17-12-2020

LESSONS LEARNED FROM AN UNEXPECTED YEAR

Helen looks back over a year of dramatic change that has also been a positive opportunity to think creatively about how businesses engage with customers and prospects.

Author: Helen Tolino

Looking back on the last 12 months, it’s hard to believe we began the year so full of anticipation for ‘AD2020’. This year, with its many landmark industry events, stood to be another significant marker on our AD journey and the roadmap of our specialist sectors. And so it has been, but not quite in the way we expected.

It’s poignant to think that we spent January 2020 working from home while our AD ‘home’ was refurbished. Little did we know that this would become the default for the rest of the year. We’re grateful for what our ‘dry run’ taught us early on about the nature of communication and collaboration when teams aren’t together in person. Since then, the fabric of our working lives has been unravelled, and we and our clients have sadly all had to adjust to interacting via email and video call.

We can all recall the mood of crisis that hung over many businesses in Spring 2020, when we worked with our clients to rapidly unpick plans and recraft communications strategies. That’s long since given way to a calmer sense of purpose and determination, a recognition that B2B marketing can and must continue, albeit with a distinct change in tone and greater emphasis on empathy and better listening.

Some of the mainstays of B2B lead generation – face-to-face meetings and live events in particular – have been removed from our ‘playbook’, replaced with virtual alternatives. It didn’t take long to discover that, no matter how sophisticated the technology, recreating the atmosphere and effectiveness of a live event often falls short when it comes to emotional engagement.  As Shireen wrote in June, it reinforced what we knew already – that “communication…is about two-way interaction, reciprocal conversation, building rapport, listening and reacting.”

We’ve enjoyed helping our clients think about how best to stay connected with their stakeholders and communicate their messages in different ways, without some of the conventional tools and channels of B2B marketing. We’ve turned our storytelling skills to newer forms of content, to planning and scripting virtual events, producing graphics and animations, developing audio-visual support materials, and creating fresh sales enablement tools that engage customers outside the showroom.

As we’ve retreated behind our screens, compelling visual content – already a critical element of B2B comms – has become a high priority. We’ve had to think laterally about how to continue to create good video material when live shoots have been out of the question, and to debunk some firmly-held myths about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to video.

It’s been a positive opportunity to think creatively about how businesses engage with customers and prospects when the usual platforms don’t exist, and the importance of keeping their needs front of mind when devising alternative approaches. It’s emphasised the role of the different touchpoints between brand and customer, and the need to identify the ‘moments of truth’ that drive buying decisions, even for significant capital investments.

Increasing frustration with lockdown life and the limitations on real-life connections have given us new insights into the reality of customer journeys, as they’re experienced by real humans rather than mapped on a marketing flow chart. We’ve witnessed a new appreciation of thoughtful marketing, personal touches and creative ways of grabbing attention when we’re digitally fatigued and emotionally distracted.

Above all, 2020 has reminded us that the fundamentals of good relationships and effective communications are only reinforced in challenging times. Yes, we’ve adapted to the conditions and the changing comms landscape and we’ll continue to evolve and find new solutions to our clients’ commercial challenges. But the essence of how we conduct business is unchanged. Trust, credibility, honesty and authenticity have been core values for us at AD for more than 30 years, and these foundations will keep us strong through 2021 and long into the future.