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Written by Meenu Bagla
on 21 Oct 2020

The marketing function during the pandemic is gaining prominence in unprecedented new ways. With restrictions on face-to-face meetings, travel, events, and other traditional modes of customer engagement, the need for marketers to re-strategize, innovate, and pivot based on customer behavior is imperative. A recent McKinsey survey of B2B decision-makers found that 70%-80% of the respondents prefer not having in-person interactions. Three of four respondents believe that the new model is as effective or even better. It is becoming critical to stay at the top of the mind and focus on brand reliability as customers rethink spend. And not surprisingly, marketing budgets, especially for digital channels, have risen during the pandemic.

What complicates an already complex situation for marketers further is the unpredictability of customer behavior today. Given the changes in consumer behavior patterns and challenging economic conditions, we are looking at a different business landscape in the next normal. The role of the B2B marketer, hinged on agility and the ability to respond and evolve rapidly, may have changed for good. Let’s look at what this means for marketing practitioners and the trends that are shaping the new ‘communication to conversion’ paradigm.

Customer-centricity is no longer just a B2C concept

The pandemic and its economic fallout have drastically altered the way we think, live, and work. So any kind of selling, even B2B, needs brands to understand the consumers and the situation they are in and frame their offering and communication in that context. For traditional B2B companies, this means pivoting from being product-centric to consumer-centric. And as Adobe’s Gurdeep Dhillon highlights, 70% of the companies are aware of this because they consider themselves customer-centric. However, only 30% of the customers agree with that assertion. Where does your brand sit on this spectrum?

Harnessing the power of digital

When this year began, no one thought that remote working would become a norm by the end of the first quarter. And while using digital tools and data have been gathering steam in recent years, no one imagined that digital interactions would become the default medium for B2B marketing. This, as EY's CMO for the Americas points out, is a silver lining “because everything is digital now, we have more information to help us create and develop user journeys.” This is also why they decided to replace a pre-pandemic campaign on CNBC and social media with a short video campaign that focused on practical and useful content based on analyzing the feedback and requests they received from their audiences. And the value it added became evident in how the audiences and prospects moved along the buying journey.

Demand will remain unpredictable, but opportunities exist

As economic activity resumes and the shape of economic recovery becomes clear, we already see high levels of variation among sectors and geographies. So, while the overall demand is likely to remain volatile for the next few quarters, there are certain pockets of opportunity. And as Craig Moore of Forrester notes, “corporate, sales and product teams are looking to their marketing counterparts for leadership in establishing the intermediate-term plan to attract and engage customers and buyers.” This will require marketers to focusing on 30-60-90 day plans and be flexible enough to dial-up or -down the marketing efforts to capitalize on opportunities.

What does your brand stand for?

The COVID-19 pandemic has become the most significant global humanitarian crisis we have witnessed in a long time. And in many ways, this has rewritten the social contract between citizens and the private sector. Findings from a recent Accenture report highlights that while the conventional purchase criteria such as price and quality remain essential, 43% of consumers are likely to walk away if a brand’s words or actions on social issues fall short of their expectations. More importantly, 47% of consumers expect promises and values to materialize into innovations, products, and services. So, despite all the challenges COVID-19 has presented, it is also an excellent opportunity for businesses and brands to choose, and more importantly, show what they stand for.

Parting thoughts

What sets the current scenario apart from past crises is the fact that a lot of these changes are here to stay. Not because of the virus, but despite it, and also because we have discovered and devised new ways of doing things that have proven to be effective.

So, while the core criteria for purchasing a technology product may not be very different in a post-pandemic world, the ability of a company to make itself more relevant in the current context will be a distinct advantage.

Watch this space for more updates on conversations, insights and dialogues on what’s new in the B2B marketing space.

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