Isolation home truths for B2B marketers

Richard Hadler22/04/2020

There are countless articles out there telling marketers that it will 'all be ok' once the UK's coronavirus lockdown lifts. However, Richard Hadler outlines why B2B marketers need to know a few home truths to truly succeed in a post-lockdown world.

Thirty days in lockdown and counting…. I’m sure, like everyone reading this, you’ve read countless posts telling marketers “it’s going to get better”.

Whilst some economists are saying the recovery will be quick, I think in reality it won’t get better for a very long time certainly for marketing teams. We are perhaps only at the start of a very difficult period and I would challenge any article, blog or video that tells you otherwise.

Much will change. The way we work. The way we live. Even the way we love. But you don’t need me to tell you this; I’m sure you have already figured that out for yourself.

Maybe this change is necessary, but it’s difficult to tell because we still don’t quite know how this is all going to pan out. What I do know, however, is that if I were to write that marketing will soon be back to normal, then this post would be thrown into the swamp of rubbish content marketing that has been created over the last few weeks.

Below, I have made the following three predictions for B2B marketing in the next six months based on dozens of conversations with senior marketers since UK lockdown started. 

1. Everyone is telling you to pivot… but some will do a poor job of it

Brands and publishers are promoting their virtual events everywhere you look online or on LinkedIn. They’re the “definitive event” or the “only one of its kind”, blah blah blah. In reality, these events are a polished‐up webinar surrounded by a fancy web design that no one really understands how to navigate.

This race to launch digital events without a focus on quality means your buyers are skeptical of your event the moment you tell them about it. A few will be brilliant, but the harsh reality is most are a rubbish attempt at ‘pivoting’ a marketing strategy a strategy made even more rubbish because almost everyone else is doing the same pivot. Your new plan needs to have the same level of creativity as your old one. In fact, it needs more creativity.

2. B2B brands will make the final leap to full customer focus, finally allowing B2B marketers to see B2C marketing isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be

I’ve said that I believe the crisis will cause the gap between B2C and B2B to narrow and, for the most part, people have looked at me with total disdain. Most of them ask how, and note that B2C brands are more in tune with their customers, are more agile, have bigger budgets and on the whole are more “understanding”. 

My retort: have you seen the marketing all of the big B2C brands are putting out during this period? It’s all saying the same thing: “we’re here for you”; “looking out for each other”; and the old favourite, “things will get better”. B2B marketers, supposedly less creative than B2C types, could do as good a job if not better.

True, there will always be differences. In B2B you have a smaller addressable audience. You have less brand loyalty than B2C brands and ultimately you have less spending power. This means you have a much larger margin for error. The gap is still narrowing, however.

If you’re a B2B marketer who sometimes wishes for the bigger budgets and glamour of high‐profile consumer campaigns, consider these points:

  • You have a smaller audience, which means you don’t need to sample as many people to understand how your customers actually feel in these changed times.
  • People are less loyal to one brand, because they are buying on behalf of their business. Brilliant! The disruption caused by the lockdown and economic dislocation is an even bigger opportunity for you. 
  • So you’ve got less spending power. In my world that can be seen as a positive too. You can exercise more oversight, and feel you have a real stake in the results generated. If you take the right decisions now then, quite rightly, you will get the credit.

Now is the time for B2B marketers to step up, think positively and show what they’re made of, especially during a time where B2C marketing functions seem to be reverting back to the same old ‘arm around their customer’ messaging.

3. There will be less focus on ROI and performance metrics – creativity will prevail

Six months ago, all us B2B marketers were hearing was “what was the click‐through rate on this?” or “what’s the conversion on that?” Now it’s “how can we do something that makes the most of a bad situation?” That, my friends, is progress! 

During these testing times, people understand that results aren’t going to be comparable to the ‘norm’ which, in my opinion, gives marketers the opportunity to have more creative freedom. Let your creativity go wild and if you’re not a creative person then find someone who is. Your buyers won’t remember the businesses that were pandering to them in this crisis, but they might remember the brands that stuck their head above the parapet and did something different. 

While Jason Miller was at LinkedIn he used to talk about the “forgettable middle”. Please don’t get stuck in that place. 

At Raconteur, we’re working with some of the biggest brands in B2B to help them reshape their strategy for both the short‐term dislocation and also to reflect the longer‐term changes we see happening; ranging from revisions in purchasing procedures to changes in the way that potential buyers consume content. It’s not straightforward. After all, months of planning went into their 2020 strategy, you can’t craft a Plan B replacement over a one‐hour Zoom meeting.

However, it is important that changes are quick as well as creative. It’s also important we all acknowledge that plans can be quickly revised if the new normal isn’t what everyone expected.