The pandemic changed pretty much every industry, and this is true for marketing as well. While many of the changes initially appeared superficial, the past 18 months have shown that some of these evolutions are here to stay. Soon, COVID marketing trends will simply be regular marketing trends embedded in the industry. If you’re looking for digital marketing tactics that your company can use in 2021 and beyond, here are seven trends that you need to know about:
1. Inbound leads require a new approach.
Many B2B salespeople were used to sourcing leads in person, either through trade shows or one-on-one meetings. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a stop to all of this. Most salespeople had to go completely remote and find new ways to create leads that didn’t require in-person interaction or events. While they certainly appreciate the safety aspect, many B2B buyers also enjoy the convenience of virtual sales processes. That’s why only 1 in 5 B2B buyers hope to return to in-person sales meetings, according to McKinsey. If you aren’t yet comfortable with digital-first sales strategies, now is the time to start working on these skills.
2. Digital marketing is more important than ever.
Prior to the pandemic, lots of B2B marketing relied on analog channels such as brochures, postcards, and swag. Many of these items were handed out at industry events or shipped to people’s offices. With many events now indefinitely on hiatus and few people going into the office, physical marketing materials have become less important and effective than they once were. Instead, digital marketing elements such as websites, emails, and videos have come to the forefront. Digital marketing tactics can reach people anywhere, even when they’re working from home, and they don’t have to be tied to a specific event. While it was already on the rise before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated the growth of digital’s share of the marketing pie for these reasons.
3. New platforms are in the spotlight.
All digital marketing platforms are experiencing newfound appreciation, but two in particular have gotten a lot of focus lately: video and live chat. Not only have most meetings moved to video calls, sales reps are using both video and live chat to close deals. Live chat has also become a really important channel for customer service, as not everyone wants to sit around on the phone all day waiting for help. These platforms are not going away, so if you’ve been holding out on embracing Zoom and other web conferencing software, it’s time to get on this digital marketing trend.
4. Industry events will have a virtual component.
While some industry events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed, others transitioned to a virtual format — and many found they really enjoyed it. In-person events do have certain advantages, such as the ability to network face to face. However, they also came with many drawbacks, including a high price tag and the need to take time off. Companies could only cover the expenses for a limited number of people, which capped the amount who could attend. Some people also couldn’t leave their families or other obligations for days or a week in order to attend in person. Virtual conferences and tradeshows eliminated a lot of these drawbacks and allowed more people to attend from all over the country and world. For example, Salesforce moved their Dreamforce conference, once of the biggest B2B events of the year, to be a primarily streaming event. While there will still be an in-person component to the conference, it’s by invitation only, and the vast majority of attendees will be virtual. Expect events to follow similar tactics in the coming months.
5. Marketing campaigns must be agile.
Many B2B companies used to have such reliable sales cycles that they could plan out their marketing campaigns months in advance. Indeed, lots of businesses ended up simply replicating their marketing campaigns year to year with minor tweaks. While this might have worked before COVID changed everything, marketing campaigns must now be agile and responsive to what’s happening in the world around us. With the state of the world shifting month to month and even week to week, a marketing campaign that was planned out even a quarter ago might be outdated by the time it actually launches. While you can still plan out your marketing campaigns in advance, be prepared to update them up until the launch date (and maybe afterwards too).
6. Brand purpose matters.
While brands could once stay silent about current event matters, that’s becoming increasingly untenable during the pandemic. Now many consumers, even B2B decision makers, are vetting potential vendors to see if their values align with their own. Once some companies started taking public stands on COVID-19 precautions, racial diversity, and other current issues, it created a precedent for others to do the same. It may have once been considered the default for companies to stay out of politics, but now it’s increasingly rare for companies to stay silent about what their brand stands for. These brand purposes and values often figure into marketing campaigns, and in some cases become the main differentiator for how a business separates itself from the rest of the pack.
7. E-commerce isn’t only for B2C anymore.
Previously, e-commerce was seen as being used almost exclusively for direct-to-consumer purchases. Most B2B decision makers were still going through other avenues, especially for larger ticket items. Many of these deals were made through salespeople, often after chatting with them at a tradeshow or another in-person event. However, now those same decision makers are getting more comfortable with making business purchases via e-commerce the same way they do for their personal consumer items. This is why payment and financial companies such as Shopify and PayPal did so well during the pandemic and continue to see growth. With work continuing to stay at least partially remote, expect B2B employees to keep making company purchases online — and for more businesses to implement easy ways to purchase their products or services with a single click.
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