Data, Digital, and DreamsB2B Marketing in the Age of COVID-19
With home being the new office and internet the newest meeting room, businesses are roaring back to life. Much has changed and much more is being figured out as we learn to live in a COVID-19 world. However, the engines of the economy have sped up from the physical halt it went into three months back. Businesses are buying and selling, and therefore need a robust marketing strategy. Marketing is still essential for information, persuasion, and guidance. So, how do we, as B2B marketers, whose basic work revolves around physical interactions and events, evolve our digital strategy in this age of social distancing. We have apps like Zoom and tools like video conferences. But can they replace the touch and feel of a tech pavilion? Can a webinar or virtual meet ever capture the look and feel of a large conference hall or a stadium full of people? And how does marketing respond to this evolving dynamic of remote living?
Our first glimpse of a world we’re stepping into was aptly provided by the 2020 NFL Draft. The first night drew a record 55 million viewers, a 37% increase over last year. People are online and consuming information, talking to each other, reading, writing, and building an ecosystem of exchange. The NFL Draft involved the use of 600 camera feeds powered by Microsoft Teams, all done remotely, and managed by a programming director. Another recent event, a virtual analyst and advisory summit, attracted over 350 of the world’s top influencers, which had a much lower attendance in its physical avatar last year. The possibility of digital marketing to expand and present a level playing field is limitless. Marketers are playing a bigger role now in formulating a holistic digital strategy, as we transition from a phygital world to a completely digital environment.
Re-engaging with the Digital Ecosystem
To begin with, one of the beauties of digital is its capacity to give us exact data. Data may not be the new oil, but it is certainly a bold new currency, especially in an ideal marketing strategy. As B2B marketers, we need to embrace data creatively to tell stories that catch our audience’s attention. Considering that now, 100% of our clients’ research and engagements will be conducted online, we need to activate a 360⁰ digital strategy in B2B marketing. With most clients visiting our websites and pages online, probably from the comfort of their living rooms, content needs to original, engaging, and most importantly, relevant, for the purpose of B2B marketing in COVID-19.
And that is where data can inform our B2B marketing decisions. In a recent online survey, when asked how B2B marketers will reinvest their budgets as part of their marketing strategy, as in-person events are modified or cancelled due to COVID, a whopping 46% chose not to invest at all. A further 42% chose digital and content as their safest bet. This indicates two important factors that we marketers need to be highly aware of as we make our next move in digital content marketing– the uncertainty in the macro environment and the emphasis on altered consumer behavior. And while no one can predict with confidence the course of the next few months or years, what we can track is the change in our client’s habits for effective digital marketing.
Data– from social media, search behavior, content viewership, and other sources– will be critical in digital marketing to track the contours of an emerging customer experience. It will require a complete re-engagement with the entire digital ecosystem, from search engine optimization to website design, from the online marketplace strategy to down-the-funnel content marketing. Each and every aspect of our digital marketing approaches will define our customer’s experience with our brands. Just as we do not consume information linearly, we should also expect our clients to evolve into more matured digital consumers. This means investment in platforms that are uniquely designed for the digital medium– one that accounts for the visual, audio, and experiential impact that our digital content marketing campaigns may have.
Visualizing the New Normal
As digital experiences replace in-person ones, some of the new customer habits will become permanent. Looking ahead, we marketers will need to prepare for how to meet the needs of the evolved consumer. Envisioning the world post-COVID-19 will need us to customize our physical experience to a digital one. Virtual innovation Labs like Puratos is an innovative way to re-create the experiences of the digital world. This means we have to test out various tools and platforms, develop the skills needed to master those and then, if needed, discard them, if they are not working. Constant experimentation will be key to success, as well as cutting through the clutter.
Media Agency GroupM recently did an online survey which highlighted the remarkably low levels of confidence that consumers have in digital media and marketing. We need to fight this perception with consistency, reliability, and honesty by creating long-term assets that build trust in the digital ecosystem. That would mean cutting out the unnecessary flab. Having a constant message across different platforms and highlighting a singular brand image would help. Sensitivity to the client’s business realities and confidence in our propositions, along with an ingenuity in presentation, will be critical to building long-term brand viability.
Dreaming in a Digital World
The COVID-19 crisis is being called many things. But for us marketers, it is an opportunity for a refresh; a chance to discard the old ways of thinking and make ourselves more relevant. In many ways, I feel like this implores us to go back to our Kotlers and Porters. We need to build strong brands, with innovative content and impeccable brand values. Clients need strong reasons to believe in us and we will have to earn our dues. Digital may be a, somewhat, newer playing field for many B2B marketers but at the end, it works on the same principles as the physical one.
We are looking at a very different digital world, evolved and unchained from physical constraints; a changed environment where the tenets of the past will no longer be relevant. For marketing to be effective in this digital world, it still needs to be relevant and interesting to our clients. As our clients adapt, so do we. It requires unlearning some of the things that have worked for us in the past. It would need us to learn new skills and respond to a digital world, cognizant of the limitations it presents and the potential for ingenuity it offers. A vision for what the customer’s experience will be is critical to leveraging the medium and delivering the right message. As B2B marketers, we should embrace this opportunity to dive into data, build digital experiments, and create, experiment, and dream.