies in B2C marketing are now being deployed in B2B. Even in industrial and manufacturing industries, 67% of purchases are influenced by digital. Many experts have put this shift down to the increasing role of millennials in buying decisions.
The B2B consumer journey has also changed significantly in the past 10 years. What was once a more linear transaction has now turned into a complex buying process. 90% of B2B buyers now twist and turn through the sales funnel, returning to repeat one or more tasks in the buyer journey.
Looking to 2021, we need to consider all of the above trends and the ever-evolving nature of the B2B marketing and digital marketing landscapes. However, while in previous years these trends may have been more predictable, there’s no ignoring the impact of COVID-19. This global pandemic could change B2B marketing forever.
The Impact of COVID-19 on B2B Marketing 2021
COVID-19 has had a major impact on the global economy. Businesses have suffered throughout 2020, as they’ve had to significantly adjust their strategies to comply with new government regulations. These changes are likely to impact businesses long into 2021 and beyond. B2B marketers should be aware of the significant impact of these changes, and what it will mean for their strategy going forward.
- Budget changes: Half way through 2020, digital ad spend was down 33% and traditional media spend down 39%. Business budgets are likely to be impacted well into 2021. Companies that have faced closure or have lost significant accounts are going into survival mode and as such, are unlikely to be spending huge amounts of their budget attracting new customers for the end of 2020 and into 2021. Smart business owners are using their budgets wisely to minimise the impact of current events, and are focusing on improving their business for the future. From a marketing perspective, this means managing the complexity of the current market and working out how to maximise value for consumers into the future. This puts your business in the best position so that when they are ready to buy again, you’re there and your offer is better than it was before.
- Consumer attitude & behaviour shifts: Due to government restrictions, the way consumers have lived for the majority of 2020 has been vastly different than ever before. The way we work, interact with colleagues, and communicate with family and friends has all changed. Instead of face-to-face interactions, the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in an increase in digital communications. Daily audio and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger more than doubled as the virus spread. This will likely impact consumer attitudes and behaviours long into the future.
- Tech consumption shifts: During COVID-19, consumers have been turning to new tech and social media platforms to stay connected while they are at home. Internet traffic is also up significantly, particularly during the day, due to more people working from home and streaming more during the day. Research has found that 24% of consumers will increase long-term use of digital channels due to COVID-19. Marketers should be aware of theses changes in media consumption so that they know which channels brands should be on in order to reach their consumers effectively.
- Purchase & research behaviour: As many stores have been closed for a large part of 2020 and people have been told to stay at home, consumers have been engaging with their favourite brands more online and buying more from e-commerce sites. This reliance on digital is likely to stick around long after the pandemic ends, as consumers get used to their online research and shopping habits. Businesses have to be aware of this and adjust their marketing strategy to ensure it not just incorporates, but focuses on digital. Consumers are more motivated than ever to stay home and shop online, creating the ideal market conditions to fast track, test, and launch new experience-driven mobile apps, sites, and touch points across their platform.
We don’t know exactly how long COVID-19 will be around. The main things that marketers can do to ensure their business survives the pandemic and its aftermath is to protect against negative impacts and to recognise and be ready for necessary changes in order to meet evolving business and consumer needs. Most of these changes appear to start with digital.
B2B Marketing Trends for 2021
Taking all of the above into consideration, it’s clear that B2B marketing in 2021 will not be like years prior. Primarily, businesses will have to focus on their digital strategy to capture the attention of consumers. It will be essential for businesses to create an online experience that captures the attention of every individual involved in the B2B buying process and move them through the sales funnel to conversion. The following are the strategies that we think will shape the most successful B2B marketing strategies in 2021.
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 1: Omnichannel Marketing
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 2: AI
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 3: B2B Content Marketing
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 4: Micro-Moments
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 5: Chatbots
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 6: Predictive Analytics
- B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 7: Privacy & Security Marketing
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 1: Ominichannel Marketing
Omnichannel marketing is the process of ensuring clients and prospects have a seamless experience with a business, regardless of the channel or device used. The term ‘omnichannel marketing’ has been a marketing buzzword for a few years now. However, in 2021, the strategy is arguably more relevant than ever, with 90% of customers expecting consistent interactions across channels.
The number of ways a consumer can engage with a company is ever increasing. 15 years ago, the average consumer typically used two touch-points when buying an item, and only 7% regularly used more than four. Today, consumers use an average of almost six touch-points, with nearly 50% regularly using more than four. Omnichannel marketing also impacts customer retention, with businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieving 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates than those that don’t.
