B2B Marketing and Communication in a COVID-19 WorldBy MBN Staff | Tue, 03/31/2020 - 17:09
Only a few weeks ago, for B2B marketers it was business as usual. Now, they are facing an unprecedented crisis for which the rule book yet has to be written. There is great urgency to rewrite marketing plans to find alternative ways of obtaining the targeted impact and lead generation. On top of that, all significant B2B events scheduled for the next three months have been canceled or postponed. Such events typically receive nearly 40 percent of the B2B marketing budget, around five times the money spent on digital marketing, which means that the COVID-19 B2B marketing mix is uncharted territory.
Companies may be tempted to take a wait-and-see approach. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and considering the degree of anticipated disruption, as well as the current communication and social media environment, this is a poor choice. This crisis is not like the 2008 financial crisis, when many B2B companies decided to play it safe and cut their marketing budgets. The root cause of the crisis is incomparable and the current marketing mix is distinctly different, so the implications for B2B marketing and communication decisions made in this context will be unique. A focus on survival and addressing short-term challenges rather than preparing for the future means that companies taking a wait-and-see approach will miss the opportunity to strengthen their market positioning and identify and target new prospective customers, which could improve probability of survival. Positive perception can be a game changer during a prolonged crisis and looking for new customers during challenging times is one of the strongest signals a company can send to the market. In addition, it prepares companies to bounce back quickly based on a more advanced sales pipeline once COVID-19 is behind us.
The first response to the COVID-19 crisis could be a defining moment for companies. Similarly, proactive B2B marketers should not wait for the market to point in a clear direction but get ahead of the situation by creating marketing and communication strategies that deliver alternative ways to reach customers in an unprecedented business and communication environment. Moving fast and communicating frequently with consumers will give companies a competitive edge over competitors that are slow to react. A proactive communication strategy also allows companies to control the narrative, manage their brands and continue the conversation with their customers in a constructive way. Adjusting optimally to the disruptive business and industry changes brought about by the current crisis cannot be done without an effective communication strategy.
In times of uncertainty, companies typically require all departments to prioritize spending, which translates into optimizing the marketing and communication plan. Rather than cutting marketing investments across the board, this should result in the prioritization of marketing investments that bring the most value, while cancelling or postponing investments that deliver limited value. COVID-19 is not a typical crisis that primarily affects marketing through spending cuts. This crisis creates an environment of market disruption where both event organizers, exhibitors, sponsors and participants are pushed towards alternative communication channels to achieve their objectives, including lead generation and sales pipeline development, leaving B2B marketers with a wait-and-see mentality behind.
Strategies for the Present
This is not the time for business as usual. Companies have to go above and beyond to ensure that their marketing and communication strategies connect with customers, maintain brand loyalty and generate leads. If executed well, the shift in strategy could result not only in customer retention but also in new lead generation beyond the traditional target market. Renewed marketing and communication strategies will focus on addressing the challenges of the present while preparing businesses for a post-crisis future.
Disrupted supply chains are destined to create challenges for the delivery of products or services, which will spark a rise in customer demand for information. Communication is an essential tool to get ahead of this situation and satisfy customer demand for information without putting maximum strain on a business’ interpersonal communication capacity.
B2B marketers must ensure that their messages reflect the realities of the moment and help manage expectations about product and service availability in a constructive manner. At the moment, the most effective way to reach customers and other stakeholders in lockdown or working from home is digital delivery. Time spent online is increasing and social media use is up across platforms used for business such as LinkedIn and Twitter, illustrating the opportunity at hand. For many companies, this will create the urgent need to rapidly expand digital marketing and communication capacity.
The impact of the shift to digital can be seen across industries. Now is the time for companies to update their digital presence and marketing and communication strategies, ranging from website design and content to marketing materials, social media management and content marketing. The latter is expected to experience a dramatic rise in prominence as the target audience of the B2B marketer will be much harder to reach in a home office situation. Compelling, informative content is being received with increasing receptiveness and target audiences are likely to be more open to in-depth engagement and education on new products, services and technologies in the coming weeks and months. As more companies place greater importance on content marketing, securing access to platforms that enable content marketing delivery to target audiences will grow more challenging , while late-movers risk being crowded out. Content should focus on what matters most to the customer, such as how certain products and services solve key problems and how this impacts the client’s overall business, both in the context of the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and medium and long-term industry and technology challenges.
In addition to content marketing, the role of webinars in marketing and sales strategies will likely be transformed forever. As we are forced to let go of our entrenched preference for face-to-face commercial communication, webinars offer home office professionals the opportunity to feel more connected with customers and prospects.
The Future of Marketing and Communication
The changes in marketing and communication strategies will not just transform the COVID-19 marketing mix, they will have a lasting impact. In addition to accepting that change will be permanent, B2B marketers should start preparing for the post-COVID-19 world today. The pandemic will end but the world is unlikely to go back to normal. Customers will be facing what are today’s unique challenges for months and years to come and marketing and communication strategies must be aligned with the needs of this new operating environment. The ability to successfully anticipate these needs will be a critical success factor.
In the coming months, companies will face an unprecedented set of new challenges ranging from supply chain disruption and communication and client acquisition challenges to changing customer behavior and a rapidly evolving competitive landscape. In the coming years, business as usual will undoubtedly be different from the pre-COVID-19 business as usual that we are all used to. Product and service portfolios are being transformed, our way of doing business will change and communication will be key to effectively manage this change and engage with existing and new clients.
B2B marketers should embrace this opportunity or risk being overwhelmed by the situation.