- What b2b marketing trends should you know about this year?
- Should digital still take center stage in you marketing strategy?
- Automation and AI were quite instrumental in 2020. What will be their place in 2021?
- How did the pandemic impact how you do business? How will you nullify those effects and thrive regardless?
- These are some of the questions we will be seeing to answer as we explore the b2b marketing trends to expect in 2021
It’s a sweeping feeling across the business world that 2021 will be a year fraught with uncertainties and many unknown variables. But underneath it all is the desire to break through and have a better year than the previous one.
2020 disrupted the normal way of doing business. “Live”, “physical”, “face-to-face”, these words were consigned to the back burner as far as networking, sales pitches and deal closing went. The shift to digital went fully global in such a drastic manner and suddenly, things we were used to doing face to face had to be done online. Companies found themselves implementing digital marketing strategies overnight, in addition to figuring out how to market online, and even more importantly, getting previously non-digitized clients to accept and trust the digital way of doing business.
In a nutshell, 2020 was one big learning curve, but one that we all hope will peak and bear fruit this year.
So, as far as marketing trends go, what should we expect, generally? Read on to learn more.
Top 20 B2B Marketing Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2021
1. Your Content Will Need to be Multi Format and More Interactive
Why multi-format content? Because
- You stimulate the customer’s senses in different ways when your content is dynamic, and
- Your customers want to consume their content in different formats. Some love visual, others prefer audio formats, yet others would rather sit back and have a long read.
Regardless of format however, content needs to be even more interactive, therefore your efforts should go into generating content that
- Engages and is credible.
- Provides real value by solving their problems. Show people the “how” of things.
People know that you cannot be everything to them. you aren’t the antidote to all their problems. However, they need to know that you can back up your claims with credible actions.
Lastly, people need to feel that they are at the center of conversations. Don’t just write an article and then think that’s it. People will be looking to interact with brands that invite them to quizzes, hold demo webinars for them, have interactive discussions on social media, etc. Aligning yourself to be one of these brands will win you some high quality leads.
2. Artificial Intelligence Becomes More Dominant
AI will continue to dominate the technology space, further enabling
- Data analysis and insight-driven decision making
- Faster customer service through chatbots
- Automation of routine tasks such as Cold calling
- Streamlining team operations
Your strategy for 2021 should be driven towards finding out how to apply AI in your data, scale-up content production and outreach, listen to your customers and provide better service to them.
Conversational marketing is one of the ways you’ll see AI applied in shaping marketing strategy. With AI, you can give your communication more context.
- On LinkedIn, you can customize the topics you discuss to suit the interest of your audiences. In addition, you can send connection requests to your prospects or customers and have real conversations with them. In this way AI will be instrumental in reducing friction in your interaction with customers.
3. Brands Get More Serious With Intent Targeting.
Do you know who is looking for your brand or when they are looking?
The internet is a big place and without the necessary tools to understand web traffic’s digital footprint, you will have a difficult time finding who among the millions of web browsers makes up your target audience.
When you understand the digital footprint of your target audience, you can activate an aggressive intent targeting strategy.
Information such as,
- Who visited your website?
- Who read what content?
- Who downloaded and what did they download?
- What search terms did your visitors use?
All this information makes up intent data and businesses will be leveraging it in their marketing this year.
4. You Will Need To Do a Lot More to Elevate Your Brand Voice
Over time, people have strived to find a place where they fit best in the “vast space” that is the online world. This need has led to emergence of more niche “spaces” and “groups” where individuals feel safe to interact with like-minded people.
If you are going to launch a social media strategy in 2021, you may find that the traditional social media channels will not be sufficient when you want to reach people with more specific interests. In addition, a google ad in ad networks may not do the trick as you may be casting your net too wide.
You might find that more personalized advertising on channels like Reddit, or a well-placed post that targets a key account on LinkedIn will do the trick.
This might seem like putting in too much work to elevate your voice, but in a business environment that’s becoming more congested, getting heard means identifying where your key accounts are playing and the talking to them one on one.
You’ll find that at the end of the day, your most strategic partnerships will come when you invest in one-on-one relationships.
