Think back to pre-pandemic times. Remember when everyone made their predictions for 2020 and what B2B marketing would look like? Predictions like focusing more effort on video, TikTok being a viable platform, and much more.
Then a pandemic hit and threw everyone in marketing for a loop. Those trends were thrown out of the window. People went into fight or flight mode just to keep the lights on for their company. No one could predict a pandemic and the foundational impact it would have on the market as a whole. These challenges forced B2B marketers to re-evaluate everything from their offering to their approach to marketing because frankly, what used to work wasn’t going to work anymore.
However, sometimes, when your back is against the wall it can bring the best out of you. I find that my best B2B marketing ideas come when presented with a challenge, and 2020 was certainly challenging. According to Salesforce’s 2021 State of Marketing, 90% of marketers interviewed said that the pandemic changed their engagement strategy for the better. While the pandemic caused a lot of businesses to struggle, in times of uncertainty, marketers learned how to innovate.
In this article, I’ll cover the B2B marketing trends of 2021 and also those that have emerged in 2020, share outstanding B2B marketing examples, and give my prediction on where 2022 will take us for B2B marketing strategies.
B2B Trends for 2021 – The Pandemic Pivot
A year ago, marketing was in a free fall. A lot of innovation and removal of unnecessary practices happened quickly. In the midst of all of the chaos of change, lessons started emerging and patterns started popping up. Below are what I have noticed over these past 18 months since the pandemic hit and how B2B businesses responded.
- Remote Work’s Impact on B2B Marketing
One positive result of COVID-19’s impact on marketing was a resurgence of empathy and authentic marketing. In a work-from-home life, it forced us all to show a fuller view of our true lives, not just who we are at work. Your co-workers are now familiar with your kids or pets popping up on the screen. Even your customers are used to it. This has introduced new levels of transparency that consumers not only expect from each other but from marketing too. B2B marketing can truly lean on this desire for transparency by incorporating it into it’s messaging. From landing pages to newsletters the need for more authentic marketing is front and center, and in 2021 B2B marketing hopped on board.
- Customer Experience Over Everything
This past year revealed the deep need for businesses to stop focusing on random marketing and instead look to consumers’ expectations for experiences. Think about it: your business is focused on bringing in leads and opportunities. To do this, you must perfect specific touchpoints. Otherwise, you can easily miss out on creating a high-quality experience. As marketers, the pandemic reminded us to be much more empathetic to the overall customer experience.
Adobe’s latest Digital Trends report claims that companies that had already invested in customer experience flourished in the second half of 2020. This was pointed out over any other marketing channel for them. It’s interesting to see that a company as big and innovative as Adobe has put a hyper-focus on customer experience.
- Use Data to Understand What Works
Big data is not leaving any time soon. Yet, data still fails to be fully utilized by most B2B marketers. Businesses have an ever-growing pool of intelligence data on their customers which can enable them to build a robust marketing strategy. With that in mind, the value of data lies not in the data itself, but in how you implement it into your overall marketing strategy.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, segmenting your database is key to unraveling the mysteries of your data. Segmentation allows for a deeper understanding of your current customers and optimization of your current marketing efforts. You end up doing more of the things that work, and either abandoning or improving what’s not working.
Even with the recent crackdown on third-party data, data-driven marketing is still at the forefront of all marketing best practices. It gives marketers insights to deliver better, more personalized, and relevant marketing messages and discover the best channels of success for their business.
With slimmer marketing budgets from the pandemic, marketers had to become more accountable to the business impact of their efforts. They also have had to get creative with how they brought in customers. Using their current data became a far more useful tool.
- Hybrid events aren’t dead
There has been a rumor floating around that hybrid events are on their way out. They are either too costly or aren’t engaging to their attendees. I would argue that the success of hybrid events is largely dependent on how they are executed.
Hybrid events are not a new concept within the marketing community, but a channel that most marketing professionals were unfamiliar with. With most events being canceled, postponed, or moved to virtual in 2020, hybrid and virtual events rose quickly to popularity.
Fast-forward to 2021, COVID-19 is not going away any time soon — even if places are opening up. With that in mind, marketers have to stretch themselves to meet the needs of their audience. With Zoom fatigue setting in, a desire to see people in person and caution remaining high for attendees to stay healthy, hybrid events will continue to rise in popularity. According to Bizzabo, an overwhelming 97% of event marketers believe there will be more hybrid events in 2021 than ever before.