While the importance of omnichannel marketing is undeniable, currently the majority of businesses (55%) have no cross-channel strategy in place. To stay ahead, brands must ensure this is part of their B2B marketing strategy in 2021. It is vital for businesses to be presenting a seamless and consistent voice and message across all mediums. This includes digital channels such as the business’ website and social channels, as well as physical storefronts.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 2: AI
By 2025, worldwide data will grow 61% to 175 zettabytes. As the amount of data being collected and transferred grows, Artificial Intelligence will become increasingly important to businesses, as it gives them the ability to make sense of an increasingly large amount of data in real time. According to Forbes, marketing and sales prioritise AI and machine learning higher than any other department in enterprises today (40%).
AI has a number of applications in marketing. For example, AI can be used to leverage technology to improve the customer journey. It can also boost the return on investment (ROI) of marketing campaigns through implementing big data analytics, machine learning, and other processes to gain insight into the target audience. AI eliminates the guesswork involved in customer interactions, and marketing teams can apply these detailed insights to their campaigns to create more effective customer touch points and communications.
Going deeper, AI can be used to automate processes that were once dependent on humans, which ultimately increases productivity and saves businesses money. 72% of business decision-makers say AI can enable humans to concentrate on meaningful work. For example, Artificial Intelligence can be used for all of the following:
- Powering Chatbots to improve customer experience
- Leveraging Audience Insights to boost PPC ad performance
- Creating AI-generated content
- Personalising the digital experience
- Identifying sales qualified leads
- Targeting customers across different channels
- Upselling and cross-selling to customers
- Improving blogger outreach strategies
83% of early AI adopters have already achieved substantial (30 %) or moderate (53%) economic benefits. So it’s not surprising that Gartner projects 30% of businesses to be incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) in their sales processes by the end of 2020. We’d expect this number to increase significantly in 2021 and beyond.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 3: B2B Content Marketing
We talked about the importance of B2B Content Marketing last year in our ‘B2B Marketing 2020 Trends’ blog. Going into 2021, content marketing isn’t going anywhere. Even with the changes in the B2B marketing landscape in relation to consumer behaviour and technical innovation, content marketing remains a reliable, powerful way to attract new customers and build relationships with them to deliver long-term value for businesses.
According to a survey conducted by ContentWriters, 61% of respondents are now publishing content multiple times per week. Furthermore, 89% of those marketers cited higher quality leads through content marketing, versus other tactics. The difference in 2021 will be how to use content marketing most effectively. The touch points that are seen as traditionally B2C will be even more critical in B2B content marketing in 2021. In addition, Google’s most recent updates are leaning towards conversational searches, as consumers are becoming more comfortable with using smart speakers for searching. This means that voice-activated content i.e. content that is query-based, will become a key part of an effective content marketing strategy in 2021.
In addition, the marketers that see the most success with content in 2021 won’t simply churn out content; instead they will create less content, but make each piece of content more effective. This means ensuring your audience can find your content on their preferred channel and in the format that they enjoy. For example, 80% of people say they typically switch between online search and video when researching products to buy. As such, taking a multi-channel, multi-format approach to content marketing will be key to successful B2B content marketing going forward.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 4: Micro-Moments
Google created the term ‘micro-moment’ a few years ago now. The concept addresses the changing behaviour of the consumer, in particular, incorporating their reliance on mobile devices. According to Google, micro-moments are intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey. A micro-moment occurs when a person automatically turns to a device, more often than not a smartphone, to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. These moments are important for marketers, as they are intent-rich. They are key points in the buyer journey when decisions are made and preferences are shaped.
In these moments, consumers’ expectations are higher than ever. “When we act on our needs in the moment, our expectations are high and our patience is low. This makes the quality, relevance and usefulness of marketing more important than ever.”
To take advantage of micro-moments in 2021, marketers need to ensure their business can be found when consumers are searching for information in the moment. As Google says, marketers have to “be there, be useful, be quick.”
In the mobile age, consumers have become accustomed to instant gratification. If they are thinking about something or discussing something, in many cases they will want to learn more, see more or buy more; and they want it with just a few clicks of a button.
