The pandemic has turned business as we knew it on its head. Everyone’s working from home. In-person events are cancelled. And face-to-face meetings are out of the question. All of this makes audience engagement for b2b marketers much more challenging than ever before.

While hope is on the horizon as countries continue rolling out mass vaccination programs, it’s going to take some time before business returns to some semblance of normal. For brands to survive in 2021, they must adapt – fast – and marketers must urgently rethink their approach to audience engagement.

Stiff competition

The inability to meet customers and prospects face to face is one of the biggest challenges facing b2b marketers. Gone are the industry conferences and tradeshows where brands could engage with hundreds of prospects from all over the world in just a few days, or wine and dine their most valuable customers at the swankiest restaurants in town.

The lack of in-person events and opportunities to physically meet prospects has pushed everyone online. With fewer touchpoints to engage potential customers, brands are vying for attention on fewer digital channels. Almost every brand is hosting webinars or other kinds of virtual events, which, let’s face it, aren’t the most engaging at the best of times. And when everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon, digital fatigue is a major issue. Brands must work harder than ever to stand out from the crowd and make their voices heard.

With everyone online, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be easier to reach your target audience. But whereas once you could trust that you’d reach a good slice of your target audience with an ad or editorial in a couple of highly regarded industry trade publications, in today’s fragmented media landscape, your audience could be on any number of media outlets, review sites, social platforms, forums, blogs, podcasts, etc. Engaging with customers and prospects that are spread across multiple channels will require brands to invest more time, money and resources in their marketing strategy.

Go global

The problem is compounded many times over if you’re trying to engage audiences in multiple countries. In the absence of global tradeshows, content marketing campaigns can be an effective way to generate leads but they must take into account the needs and nuances of each local market. Taking a blanket approach doesn’t work and brands that fail to take regional differences into account will struggle to deliver local campaigns effectively.

Each country requires a bespoke approach when it comes to content and the channels you use to promote it. For example, Facebook and Twitter aren’t permitted in China, so local platforms like mobile messaging app WeChat and Twitter-like Weibo are popular tools for b2b marketing. 

Learn from the b2c world

To stand out from the crowd, b2b brands will need to take a leaf out of the b2c marketing playbook and create content that’s more engaging, entertaining and emotive. Last year, The Drum reported on how the pandemic has accelerated the trend of b2b marketing becoming more like consumer marketing, and that’s likely to continue this year.

Storytelling can be a highly effective way of helping b2b brands stand out from their competitors by helping to build trust and a connection with customers on a more emotional level. This gives them a reason to choose your brand over your competitors. B2b marketers will need to resist focusing on their products and services and, instead, weave storytelling throughout the business in an authentic way.

Do more with less

With the pandemic having a negative effect on most industries, many b2b brands have slashed their marketing budgets and any spend that remains is under much more scrutiny. Marketers are under pressure to achieve greater results with less budget and fewer resources. And they must demonstrate the ROI of any money they do spend.

This requires a more strategic approach that is grounded in data and research, and that can be measured at every stage of the process.

Harness tech advancements

On the plus side, advancements in PR and marketing tools and technology driven by big data analytics, AI and machine learning can help b2b marketers better understand their audiences and competitive market landscape. From social media analytics to customer insight platforms, there are tools that can give marketers data and insights into anything; from the topics being discussed and channels being used, to the strongest keywords and best-performing content.

But it’s not so much the tools that matter as the ability to analyse the data and unearth important insights. And that requires people who understand your audience and industry.

Bridge the chasm between sales and marketing

Finally, sales and marketing teams need to be as integrated as possible in order to work effectively. But with everyone working remotely, this may be harder to achieve. If marketing teams don’t believe the leads they generate are being acted upon or sales teams don’t think that marketing is helping to build a sales pipeline, the relationship between the two can quickly break down and become dysfunctional. Ensuring that both work together as one team will be an even greater challenge for marketers this year, but one that’s vital to overcome if a brand is to succeed.

There are several questions marketers can ask their sales teams to help them garner the most useful information and build a more constructive relationship. For example, ‘what keeps your prospects up at night?’ and ‘why do competitors beat us?’ As well as building collaboration, these questions will provide valuable intel that can then feed back into marketing messaging.

2021 may well be the most challenging year that b2b marketers have faced yet and it will take a major shift in mindset to successfully engage audiences during this challenging time. Those that manage to pivot and embrace the new era of b2b marketing will be in prime position to reap the benefits – both now and in the months to come.

The article was created by RLYL from the Convoy PR Network as part of the agency’s Find your Prospect campaign. You can also download an e-book that reveals the secrets of generating leads by Tech B2B brands.