5. SQLs and ABM Become More Serious Metrics
Last year, we delved quite a bit into marketing qualified leads (MQLs). While we established that this classification of accounts is important, it shouldn’t be the place you dwell on this year.
MQL classification needs to happen, but, even more important are your sales qualified accounts because that is where the money is. On a deeper level, account based marketing will drive more engagement and create more value for your company.
In addition, for day to day operations, marketing should chase deeper metrics such as:
- Account engagement
- Pipeline velocity
- Close rate
- Costs, e.g, Customer acquisition cost
Armed with these performance metrics, marketing can predict a company’s growth trajectory and put their budget into areas that will support said growth.
6. More Team Integration
As ABM and SQLs continue to rise in importance, marketing and sales teams will become more synonymous, with lead generation and lead qualification as a shared goal.
The line between where marketing and sales roles begin and end in lead generation are increasingly getting blurry. It was often the case that marketing would create a strategy and run all the relevant marketing communication. While they might continue to play a more dominant role in the latter, the strategy bit needs to be more collaborative.
At the end of the day, marketing need to support sales to sell. Sales on the other hand, will generate higher revenue which will in turn support marketing budget.
So, if all teams are aligned on what needs to get done how and when, everyone wins.
7. Original Content Still Rules the Day
“Content is King”. This was true a decade ago, and it still remains true now. How else would you stand out from your competitors if not with genuine and original content?
You might argue that everyone is creating original and genuine content, so how can you stand out by doing the same thing?
- Through an aggressive content strategy that focuses on long term gains. In so doing, you will build your audience slowly but steadily.
- By trusting the google algorithm. As long as what you are doing supports the customer, you will get better ranking than your competitors.
- By investing in the right skills. Marketing online is now an area that needs serious dedicated skills. If you want to grow big, your teams need to know important digital marketing tactics that make them competitive. These include:
- Knowledge of different content formats and how to create those
- How to create the best content for your brand
- How to build your subscriber and email list
- SEO and related practices such as keyword research
- Best tools in the market to support your brand vision
- How to get the most ROI from your paid promotion strategies
8. Voice Search Gains More Practical Use
One of the most fun inventions of all times is voice bots such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana (also known as voice assistants). The covid-19 period gave people ample time to experiment, practice and discover new technology, not excluding these exciting voice bots.
While they are fun for personal use, voice bots are also quite practical for business. Here are some interesting statistics for you to consider regarding voice bots adoption:
- By 2022, shopping using voice will be a $40 billion industry
- Online search makes up 47% of voice searching
- Voice is popular among the young and old. Older audiences use voice because it makes them feel tech savvy.
- 58% of people loo for local businesses by voice
- Most voice searches are conducted on mobile
Considering these statistics, and given that practically everyone above the age of 18 now owns a smartphone, it’s important to do the following in 2021:
- Make your content discoverable by search
- Make your company’s specifics and its employees searchable by voice
9. More Emphasis on Customer Retention
Continuous customer acquisition is important for a business to grow and remain profitable. But customer retention is also just as important (if not more so).
Given that the b2b sales cycle is quite long, it’s vital for b2b companies to retain their existing customers as those are the ones who sustain business during tough economic times. This is even more true now than ever before as companies regroup from the difficult year experienced last year. Improving customer retention can increase profits by up to 95%. That’s because it’s a lot easier to sell a product to a customer you already have a relationship with. More so, acquiring a new customer can be up to 25 times more costly than retaining one.
Cherish your older customers; if they were heavily impacted by the covic-19 pandemic, offer them any support that will help them come back on top. Granted, profit is important, but now is the time to let your “human face” shine through.
10. Omni-Channel Takes Precedence Over Preference for One Channel
If you’ve been agonizing about the best channel to use for your b2b marketing, it’s time to stop focusing on one channel and instead go omni-channel.
Here’s why adopting an omni-channel marketing approach makes more sense.
According to research, 74% of b2b buyers (most of whom are millennials by the way), conduct most of their research online before they contact a brand. During this process they (the prospective buyers), consult different avenues (websites, FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc.). They also visit review sites and consult other customers to learn more about their experience with a brand.
Therefore, assuming your brand focuses its marketing efforts only on writing blogs. If your customers also visit Youtube, FaceBook and a few review sites, your will miss your mark.