- Social justice issues impact B2B Brands
With social injustice being brought into the spotlight, there is a push for brands to make a stance and take action regarding these issues. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, in 2020 65% of consumers said they are looking for brands that reflect their values. 43% said they’ll switch loyalties if companies don’t align with their beliefs. And 63% of Americans believe that brands that issue a statement in support of racial equity need to follow up with concrete action.
B2B Marketing Examples to Inspire Your Strategy
In the spirit of these new innovative times, I wanted to share with you some B2B marketing examples that have stood out to me personally. These examples are great ways to level up your business in creative ways and step out of linear practices.
Drift gets rid of forms on their website. That’s it. That’s the example.
For more context, Drift lead the #noforms movement in 2017 that innovated alternative options to capture leads besides leads. Their platform is a lead gen tool based on capturing user information through a chatbot solution instead of a form. Removing forms feels like a big risk from an outsider’s perspective. It can negatively impact sales and start an internal war with your marketing and sales team.
Eventually, Drift decided to practice what they preached. The company decided to drop its website forms and utilize its platform to its fullest potential. This resulted in 63% of their pricing page visitors to start a conversation with their sales team, as opposed to 2% by filling out their lead gen forms
By getting creative and picking forms as the enemy, Drift found success. As customer experience continues to be a focus for bigger brands, it’s time that the small businesses hopped on that train. We should not limit our marketing efforts to just forms or repetitive marketing practices that inconvenience the user. Instead, let’s meet the customer on their journey. This boosts trust amongst potential customers and the quality of customers.
HubSpot leverages INBOUND to launch new product features
HubSpot hosts an annual conference called INBOUND featuring a variety of high-quality speakers and workshops. This event is incredible and one that I carve out time in my work week to attend. What’s great about this event, besides the content, is that at its core it is still a HubSpot event. You aren’t just going to learn about new trends in marketing, but you are also learning about the HubSpot product. They take time to share the new rollout of features and how they are leveling up their platform. It’s an easy pitch that naturally weaves its way into their conference since the target audience and content are so relevant to their platform.
So, you might be thinking, “how does this relate to my marketing strategy?” My recommendation: put on an event, bring in leaders to share their thoughts and ideas, and leverage it to share about your product in an authentic way. Sometimes when getting creative, we have to go back to the strategies that work. Afterall, who says you can’t still use traditional channels to promote their new products? It turns out you can teach a new dog old tricks. I think that’s how the saying goes.
The Juice gets over 270 high-quality waitlist members–with no advertising dollars spent
The Juice is a content curation platform for B2B sales and marketing professionals. While in stealth mode as a pre-launch High Alpha Studio company, they wanted to build a robust waitlist of new members for their platform so they needed to find a new way to get in front of their audience.
The Juice has always been keen on challenging norms of marketing. Instead of spending more money on an ad campaign, they took that budget and matched waitlist sign-ups with a donation to the Colts Kicking the Stigma initiative seeking to raise awareness for mental health disorders. After running their new campaign for a month, they were able to get over 270 high-quality sign-ups and raise over $2,500 for their charity of choice. Two lessons to learn here:
- You can be just as successful reaching the right people in more of an authentic way than with advertising dollars.
- Get creative with a cause. Social issues and change can be a great way for your company to build awareness and also create brand authenticity.
How B2B Marketing is Changing and the Future
Marketing in B2B has seen so much change in the past 18 months and will continue to chart an unpredictable path in the near future. As stated before, patterns have emerged and here are my two cents on what the future could hold for B2B marketing.
Gone are the days where you can just whip up an email or a blog and assume that readers will read it just because it is in front of them. We need to get out of the ‘build it and they will come’ mindset and shift towards the ‘build it FOR them and they will come’.
Rise of Alternatives to Third-Party Cookies
In 2023, there will be no more third-party cookies. Google postponed this rollout for an extra year and this new timeline gives modern day marketers enough time to plan for a cookieless world. Build your first-party data, segment your data effectively, and build your own content. Learn more on how to prepare for a world without third-party cookies here.
It is more difficult than ever to reach buyers. This makes it more important than ever to orchestrate digital and human touches. A human, personalized touch is often more trustworthy, and thereby more effective. Learn more of how this can work for your start-up in a previous blog here.
While 2021 has been a year of new learning and discovery for B2B marketing, the train can’t stop here. Keep testing out new channels. Challenge yourself to push past norms and linear thinking of marketing to bring future success to your business.
Good luck, and keep experimenting!