To make the most of micro-moments, marketers should:
- Identify the moments where consumers want to buy
- Identify and measure other moments that matter
- Ensure they are present in the consumer’s moments of need
- Create relevant content around these moments
- Make it as easy as possibly for consumers to find information and convert.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 5: Chatbots
82% of consumers today expect an immediate response to sales or marketing questions. However, for many businesses, it is impossible, or at least impractical to have an employee physically present to answer all of these questions. Chatbots are an effective solution to keep up with this demand, as 40% of consumers do not care whether a chatbot or a real human helps them, as long as they are getting the help they need. Chatbots are programmed to respond to users, and can reply differently to messages depending on the keywords the query contains. Some even use machine learning to adapt their responses to find the right answer.
Considering more than half of all customers now prefer to speak with someone online than call a company, live chat options are really beginning to take off, and are expected to grow by as much as 87% in the next 12-18 months. Chatbots are an effective means of managing this shift and they have been proven to improve customer service, manage post-sale relationships through offering after sales support and build brand value through the quick and effective distribution of communications. They are also invaluable in collecting data for an organisation, as they gather more data and insights for your business with every customer interaction. This data can be applied to improve future marketing campaigns.
Chatbots are particularly useful for B2B businesses where compliance is critical. As Chatbots are pre-programmed with information, they will always deliver an approved answer that is compliant with current, relevant legislation and procedures. This reduces the chance of human error in delivering accurate and up to date information to a customer or potential customer.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 5: Predictive Analytics
Predictive analytics is a category of data analytics aimed at making predictions about future outcomes based on historical data and analysis techniques, such as statistical modelling and machine learning. The use of predictive analytics tools allows marketers to use their past campaign data to reliably forecast likely consumer trends and behaviours days, weeks or even years into the future. Predictive models can help businesses attract, retain and nurture their most valued customers. In addition, marketing campaigns can be optimised using predictive analytics to generate more leads and conversions, as well as to promote cross-sell opportunities.
Predictive Analytics is undoubtedly effective, and it is being used by a number of organisations today. The global market is projected to reach approximately $10.95 billion by 2022.
Netflix and Amazon have pioneered predictive analytics and have implemented it in their respective businesses to deliver personalised recommendations and suggestions to their customers using their previous behaviour patterns, consumption, and buying behaviour. Now, consumers on these platforms enjoy and have come to expect this level of personalisation.
While Netflix and Amazon are huge B2C players, it is important to remember that B2B buyers are also consumers, and their buying behaviour reflects that of consumer buying behaviour. As such, marketing strategies that incorporate predictive analytics should not be dismissed by B2B businesses in 2021.
B2B Marketing 2021 Trend 7: Privacy & Security Marketing
Today’s consumers don’t trust organisations with their personally identifiable information. Businesses will have to work hard to combat this and earn the trust of their customers and prospects. The future of data is geared toward transparency and openness, as stricter privacy legislations are being implemented in countries across the world; most notably the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. Huge companies are taking note of this trend. Search engine giant Google has announced their strategic plan to phase out cookies. In January 2020, Google advised its intention to restrict the number of advertising cookies on websites accessed via its Chrome browser. The company said that third-party cookies would be phased out within the next two years, as a response to calls for greater privacy controls. In addition, now more than 67% of large organizations have a CDO (Chief Data Officer).
Going forward, companies will not only need to ensure they are complying with laws that have already been enacted, but also that they are prepared for laws that are currently in the pipeline; addressing regulations as they are being released is not sustainable. Instead, companies should develop their strategy to ensure data privacy is in place, with a level of flexibility to adapt quickly and effectively to new regulations.
Similarly, website security is also becoming more important. In 2019 alone, there were over 3,800 data breaches within organisations . As a result, just 25% of consumers believe that most companies handle their sensitive personal data responsibly. When a visitor lands on your site for the first time, they’ll instantly judge whether it looks secure or not within seconds. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t stay, which means missed marketing opportunities for your business. In addition, HTTPS is now a ranking signal, and sites will be flagged as unsafe unless they have an HTTPS. For businesses in 2021, the bare minimum is to enable the HTTPS protocol for their website. Businesses should also consider prominently displaying a security seal of trust or trust badge on the website in order to reassure site visitors that the company takes their safety seriously. With this increased focus on privacy and data protection, marketers have to find the right balance between meeting privacy requirements and delivering on customer expectations for increased personalisation.
The Lead Agency is a specialist B2B marketing agency with experience across a number of B2B sectors. The above are our predictions for 2021 and beyond that we will be implementing in our client campaigns. Get in touch with us today to get your B2B marketing strategy for 2021 organised in advance.