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08.07.20

Strategic B2B Digital Marketing in a Pandemic: Mountain Climbing & Forrest Gump

Bert Garry, Sr. SEM Manager

In times of challenge, many people instinctually think short-term. Climbers' feet from the summit of Everest, for instance, are not paragons of long-term, strategic thinking. Their sole focus is putting one foot in front of the other and getting enough oxygen to avoid collapse, as part of a fight or flight response.

Mid-pandemic, it is understandable that business decision-makers would resemble the climber and pivot to survival mode by cutting overhead, deferring capital expenses, and maximizing shareholder value in the short-term. The juxtaposition of a strong stock market and double-digit unemployment would seem to reinforce this idea. COVID-19, however, is not a flashpoint event that has thrust business leaders into a short-term orientation. For digital marketers, the twin forces of COVID-19 and a prevailing “win now” approach have been a mixed bag. On one hand, CPG merchants benefit from tailwinds born of convenience and necessity, whereas major expenses are deferred, drifting from essentials into treats, postponables, or expendables. For merchants selling the latter, the first impulse is to cut back spend for brand building or new customer acquisition. After all, each ad dollar spent during the pandemic is not coming back through the door as a customer any time soon, and advertising dollars can be funneled elsewhere within the business to generate short-term “wins.”

Digital B2B marketers, however, would argue that approach is a mistake, especially in a time of crisis. Just because purchases are being deferred during an economic downturn does not mean they won’t eventually take place - the sales cycle is simply lengthening.

Since a B2B customer may be buying a cloud server solution and not toothpaste, the time between impression and sale can take months. There is painstaking research, comparisons of quotes and specs, buy-in from stakeholders, and adapting existing systems to accommodate an update. This explains why lead gen is king within B2B: business prospects are starting relatively far up-funnel and are rarely making spur of the moment purchase decisions.

Putting that idea in action, advertisers of all stripes can boost investment and steal share of voice in a soft marketplace now, with an eye on late 2021 or early 2022. In doing so, they can digitally establish cost-effective relationships with prospects and adapt nurture strategy to a longer time frame. This can pay dividends as economic recovery begins, to the tune of 4-5x growth in profit, market share, and market penetration.

Here are four ways to execute on that idea, taken from the B2B playbook:

1. Serve future-minded content that gets to the point

By now, most brands have changed with the times, replacing outdated copy and creative that worked at the end of 2019 and Q1 of 2020. However, acknowledging the climate while avoiding being trite or bland can be a tightrope walk.

For a positive example of striking this balance, think about how auto brands like GM are offering 0% financing for lengthened time frames or the option to defer monthly payments. Offering such incentives is a short-term risk, but if the barrier to purchase is lowered, sellers can widen the top of their funnels, convey flexibility and understanding, and build long-term trust and brand preference. This is especially true as a consideration set shrinks in a thinner ad market.

2. Mix up messaging for non-converting site visitors

Just because someone isn’t yet willing to buy or provide information doesn’t mean they don’t have needs that should be addressed. After all, they visited a website for a reason. Consider adapting creative and driving a secondary KPI that provides utility to your customer after their first visit, like a whitepaper or content download. If possible, factor these sub-KPIs into your bidding strategy.

3. Keep marketing and sales attached at the hip 

Your digital marketing operation can act as a survey of what’s top of mind for your potential customers. As your sales team gets in touch with prospects that don’t qualify, they will begin to gather objections which can be incorporated into your marketing message to address points of hesitation proactively and empathize with customer sentiment.

4. Relax standards for disqualification 

It is not “no” forever – it is “no” right now based on circumstances that are beyond peoples’ control. Give people more time than usual and consider accounting for that ambiguity in your CRM platform.

To borrow from a Forrest Gump clip, digital advertising during an economic downturn has its similarities to shrimping during a hurricane. By capitalizing on an emptier marketplace, showing a meaningful message to people who are looking for one, and maintaining that message through the entire sales process, advertisers can position themselves to weather the storm of COVID-19 and reap the benefits years down the line.