This is not however to mean that you should spread your marketing budget into every channel available today. No. this only means that when you understand the personas of your buyers, you will know which channels they visit the most. Don’t just market on only one of those channels; target all of them.
The upside for your brand for putting in all this effort? You customer retention rates will skyrocket (by up to 91% more)
11. Predictive Analysis
You have probably noticed how some online shops seem to always know what you are looking for. After a surfing session online, random stores pop up in your browser or mailbox, offering you relevant recommendations.
Predictive analytics is what makes this possible. Amazon and eBay use it and so do Netflix, among others.
You too can use your audience’s past online behavior patterns to predict what they are likely to buy, and then recommend a relevant product in the future.
With predictive analytics, attracting, nurturing and retaining customers will become a lot easier this year. If you use predictive analytics,
- You will experience a higher conversion rate because product recommendations are more relevant
- You will discover and take advantage of cross-selling opportunities
- You can optimize your marketing campaigns to generate higher quality leads from more relevant audiences
12. Augmented Reality Takes Video to A New Level
Video content is some of the best content for driving engagement.
While it’s true that video has always been popular among b2c audiences, 2020 research from the Content Marketing Institute shows that shows that video marketing is popular among 71% of B2B marketers as compared to 66% of b2c marketers.
In addition, 59% of company execs actually prefer video over text, and who can blame them? B2b content can be quite difficult to internalize. A white paper can be quickly summarized into an eye-catching video, thereby cutting down reading time significantly and increasing retention.
In other research, 54% of surveyed execs say that they share video content with their colleagues weekly. The only thing is, execs prefer to watch video on a business website than go to Youtube. So, as you do video in 2021, pay more attention to how it loos on your website than on Youtube.
Add Augmented reality to video and you take the experience to a whole new level. Using augmented reality, you can showcase different layers of your product in a way that will be quite memorable to the viewer.
13. Marketing Efforts Must Match Customers’ Demand for Speed And Convenience
How satisfied are your buyers with their experience?
Over the last few years, a lot has been said about buyer experience. Some of the factors to consider to provide the best buyer experience include:
- Using the right wording and tone when communicating about your product
- Choosing relevant communication channels
- Developing the right persona
At the center of customer experience is a company like Google, which has empowered users to find information by themselves whenever they want to. Customers want an experience that is in line with this experience. They want speed.
If your customers have to wait until a day (or an hour) later to find information about you, the simple fact is that: you will lose to your competition.
14. An Increase in Paid Advertising Investments
We cannot understate the importance of organic search. In fact, online brand success begins with organic search. Paid advertising comes in to complement existing organic efforts by giving your content a boost.
In other words, organic search helps you to build brand reputation and trust with content. Paid advertising on the other hand, makes content more discoverable on search engines such as Google and Bing.
When you pay google for instance, your content gets featured prominently at the top of search results pages, thereby increasing the likelihood of more views and clicks.
Given that paid ads attract twice as many clicks as organic content, you are likely to see a lot more of your competitors going the paid search route in 2021.
15. Email Marketing Will Go Less Conventional
Most marketers swear by email, and it is highly likely that they will continue to use it this year. But even with this level of confidence, email open rates can be quite discouraging particularly if you still insist on conventional email formats.
One of the ways that marketers use to boost email open rates is personalization. Some simple ways marketers have personalized email communication in the past include:
- Addressing the reader by their name
- Email subject and content that has context and is relevant
- Keeping things relevant to the recipient’s demographics and interests
These personalization efforts have been shown to increase an email’s chances of being opened by up to 35% more.
But how about taking this a step further? Lengthy, wordy emails are what come to mind when you mention email marketing in b2b circles. But email doesn’t necessarily need to be this boring. With images, you can completely overhaul the loo of your emails and make them more interesting to read.
As the old adage goes: “An image is worth a thousand words”. You can bring this thinking to your email marketing plan so that instead of boring your audiences with long, wordy emails, you can capture your message using powerful and witty imagery. Don’t forget humor while you are at it!
16. LinkedIn Remains the B2B Marketing Channel of Choice
LinkedIn is rated the #1 platform for driving traffic to b2b websites. This has been the case for a while and will continue to be the trend in 2021.
