B2B marketers almost everywhere are relieved to switch their calendars to 2021. 2020 was a difficult year in many ways, although there were some notable bright spots.
But what should marketers expect by 2021, especially if they’re marketing globally? What is the online environment for global B2B digital marketing, digital consumption and social media activities around the world?
Fortunately, we have enough data to be reasonably certain about some aspects of 2021.
The data predicts that:
Internet use is becoming more and more mobile.
There is currently more activity on mobile devices than on desktops. According to a study from September 2020, device usage breaks out accordingly:
- 50.2% via cell phones
- 47.1% via desktops and laptops
- 2.6% over tablets
- 0.06% via other devices (e.g. game consoles)
This has significant ramifications for B2B marketers. Mobile integration needs to be a priority in 2021, although for many B2B marketers it’s priority for most of 2020.
The most obvious implication of this is that websites have to be cell phone friendly. A good place to start is by checking your website’s URL on Google’s mobile test. This is a quick way to gauge how well your site is performing on mobile devices. The Google tool also gives you some specific suggestions on what to technically do with your page so that it can be better used on mobile devices.
This is a good first step, but not the last. These other aspects of the mobile experience also need to be considered:
- Page speed (loading times of the site)
- Image optimization
- Mobile-first website layout
- Content readability
This aspect of the user experience can become more or less a priority for global marketers depending on where their campaigns are running as the speed of mobile connections can vary widely around the globe. The following table from my last webinar, Social Media Reaching Global Markets and Creative Content Development, can be helpful in determining how fast the connection speed is for your target audience.
Internet use is becoming increasingly social.
According to recent research by Datareportal, “Social media accounts for more than a third of our connected time. We now spend an average of almost 2½ hours a day on social platforms. “
The use and acceptance of social media has increased over the past year. And people don’t just comment on photos posted by their friends, either. The use of social media for brand research has increased significantly. “Globally, an average of 44% of those surveyed between the ages of 16 and 64 use social media websites for brand research,” said Datareportal.
Oddly enough, US users are less likely to find and research brands on social media. Only 32% of US consumers use social media for brand research. This puts the US in 35th place among countries that report how people search for brands around the world.
Even among B2B buyers, social media has become a top channel for researching brands, as the following graphic shows:
The B2B buyer journey is increasingly self-directed.
The B2B buyer’s journey – also in 2020 – was largely self-directed. According to the table below, 27% of shoppers’ time is spent on independent online research and 18% on independent offline research. That’s 45% of the time shoppers spent doing self-directed research. Compare that to just 17% of their time with potential suppliers.
B2B buyers now spend more than 250% more time researching products themselves when meeting with potential suppliers.
This shows exactly how important it is for B2B companies to make it easier for buyers to find and consume their content, be it through the company’s website (via a mobile device or desktop) or through social media. B2B buyers are self-taught now, and B2B marketers need to help make that happen.
When B2B decision-makers spend so much time training themselves, where and how do they research exactly? Here is your answer according to the study previously cited by Datareportal. This list shows the percentage of B2B decision-makers who say they discover new products or services through each of these channels or activities:
- 42.9% supplier websites
- 40.6% search engine results
- 37.6% video sites (EG YouTube)
- 36.6% social media websites
- 36.4% printed newspapers and magazines
- 36.3% online newspapers and magazines
- 35.9% online advertising
- 34.7% blogs
- 34.0% television advertising
- 28.1% radio advertising
The site structure must reflect regional usage.
It is clear that if B2B buyers want to do so much self-directed research, B2B marketers need to make this research as easy as possible for them. This is where global marketers have a business-critical priority that local or regional marketers don’t need to worry too much about: language.
Your customer training materials must be in the language of your prospects.
This poses two main problems:
- The reader’s or researcher’s experience with your content
- The search engine optimization for this content in several languages
Basically, both topics are about data structuring. However, delivering the best user experience can be difficult. We have seen vendor websites where the page content was optimized for the language of the readers but the navigation was still in English.
Fortunately, it is possible to fix these issues, or even work around them, by bringing a solution online. For one of our customers whose website has pretty poor language optimization, we’ve added more calls-to-action to contact sales. Even if a buyer views product data in the wrong language, we can make it easy for them to get to know the product – in their own language – almost immediately.
Optimizing multilingual content for search engines is a bit more complex. Here are some of the best practices we recommend:
- Keep the content in separate web addresses for each language. So don’t mix languages on the same website.
- Avoid language translations that are next to each other.
- Consider linking each language version of a page.
- Use robots.txt to prevent search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your website.
- If the content on regional websites is identical or very similar, e.g. B. English variation content on a German website, use the rel-canonical tag to make Google aware of the preferred destination.
B2B marketers also need to focus on the structure of their website so that content can be served to the right person in the right language. The following table, borrowed from the Google support pages, shows how this can best be achieved:
Content marketing best practices remain important.
This is another effect of self-guided B2B buyer trips. Because content is so powerful in the sales process, it is vital for B2B marketers to develop the right content so it can be served to the right person at the right time.
Here are the types of content B2B marketers use the most, according to research by the Content Marketing Institute and marketing professionals.
And here are the sales channels that marketers have used the most.
Note that social media has finally beaten email as the primary sales channel for B2B marketers by 2%. Social media, email, and the company’s website are clearly leaders when it comes to sales. No other canals come close.
Successful B2B marketers measure performance.
This isn’t a new trend for 2021, but it has been gaining traction recently. If you remember Hack a few years ago, most marketers haven’t been able to tie their income directly to their social media work or even to their content marketing. That has changed a lot, although marketing attribution is still a challenge for most businesses.
It is also important what B2B marketers measure. The metrics shown in the following table are most commonly used in content marketing right now.
The measurement is especially important – and complex – for marketers who manage accounts worldwide. What works well in one country or region may not work nearly as well in another. Global digital marketing campaigns don’t just have to be tracked by region and / or country.
This can cause some headaches (IP addresses don’t always accurately reflect where users really are), but there are ways to make this work. Even free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console have impressive features and are often enough to keep a close eye on the results.
The effects of COVID-19 remain.
Our last point reflects a new condition in B2B marketing that most of us are still trying to fully figure out. COVID-19 was the single biggest driver for 2020, and its effects will continue well into 2021, if not beyond. These effects have absolutely had an impact on online behavior, including how B2B marketers can connect with their customers during the pandemic.
Here are some of the changes COVID-19 has made online, according to recent research:
- 43% spend longer on social media
- 42% spend longer on messaging services
- 36% spend more time with mobile apps
None of this, of course, reflects the economic consequences of COVID-19 that are still developing. Some industries have been left nearly untouched economically while others like travel have been devastated. We’ll see how things play out in 2021. It is possible that there will be a significant economic boom after the vaccine is distributed.
B2B Global Digital Marketing in 2021 and beyond
B2B marketing is constantly evolving. That is what makes it so challenging and interesting. B2B marketers need to keep learning – learning new technologies, learning new B2B marketing strategies, learning from their own data so they can customize their campaigns. In this sense, 2021 will be no different from the previous year.