Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A bold, new dawn for B2B marketers

By Benedict Buckland, Creative Director at alan.

The global economy is in freefall. Ad spend is at its lowest since records began. Marketing departments are under increasing pressure to cut costs. As marketers, we are facing career defining challenges. 

Despite such adversity, there is cause for optimism. Speaking to 600 senior B2B marketing leaders in September, the team at alan. and I found evidence that B2B marketers are using Covid as a catalyst for change. They are seizing the moment to accelerate their digital marketing transformation and plan for a bolder, more ambitious future.

Feeling the pressure

The effects of the pandemic are being felt acutely in marketing. According to our study, more than half of senior marketers have suffered budget cuts, with 43% experiencing a headcount reduction.

In parallel, the majority of marketers are now being forced to prove ROI, with one in four of those seeing it as critical to the existence of the marketing department. 

In this context, it is no surprise that 71% report being asked to achieve more with less and two in five feel less secure in their roles compared to six months ago.

Seeing the bigger picture

Despite the insecurity and pressure for quantifiable results, B2B marketers remain able to see the bigger picture. Reassuringly, the number-one objective for B2B marketers in 2021 is growing brand awareness and share of voice.

In a recession where demand is suppressed, investment in long-term brand building makes sound economic sense. At the point demand rebounds, it will be those brands that are front of mind that prevail. According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, brands that invested in growing excess share of voice, or ESOV, by 8% during the 2008-9 downturn, saw 4.5 times the annual market share growth during the recovery phase

Recognition of the importance of planning for the long term is also reflected in B2B marketers’ identification of strategy as a priority. Some 35% see strategy as the biggest capability gap internally. It is also identified as the most highly-prized agency capability among 45% of respondents.

Agency partners need to step up

There is a clear need for agencies to take a more active, collaborative role in defining B2B marketing strategies. However, many are failing to deliver.

35% of B2B marketers report that their agencies fail to grasp what their business does. Furthermore, a staggering 66% criticise their agencies for lacking substance and depth. But, most alarming, one in four respondents do not think that their agencies understand their objectives. 

An in-depth understanding of a company, its business objectives and the industry it operates in is fundamental to successful strategy.  Bridging such a gap and demonstrating true expertise must be paramount for agencies if they’re to rebuild trust and deliver for B2B marketers.

Investing in the future

A further core part of B2B marketing strategy has to be making digital ubiquitous. It appears that the pandemic’s creation of a virtual environment and renewed focus on ROI has mobilised a digital transformation. More than half of business marketers say the biggest change COVID-19 has imposed on their marketing department has been an accelerated shift to digital. 

Encouragingly, B2B marketers are embracing this enforced pivot. Almost a third are using it as an opportunity to put the dreaded PDF white paper to bed and embrace new online formats. Similarly, video and webinars are named as the top two content priorities for the year ahead.

Doubling down on creative

However, a simple switch in format alone is not going to cut it. A common problem that I have observed is that B2B marketers will start with the end output and attempt to retrofit the narrative. This approach is flawed and limits creative ambition and effectiveness. Instead, we must focus on developing a concept that is going to resonate with our target audiences, unencumbered by a preconceived idea such as a podcast or webinar. It is only once such a concept is reached that we should consider which medium and format is going to deliver the most engaging experience for our audience. 

Encouragingly, B2B marketers are realising the importance of creativity. One in three marketers we spoke are committed to using the pandemic as a catalyst for taking risks and being more daring with creative and campaigns. In a time where those that invest in brand will win, it may well prove to be creativity that defines the careers of B2B marketers.