A B2B marketing manifesto for 2021

A B2B marketing manifesto for 2021

B2B Marketing is as much about people as it is business. Always has been. Always will be.

It’s about knowing what’s going on in their world – and the part you can play in it. Even when the world goes a little astray.

Because it’s times like these – people, especially those who buy your things – and their customers – need you to step up. To adjust what you do, the ways you engage and interact with them and what you can offer. To stay relevant. To be valued. To be indispensable.

That’s pretty tricky when you’re a fast-growing challenger brand – and it’s a magnitude harder when you’re a large, multi-national enterprise. But doing nothing is not an option. More of the same is not an option. So as we enter 2021 where do you go from here?

A manifesto for now

Assume nothing

How has your world changed since this time last year? Quite a lot? The same is true for you, me, your buyers, their stakeholders – and their customers – in fact, pretty much everyone around the globe. We’ve seen a massive upheaval in the way we live and work. It’s made us reassess and re-evaluate long held attitudes and perceptions. It’s changed the way we behave. It’s impacted our trust – in each other, public service providers, governments and brands. It’s reset our priorities.

The brands that succeed will need to tune into this new buyer psyche. They’ll need to reappraise their audiences – because what matters now, will most likely be different to what mattered then. Yes, they’ll use data to spot patterns others don’t, but they’ll also dig deeper – by asking the right questions, listening and learning. They’ll turn their business into a real-time intelligence gathering machine – using every interaction – digital and human, to gain new insights into changing needs, preferences and pressure points. They’ll know more, assume less – and be armed with the ability to build a new intimacy with customers, while out-witting and out-smarting their competitors at every turn.

Adjust your set

There was the pre-Covid world and then there’s now. The things you stood for as a brand might not have changed, but how you need to express them may have. I’m not talking opportunistic platitudes or dealing in cliches in a bid to curry favour. However, now is the time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you need to go. To re-evaluate how you position your brand, your story and your propositions to resonate and stay relevant. To do so, with verve, passion and renewed purpose to meaningfully differentiate.

See it as a chance to unite your business, to inspire your people and set them on a new path. To re-orientate your brand around the changing needs of customers and prospects to best position your business and attract audiences anew. This isn’t just for now but for the long-game. Do it right but do it fast – because my guess is fortune won’t favour those that stand still.

Earn more than your 15 minutes

Your fame can earn you more than the attention of your buyers, it can earn you their trust. The fact is familiar brands de-risk decision-making – and that’s of prime importance now. Buyer decisions are under more scrutiny – and the stakes are higher. That’s even more the case for higher value, longer commitment purchases, which may seem more than a gamble than ever. Especially at a time when no one wants to be losing their job for making the wrong call. Unfortunately, defensive decision-making is rife in business. Rather than selecting the optimal fit for their needs, buyers have a tendency to opt for the choice they perceive to represent the least risk. And if they and their stakeholders know and respect your brand, that massively stacks the cards in your favour.

Want to shortcut decision-making? Ask how you can be the most famous brand in your space. There’s never been a better opportunity to build your share of voice as competitors procrastinate about what to do next. To be a brand that your audiences, want to and will, gravitate to because you’re interesting, compelling and stand out for all the right reasons.

Disproportionate impact

Marketing budgets are tight. I get that. So you need to squeeze as much value as possible from your spend. And more than that you need to see a return, fast. This is where great strategy and creativity can create a potent mix – and create disproportionate impact.

It starts by fully understanding your buyers’ new daily lives – their changing media diet and content consumption preferences. Never assuming what worked in the past is good for now. It’s about exploring who and what shapes their opinions and why. Discovering the sources and resources they trust and rely on to inform what they do. Only then can you make informed choices about how best – and when – to reach and engage them. To understand how you can increase your utility and value as a brand in their lives.

Don’t be afraid to veer from the road well trodden. Do not play the game your competitors play. Don’t pretend to be a thought-leader, be a thought-leader. Go for big – not incremental – gains. Make influencers your friend. Build partnerships others never thought of. Be a community maker. Set the news agenda. Create content and build digital experiences only your brand can – impress, inform, never being afraid to entertain. Because if it doesn’t interest you, it won’t interest them. Experiment but always learn.

Set the pace

We can wait and see. Things may change. Normality could resume. But I’m not betting on it. And as each day passes, there’s an opportunity lost.

The businesses that prosper and thrive from here on in will be those that can adapt and respond quicker and more effectively. It requires agencies and client marketers alike to step up. To move faster – to spend less time strategising, lost in slide-ware and appeasing stakeholders – and more time in market, iterating and learning. It requires new levels of alignment and collaboration between marketing and sales – with a shared vision and goals. It demands winning the trust and confidence of executive sponsors – through better measurement and clear accountability. It also needs leaps of faith – to allow brands to be bolder, braver and ambitious.

It’s time for a new marketing mindset

Not just paying lip service to creativity, customer-centricity and effectiveness – but living it. Exploring ways to build and foster deeper relationship across every buyer journey. Using marketing to enrich the experience and perception of value. To make doing business with you effortless and always a pleasure. Think marketing for now and the future. Not what went before.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

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Paul Hewerdine

Strategy Partner

I head up the Strategy team at Earnest. I helped found Earnest, and I love a tricky brief and an ambitious client – and play my B2B marketing with a twist.