30 second summary:
- COVID-19 has decimated budgets and extended the B2B sales cycle for everything but the most important factors most businesses need to run.
- As economies reopen and the path to recovery continues, the brands that will reach prospects this year and then become buyers in 2021 will take a people-centric approach by listening first, then talking to their audience.
- To stay competitive, B2B companies need to pursue human-centric marketing approaches with a digital twist that will help them engage, hold, and connect with their audience online.
COVID-19 has drastically changed the B2B marketing landscape for 2020 and beyond. You had to change your perspective, strategy, and business goals overnight before you could proceed. As with any sudden economic shift, those who adapt quickly and apply industry best practices will survive these troubled times. And those who fall behind in adoption will be even further behind. A key point has emerged from COVID-19. Where previously only the conversation was discussed, it is now clear that your marketing approach must be customer-oriented and that companies must become more “human” in their marketing approach. A post-COVID-19 era will require empathic marketing.
COVID-19 changed the mindset of the B2B buyer overnight
The B2B marketing mentality is out of date. In complex industries, B2B marketing has adopted the traditional marketing approach by supporting direct sales, collaborating at trade shows and bringing out print media.
While some marketers may have added digital marketing to their marketing mix, B2B marketers across multiple industries have traditionally relied on traditional methods to attract customers.
COVID-19 came as a shock to the traditional system. This led to a forced digital transformation. Overnight, the best ways to get new customers disappeared.
Trade shows went dark and sales teams couldn’t schedule face-to-face meetings. Customer meetings and acquisition tactics went online. And that sudden speed was brutal for traditional B2B industries that had to adapt quickly.
And if the mindset of the B2B buyer wasn’t already complicated, buyers in this area are even more cautious with their purchases today. The B2B sales process now requires further maintenance, persuasion and the buyer cycles have become even longer.
You should be ready to adjust your buyer’s journey accordingly, making sure you include more (and new) digital touchpoints.
Introduction of new digital and people-centered approaches
The ground has shifted. Your traditional marketing approach is no longer effective in the current COVID-19 environment. Marketing teams need to take a more personal, people-centered approach. And to diversify your marketing with digital frameworks.
Ironically, COVID-19 accelerated expected B2B marketing trends. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, future-oriented B2B marketers were already discussing a better approach.
This approach included ideas focused on human-centered marketing based on personalization, account-based marketing, and digital marketing tactics aimed at building relationships directly with customers. This tactic is based on empathy.
COVID-19 has now accelerated these ideas. And marketing teams will have to adapt to stay competitive in 2021.
The expectations and perspectives of B2B customers have changed after COVID-19. When B2B companies are adapting quickly, the digital marketing playing field offers tactics for effective lead generation. And it’s cheaper and effective to be right in front of your customers.
Three natural ways companies can use empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Where B2B is known to be boring and unemotional, COVID-19 has generated a lot of emotions. People have lost their jobs. Marketing budgets have been cut. Family members got sick. Rather, everything about COVID-19 was emotional.
Because of this change, it is now very important for B2B marketers to connect with their customers with empathy.
Empathy will enable them to speak more closely to the pains, challenges, and needs of their clients in their current state. An intimate, open conversation will build a trusting corporate brand that offers lasting trust and customer loyalty.
When you use empathy in your marketing, you can boldly navigate COVID-19 and make more meaningful connections with your audience. Everything starts with listening. Here are three ways to practice empathy in your marketing.
1) Use social media platforms to build conversations
COVID-19 eliminated face-to-face meetings and trade shows. Now B2B companies must seize the opportunity to create these authentic connections online.
Social media is a vehicle for personal contacts. In the B2B industry, LinkedIn offers B2B professionals the opportunity to exchange information on industry-related and personal topics.
Use LinkedIn to notify customers and start empathetic conversations. At this point, messaging should remain friendly, helpful, and educational – not salable.
2) Meet customers wherever they are online
People build communities naturally. And we build communities with people on issues that are important to us. This is the strength of digital forums. Forums are specific topics where a group of like-minded people can contribute ideas and have constructive discussions.
In the B2B area, digital forums offer the opportunity to have a sensitive ear for your audience. What are they fighting with? How can you engage positively in the conversation? Listening (but also engagement) is a natural way to be more human in your B2B marketing.
3) Build a community through content
With extended buying cycles, it’s now harder to grab a B2B customer’s attention.
According to a recent study by MarTech and Focus Vision, B2B readers consume an average of 13 pieces of content per day. And with recent events, B2B decision-makers are tougher in their purchasing decisions and take even longer.
Integrate the conversation further into content marketing. Content marketing is a means of showing more empathy, building relationships, and building lasting trust with your customers.
You can use content to further cultivate these conversations through editorial blog posts, social media content, webinars, and downloadable content.
By keeping your content helpful and relevant, you create trust and loyalty with your ideal customer. And where this was the case before COVID-19, it is even more mandatory right now. Your customer craves personalization and wants to work with trusted brands.
Use traditional content, but also be creative using community content. Digital communities such as LinkedIn comment areas, forums, and Facebook communities offer a community-centric approach that allows you to understand exactly what your customers need.
Create content that is talkative, helpful, and not deaf to your client’s current issues during COVID-19. Engaging and building a community can be a very effective way of being empathetic with your audience.
Get human in your marketing to reach customers in 2021
COVID-19 has changed the B2B landscape. It is now tougher to reach your ideal customer and your customers are demanding a different tone than your marketing.
Use the empathy to keep in touch and continue to build relationships with your customers. Content marketing is an effective marketing strategy to help you make this shift.
Use social media platforms, content assets and online forums to connect directly to your customers and start conversations. And as it should be in all of your marketing, empathy is at the heart of this marketing talk.
Megan Thudium is the founder of MTC | The Content Agency, a content agency that works with German B2B brands and is expanding into the North American market worldwide. Your agency employs content marketing, SEO, and thought leadership best practices to drive awareness, credibility, and leadership through content marketing. She is an expert on everything to do with B2B content marketing and her strategic marketing insights have been featured in publications such as Forbes, Business.com, Upwork.com, and Managers.org.uk. You can find Megan on LinkedIn who is actively sharing insights into B2B content marketing.