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B2b marketing in 2021: Why brands need to rethink audience engagement

Hannah Patel, Director, EMEA at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry explores the shifting behaviours and parameters of b2b marketing from embracing storytelling to harnessing technological advancements.

Hannah Patel, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

Director EMEA

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It’s a complex time to be a b2b marketer. With everyone working remotely, in-person events cancelled and face-to-face meetings no longer an option, COVID-19 has turned business on its head. As a result, effective audience engagement is more challenging than ever before.

While hope is on the horizon as countries continue rolling out mass vaccination programs, it’s unlikely that things will ever go completely back to ‘normal’. An evolution is taking place, as illustrated by the fact that half of b2b marketers are experimenting with new channels and actively trying to find new ways to tell their brand story, according to a new WARC study in association with Spotify.

B2b brands must be prepared to adapt, and quickly, if they want to survive in 2021, requiring marketers to urgently rethink their approach to audience engagement.

B2b marketers will need to resist talking about products and services, and instead focus on weaving storytelling throughout the business in an authentic way.

Hannah Patel

The competitive landscape

The inability to meet customers and prospects face to face is one of the biggest challenges facing b2b marketers. They can no longer rely on industry conferences and tradeshows to engage with hundreds of prospects in just a few days, or wine and dine their most valuable customers at the swankiest restaurants in town.

The lack of in-person events and meeting opportunities has pushed everyone online. With fewer touchpoints to engage potential customers, brands are vying for attention on fewer digital channels. They are therefore having to work harder than ever to stand out from the crowd and overcome the issue of digital fatigue.

Everyone moving online has actually made it harder for brands to reach their target audience. In the past, b2b marketers could make a significant impact with an ad or editorial in a highly regarded industry trade publication. But, in today’s fragmented media landscape, their audience could be on any number of media outlets, review sites, social platforms, forums, blogs, podcasts, etc. Customers and prospects are now spread across a wider range of channels, requiring brands to invest more time, money and resources in their audience engagement strategy.

This problem is amplified further when trying to engage audiences in multiple countries. In order to be effective at generating leads, content marketing campaigns must take into account the needs and nuances of each local market. Each country requires a bespoke approach, both in terms of content and the channels used to promote it. For example, in China where Facebook and Twitter aren’t permitted, local platforms like mobile messaging app WeChat and Twitter-like Weibo are popular b2b marketing tools. Taking a blanket approach simply doesn’t work and brands that fail to recognise regional differences will struggle to deliver local campaigns effectively.

The new era of b2b marketing

To stand out from the crowd in 2021 and beyond, b2b brands will need to take a leaf out of the b2c marketing playbook and create content that’s more engaging and emotive. Last year, The Drum reported that the pandemic has accelerated the trend of b2b marketing becoming more like consumer marketing, and that’s likely to continue this year.

Storytelling can be a highly effective way for b2b brands to build trust and connect with customers on a more emotional level. This gives them a reason to choose a brand over its competitors, because it shows that it understands their prospects’ pain points and challenges. B2b marketers will need to resist talking about products and services, and instead focus on weaving storytelling throughout the business in an authentic way. This is what will truly influence audiences, drive conversations and deliver sales leads.

They should also harness advancements in marketing tools and technology, driven by big data analytics, AI and machine learning capabilities, to help them better understand their audiences and competitive market landscape. From social media analytics to customer insight platforms, there are tools that can give marketers valuable data and insights into things like popular discussion topics, the strongest keywords and the best-performing content. This can all then be fed back into the marketing strategy, making them more likely to develop messages that will resonate.

Finally, bridging the gap between sales and marketing teams is particularly important in today’s competitive landscape. They must be as integrated as possible in order to work effectively. If marketing teams don’t believe the leads they generate are being acted upon, or sales teams don’t think that marketing is targeting the right prospects, the relationship between the two can quickly break down.

Marketers can build a more constructive relationship by asking their sales teams key questions such as 'what keeps your prospects up at night?' and 'why do competitors beat us?' This will help them garner useful and actionable intelligence that can shape marketing messages.

It’s clear that 2021 will be a particularly challenging year for b2b marketers and it will take a major shift in mindset to successfully engage their target audiences. Those that manage to pivot and embrace the new era of b2b marketing will be in prime position to reap the rewards in the months to come.

Guest Author

Hannah Patel, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

Director EMEA,

About

Hannah is a director at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, a full-service tech PR and marketing agency based in London, Berlin, Paris, L.A. and Boston. She joined the agency in 2010 and leads partnerships with the firm’s global technology clients, from start-ups and scale-ups through to multinational businesses. She has extensive experience developing and implementing communications strategy for clients across EMEA and she always has a restaurant recommendation up her sleeve!

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B2B Storytelling