We’re living in strange and uncertain times as the Covid-19 outbreak continues. Like many people, I find conversations range from serious concern about the wellbeing of family and friends, through to strangely mundane but practical questions about food shopping or how to manage as work and home life collides.
The other major conversation in the media and with colleagues is about the impact on business. On a personal level, we’re worried about jobs, income and the sudden added complexity in delivering tasks which would previously have been routine. At a broader level, there is real concern about the impact on the retail, hospitality and travel industries as well as for smaller companies, the self-employed and gig economy workers.
As many countries experience lockdowns, there is an understandable temptation for companies to put a hold on B2B marketing activity, cut budgets and wait for things to pick up.
Yet now is the time for businesses to communicate more than ever. An Edelman Trust Barometer special report on Covid-19 across 10 countries, found that business is the most credible source of information on the virus, ahead of government and traditional media. Whilst public health must be the priority, companies need to keep running to ensure people are paid, families are fed, and the global economy remains as robust as possible in the circumstances.
In this context, how should B2B marketers adapt their approach?
- Good communications has always been about telling people something genuinely new and useful. In uncertain times, people seek advice, reassurance and confidence. Timely, relevant and practical business content about ways of working, maintaining operations and supply chains is valuable as we collectively try to work out how to keep business running.
- Getting the tone right and backing words with action is more important than ever. Short-term promotions are insensitive but tangible initiatives which will help other businesses are much needed. With its virtual systems, the tech sector has been able to respond quickly, with Google and Cisco offering free video conferencing, LinkedIn and Adobe offer access to free online learning and creative tools and Microsoft confirming it will continue paying hourly workers across its campus.
- The LinkedIn B2B Institute recently published an excellent report looking at ‘The Principles of Growth in B2B.’ The report highlighted the need to balance short-term lead generation with brand building activity which maintains visibility and demonstrates value, particularly in industries with long sales cycles. This remains even more true in the time of Covid-19. Business brands which invest in ongoing dialogue are trusted and seen as a partner in tough times, with the authority to directly engage clients as the economy starts to recover.
- As the situation starts to look more positive in China, I had a call with a client based there who said that rather than cutting back during the crisis, her team had gone into overdrive. She was focusing on improving her web and digital channels, producing a bank of strong content so that they could support their sales team as business tries to rebuild. Sales teams will be frantic to make up lost ground and this period allows marketing teams to progress things which may have been put on hold. For example, reviewing website structure and journeys, optimising search, generating new content ideas and writing and producing content.
- Research conducted in 2018 by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research indicated that some B2B marketers allocate nearly 40 percent of their budgets to exhibitions and industry shows. Covid-19 has forced a rethink, but this may be a good thing in the longer term. Events have their place in the marketing mix but require huge amounts of time and budget for a single point in time. Investing in longer term content strategies, using other tools such as live-streaming or podcasts and considering physical events as just one component, may be more beneficial for businesses overall.
- The other area which Covid-19 may force B2B marketers to re-evaluate is how they invest in digital. Marketing tech has huge potential but in the race for results, efficiency has all too often become confused with effectiveness. The drive towards performance marketing has encouraged short-term transactions and less considered content. An Edelman-LinkedIn study found that only 15 percent of business decision makers found the thought leadership they read either very good or excellent and 27 percent have chosen not to award business to an organisation based on poor quality content. This period of change may encourage organisations to focus on more meaningful conversations, with a clearer narrative and offering advice and solutions which really add value at a time when it is needed.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has refocused minds on what is important and meant significant changes to the way we work and do business. Whilst we feel the need to be cautious, a lack of communication now will make it even harder to rebuild a brand, pipeline and trust as the global economy recovers.