It is time to shift from “here’s why you should buy this service/product” to “here’s how we can help”

By Alan E. Young

Around the world and across industries, marketers now face arguably one of the toughest challenges of their careers. There is, after all, no universally established gold-standard for marketing during a wide-spread pandemic, because a global crisis of this magnitude is hardly ‘textbook’. As the media coverage so often reiterates, we now find ourselves in uncharted territory.

Although the importance of brand agility and frequent innovation is well-understood by business owners and B2B marketers, the coronavirus pandemic truly acts as a crash course in responsive strategy and innovative thinking. It’s during times like these, that marketing teams will either pivot and thrive or become a victim of unprecedented global circumstances.

According to a 2010 Harvard Business Review which surveyed the impact of past recessions on 4,700 companies,17% of companies didn’t survive a recession, and 80% hadn’t regained their pre-recession growth rate three years after the recession. Conversely, only 9% were able to outperform their competitors by at least 10% in revenue and profit growth following an economic downturn.

So the question we now face, is what will B2B marketing look like in a post-pandemic world? If there is no ‘return to normal’, but rather, a ‘new normal’ that must be aptly understood and navigated, what does that landscape look like? How can brands continue to engage and serve their audience and prospective customers in a meaningful way after this hardship has come to pass?

The New Language of Marketing

In the realm of content marketing, language is everything. Brands are able to strategically shape their messaging to evoke a desired emotional response in their customer, capitalize on a specific touch-point in the buyer’s journey, exhibit industry leadership and expertise, attract new customers, inspire loyalty from existing customers, or simply facilitate connection. Ultimately, a B2B marketing team’s ability to deliver the right words, at the right time, will determine the success and measurable impact of that campaign.

But now, as we look ahead to a consumer landscape that bears the markings of recent trauma and large-scale uncertainty, the language B2B marketers utilize will, understandably, be subject to change. The priorities of businesses have changed, abruptly, and communication strategies should reflect that change in tone. In many ways, this can be summarized as a shift from “here’s why you should buy this service/product” to “here’s how we can help” with messaging focused on themes of safety, agility, community, and collaboration. It’s finally time to lay the references of ‘unprecedented times’ to rest. Instead, inform your current and prospective customers of what you are currently doing, how your company has moved forward, and, more importantly, how you can remedy their common pain points.

How to Sell Post-COVID-19

In the months to come, the emphasis of brands’ marketing efforts should not be on a hard-sell approach, but rather, on value-driven marketing and the mindful cultivation of long-term relationships with clients. A conscious, caring voice paired with thoughtful, goodwill gestures will translate to enhanced brand equity down the line.

And for any B2B marketers contemplating pulling back on marketing and communication efforts, we assure you, now is not the time to go silent. Businesses have a responsibility to continue to show up for their audience across platforms, especially as the dust finally begins to settle. A post-pandemic world will, understandably, require a higher degree of empathy and care throughout the sales funnel, but it does not demand silence or absence from brands. Quite the opposite, in fact. There’s a saying which reads, “In good times you should advertise, but in bad times you must advertise.” B2B marketing, in this case, is no exception. Those brands which establish themselves as a thoughtful, informative voice amidst the noise, offering continued value, personalized service, and support to their current and prospective clients, are sure to succeed. Value, now more than ever, sells.

It’s Time to Go Digital

Over the past few months, industries have had to quickly pivot their respective business models to embrace an economic landscape now defined by physical distancing measures. Although the push for digital infrastructure was already alive and well prior to this pandemic, the desire for online offerings is no longer simply a consumer-driven desire; it’s now an outright demand. With the temporary elimination of trade shows and industry events, marketing teams are expected to reallocate their budget to digital efforts. These efforts may include, but aren’t limited to:

– Online events
– Webinars
– Increased presence across social media channels
– Thought leadership
– Improvements to any/all digital properties (website, mobile apps, etc.)
– The development/implementation of self-service platforms and mobile-first technology

Fortunately, studies show that the perspective of B2B marketers is, even now, relatively optimistic. McKinsey & Company reports that half of US B2B marketers believe the economy will rebound in 2–3 months. More importantly, though, is the emphasis on digital. Their reports show that preference for digital now ~2X more than traditional sales interactions; self-serve, digital ordering methods now prioritized, eg, mobile app ordering up 250%+. Additionally, remote selling is now perceived as the new normal, and B2B companies believe this model is just as effective or more than before. Not only that, but 32% of those companies are reportedly “very likely” to sustain these shifts 12+ months after COVID-19.

The takeaway is rather simple: if your current business model cannot thrive in a digital landscape, it’s time to pivot (and quickly). After all, some scientists are predicting that some form of social distancing may need to happen until 2022. Putting marketing efforts on hold for that length of time is, quite frankly, not an option. It’s time to go digital.

Outsourcing vs. In-House Marketing

Of course, with any large-scale economic downturn comes the inevitable reality of cost-reduction measures and budget cuts. However, if we’ve already established that eliminating a marketing budget is not within the realm of possibility for those businesses hoping to once again thrive, what is the proposed alternative?

For many companies, the post-pandemic climate will reinforce the case for outsourcing. Rather than dedicating large segments of a company budget to the salaries of an in-house B2B marketing team, many businesses will look to outsource their marketing needs to a small agency. Not only is this typically a more cost-effective solution, but it also grants companies access to a full suite of marketing professionals who have proven excellence in their field for a variety of clients across different industries or verticals.

So far, 2020 has presented businesses with no shortage of brand-defining challenges, but it’s important to identify the opportunity for meaningful innovation that often emerges from periods of uncertainty. The coming months will lay the foundation for industry revivals and, in due time, the global economy will once again flourish. The only question that remains, is this:

Is your company ready?