‘At least next year we’ll be back to normal…’ It feels like we’re all sick of hearing and saying that – and if we’ve learned anything from the last two years, it’s that we should expect the unexpected in the year ahead.
While restrictions and lockdowns have disappeared and reappeared, B2B marketers have been theorising and strategising about how they can bypass the challenges of limited face-to-face interaction while keeping brand presence healthy and customers engaged. Innovative ideas across all channels came to life in 2020 and 2021 – such as virtual events and product launches, as well as direct mail which added Covid-19 themes to attract customer attention and gain traction across social media platforms.
So, what have we learned in the last two years and what lessons does it give us for where we should focus for 2022?
Keep the Covid mindset
Perhaps there’s a more palatable term, but keeping Covid in mind will be vital to budgets and plans for the coming year. New variants and ongoing travel restrictions may mean, for example, that planned live events have to go virtual or at least hybrid, and it’s possible that a sustained return to face-to-face customer visits is further away than we hoped. Time to look at how to flex formats and content to these unpredictable conditions and think about professionalising your everyday virtual communication where necessary. Analyse your webcam quality, do some on-camera training with teams to practice verbal delivery and body language, and reassess branding to ensure it has impact in the virtual environment. Can certain colours stand out on screen a bit better? Do you need more banners and collateral printed to use in the backgrounds of web-based meetings and events? Methods of communication that seemed temporary in Spring 2020 are embedded now, so think about how to make them better on every level.
B2B brands are increasingly turning to video for visual impact and maximum engagement across digital channels, and this trend will certainly intensify through 2022. Product demos, customer case studies, brief explainers – all these types of video in short, bite-size pieces make it simple for target audiences to digest complex information. Brochure content can be brought to life visually, and technical or trend-led content delivered by company subject matter experts is a great way of giving prospects insight into company culture and the humans behind the product or service. In 2022, video should be a default part of the comms mix for any B2B campaign, with varying formats and treatments for different platforms, from web to social.
B2B brands are appreciating the potential value of considered social media activity more than ever. LinkedIn, for example, has evolved from a CV-hosting, job-search platform to a booming information and thought-leadership projection hub. It’s become the go-to for B2B marketers to target their audience directly beyond e-shots and direct mail, with a combination of earned and closely targeted paid activity. The possibilities are endless and with a new Creator Mode1 now coming into play, there are increased opportunities for product and marketing specialists to amplify messages and share helpful personal insights. Now is a good time to revisit your social strategy and think critically about how to optimise your content and approach to maximise value from these platforms.
The customer is still king – and this applies well after the sales process is complete. And happy customers are the diamonds in the B2B marketing mine. If potential customers value anything, it’s proof of success. We all know this on a personal level too – reading reviews before you buy something has become an essential part of the customer journey. B2B brands should be using their satisfied customers as much as possible for video testimonials, written case studies for sales tools to support PR activity, and to bring product benefits to life at events and exhibitions, even virtual ones. Customer endorsements are probably the most valuable B2B sales tool, so there needs to be a concerted effort from sales and marketing to get them to share their success stories. If there is to be another period where meeting and greeting and seeing products in person is compromised, strong case studies in a variety of formats are a vital element of your socially distanced sales effort.
The digital drive is not a solo journey
According to Salesforce’s seventh edition of its ‘State of Marketing’, 90% of marketers saw an upturn in digital engagement in 20202. ‘Put work into digital’ is ultimately the message, but this doesn’t mean print should be neglected – in fact, marrying up efforts and budget across digital and conventional channels maximises reach and a variety of formats increases engagement and allows you to layer campaigns to build understanding and advance prospects along the buyer journey. Short punchy material for social posts, banner ads and email shots can be a strong starting point, but balance this with longer form content and other formats when the customer is ready to take a deeper dive. A provocative thought-leadership post with an accompanying ad driving to a detailed educational piece that can be downloaded or shared as a physical asset can close the circle on messaging and help to tell the fuller story.
We‘ve had to help our clients through a tough time since 2020, with many tried and tested comms approaches turned on their head. Whether it’s providing crisis communications or helping with virtual product launches, agencies with deep knowledge of the target audience and multi-channel experience can help to deliver strong, integrated communications solutions that yield exceptional results, no matter the situation.
Yet again, the new year has an air of unpredictability about it. But good preparation and close collaboration with trusted partners can help B2B brands adapt and create positive business opportunities in a fast-changing market space.