- COVID-19 has decimated budgets and lengthened the B2B sales cycle for everything but the core essentials most companies need to operate.
- As economies reopen and the road to recovery advances, the brands that will reach prospects this year who then convert into buyers in 2021 are the ones who take a human-centric approach in how they first listen and then talk to their audience.
- To remain competitive, B2B companies must adopt human-centric marketing approaches with a digital twist that will help them engage, retain, and build connections with their audience online.
COVID-19 has drastically changed the B2B marketing landscape for 2020 and beyond. Overnight, you had to shift perspective, strategies, and business goals before moving forward. Like any sudden economical shift, those that adapt quickly and apply industry best practices will pull through the tough times. And those that lag in adoption, they will lag even further behind. One essential point has surfaced from COVID-19. Where before the conversation was only dabbled upon, it’s now clear that your marketing approach must be customer-focused and companies must become ‘more human’ in their marketing approach. A post-COVID-19 era will demand for empathetic marketing.
COVID-19 changed B2B buyer’s mentality overnight
The B2B marketing mentality has been outdated. In complex industries, B2B marketing has taken the traditional marketing approach by supporting direct sales, collaborating on trade shows, and pushing out print media.
Where a few marketers might have incorporated digital marketing into their marketing mix, traditionally, marketers in the B2B across multiple industries relied on traditional methods to acquire customers.
COVID-19 was a shock to the traditional system. It brought on a forced digital transformation. Overnight, the best methods for acquiring new customers disappeared.
Tradeshow events went dark, and sales teams couldn’t schedule in-person meetings. Customer meetings and acquisition tactics went online. And this sudden swift was brutal for traditional B2B industries that had to adapt quickly.
And if the B2B buyer’s mentality wasn’t already complicated, the buyers in this field today are even more cautious in their purchases. The B2B sales process will now require further nurturing, convincing, and buyer cycles have become even longer.
You should be prepared to adapt your buyer’s journey accordingly to make sure that you’re accounting for more (and new) digital touchpoints.
Adopting new digital and human-centric approaches
The ground has shifted. Your traditional marketing approach is no longer effective in the current COVID-19 environment. Marketing teams will need to take a more personalized, human-centric approach. And to diversify their marketing with digital frameworks.
Ironically, COVID-19 accelerated anticipated B2B marketing trends. Before the pandemic outbreak, forward-thinking B2B marketers were already discussing a better approach.
This approach included ideas revolving around human-centric marketing rooted in personalization, account-based marketing, and digital marketing tactics that aim to ‘build relationships’ directly with the customer. These tactics are based on empathy.
COVID-19 has now accelerated these ideas. And marketing teams must adapt to stay competitive in 2021.
B2B customer’s expectations and perspectives have shifted post-COVID-19. If B2B companies adapt quickly, the digital marketing playing field offers tactics for effective lead generation. And it’s at a lower cost and effective at directly getting in front of your customers.
Three natural ways companies can leverage empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Where B2B is known to be dull and unemotional, COVID-19 brought on a lot of emotions. People lost their jobs. Marketing budgets were cut. Family members became sick. And rather everything around COVID-19 was emotional.
Because of this change, it’s now very important for B2B marketers to connect to their customers with empathy.
Empathy will allow them to speak more closely to the pains, challenges, and needs of their customer in their current state. An intimate, open conversation will build a trusting company brand, that will provide long-lasting trust and customer loyalty.
Leveraging empathy in your marketing will help you navigate COVID-19 boldly—and make more meaningful connections with your audience. It all starts with listening. Here are three ways to start practicing empathy in your marketing.
1) Leverage social media platforms to build conversations
COVID-19 eliminated in-person meetings and tradeshows. Now, B2B companies must adopt the ability to build those authentic connections online.
Social media is a vessel for personal connections. And in the B2B industry, LinkedIn provides a space for B2B professionals to connect over industry and personal topics.
Leverage LinkedIn to message customers and to start empathetic conversations. At this time, messaging should remain friendly, helpful, and educational—not salesy.
2) Meet customers where they’re online
Humans naturally build communities. And we build communities with people around topics that matter to us. This is the power of digital forums. Forums are specific topics where a group of like-minded people can bring ideas and have constructive conversations.
In B2B, digital forums offer a way to keep an empathetic ear to your audience. What are they struggling with? How can you engage positively in the conversation? Listening (but also engaging) is a natural way to be more human in your B2B marketing.
3) Build a community through content
With buying cycles extending, it’s now more difficult to get a B2B customer’s attention.
We know that B2B readers consume on average 13 pieces of content a day, according to a recent study by MarTech and Focus Vision. And with recent events, B2B decision-makers are tougher in their buying decisions, and they take even longer.
Engage the conversation further with content marketing. Content marketing is a means to connect with more empathy, build relationships, and build long-lasting trust with your customer.
You can leverage content to continue nurturing those conversations through editorial blog posts, social media content, webinars, and download content assets.
By keeping your content helpful and relevant, you will build trust and retention with your ideal customer. And where this was true before COVID-19, it’s even more mandatory at the moment. Your customer craves personalization, and they want to work with trustworthy brands.
Leverage traditional content assets, but also be creative by leveraging community content. Digital communities like LinkedIn post comment sections, forums, and Facebook communities offer a community-centric approach that will help you keep a listening ear close to your customer’s needs.
Create content that is conversational, helpful, and not ‘tone deaf’ to your customer’s current struggles during COVID-19. Engaging and building community can be a very effective way to engage with your audience empathetic.
Get human in your marketing to reach customers in 2021
COVID-19 has shifted the B2B landscape. It’s now harder to get in front of your ideal customer, and your customers demand a different tone from your marketing.
Leverage empathy to stay in touch and continue building relationships with your customers. Content marketing is an effective marketing strategy to help you in 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 your marketing, empathy is at the core of that marketing conversation.
Megan Thudium is the founder of MTC | The Content Agency, a content agency working with B2B German brands expanding globally into the native-English North American market. Her agency infuses content marketing, SEO, and thought-leadership best practices to drive awareness, credibility, and leads through content marketing. She’s an expert on all things B2B content marketing, and her strategic marketing insight has been featured in publications like Forbes, Business.com, Upwork.com, and Managers.org.uk. You can find Megan on LinkedIn actively sharing insight in B2B content marketing.