With that said, here are some tips on how you can leverage LinkedIn to grow your business:
- First, if you don’t have a company page, create one
- Connect with relevant businesses and people
- Stay in touch with your connections by participating in industry discussions and posting relevant content
- Pay for visibility using the sponsored content feature.
- Create a group and invite participants
17. The Relevance of Local Search Continues
While it’s important to focus on SEO generally, local SEO is more often the key for getting online visibility especially for businesses that cater to a local client base.
Companies that use Google My business in 2021 will increase their local relevance by making themselves more searchable by people near them. Customers can find information such as company address, contact information, product information, product review, customer testimonials, etc.
Further, local businesses can complement their local seo efforts by listing in Yelp (or other online business directories) to make their google my business listings more visible.
Note: When listing, it’s very important that you provide genuine and authentic information. This will build trust in your business as a capable partner.
18. The Role of Influencer Marketing Continues to Elevate
Influencer marketing has traditionally been used by b2c marketers. By leveraging the social standing and social media followership of socialites, b2c brands, (such as fashion brands) have over the years succeeded in driving more popularity for their products.
Just as with b2c, b2b brands can also use influencer marketing to
- Raise brand awareness
- Build trust and improve their reputation
- Expand their customer base
Perhaps key for b2b brands is that often, micro influencers may have a more significant role in brand promotion than socialites or other industry influencers. This is especially the case for b2b brands that serve micro segments.
If you’ve been wondering whether you’d like to test the waters with influencer marketing in 2021, here are some statistics to give you some perspective:
- By 2022, the global spending for influencer marketing will reach $15 billion.
- The ROI for influencer marketing means it’s worth considering including in your 2021 marketing strategy. For every dollar spent on influencer marketing, you stand to make $5.20.
19. It Will Be Important to Eliminating Complexity In The B2B Purchase Journey
“The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy.” Those are the words of Brent Adamson, VP, Advisory, Gartner.
According to the Gartner’s Buyer Enablement Survey, majority of b2b buyers considered their purchase journey complicated. This is a challenge that needs to be solved going forward by both sales and marketing. But how can you do it?
Eliminating complexity in the b2b buying process is a challenge, given the number of stakeholders involved in a given purchase. However, a good place to start would be:
- Aligning the buying journey for the stakeholders
This means that you need to find a way to make stakeholders come to a consensus within the least amount of time and with as little friction as possible. For instance, knowing what is at stake for each stakeholder will limit the amount of time needed to move them closer to a decision.
- Anticipate your customers’ hurdles
Each customer faces unique challenges through their purchase journey. Some of these challenges can prevent a deal from moving forward. Maintain one on one touch with your customers so that you can have real conversations about challenges and help them with useful solutions.
- Provide information
Buyers are 2.8 more likely to have an easier purchase journey when they have the right information from their suppliers.
So, the question to ask yourself is, “On which side of buyer enablement will you fall in 2021?”
20. Brands Will Still Make Room For Outbound
Outbound may have gotten a bad rap over the years for being “inefficient” at marketing. Some reasons for this point of view include:
- It’s difficult to track the ROI of outbound
- Outbound messaging is not targeted, hence can be spammy.
- Outbound generally costs higher than inbound marketing
But one thing to consider is that even though most people have taken to doing more business online, there is always that group that won’t see your inbound messaging.
This is especially the case today, as most people are still juggling working form home amidst other personal duties such as home schooling their kids, catering to their elderly, grocery shopping and generally minding their homes.
With all these distractions, it will be difficult for most people to allocate time to personally window shop for a vendor online.
- So how about a timely brochure or newsletter in the post pitching yourself as their best option?
- Or a cold email delivered in the wee hours of the night while your prospect is catching up on their day’s work?
These might be the most convenient ways for some b2b customers to access brand information. If you find this to be the case for your audience, don’t hesitate to activate an outbound marketing strategy.
It’s important to note that your outbound marketing material still needs to be targeted for it to have a higher chance of converting your prospects.
That’s it for now! We hope that these trends will spark some ideas that will help you power up your marketing trend in 2021.
What other trends can you share with us?