B2B Marketing in the Age of Coronavirus & Other Pandemics
It’s hard for businesspeople to plan for growth in the wake of the recent pandemic. With the daily uncertainties we face in light of Covid-19, we spend most of our time reacting to news and trying to limit the impact on our businesses.
While acting defensively is critical right now, clear-headed leaders are also focusing on offense. That way, when regular business activities resume, they emerge with their growth relatively unimpacted. This will be the difference between successful and unsuccessful companies 6 months from today.
Because the majority of our clients are B2B, we created this post to share our insights on how B2B firms should be thinking about marketing and sales at this unique moment in time.
The Gist: What Businesses Are Facing Now
The major obstacles to marketing during a pandemic are that:
- Nobody can have an in-person meeting
- Nobody wants to do any deals until the uncertainty clears up
Therefore, you should use this time to build relationships that you can capitalize on when the uncertainty has cleared.
While we all know that certain marketing channels, like conferences, are impossible to utilize right now, others are the ideal investment during a pandemic. Below is a summary of the winners and losers in marketing during an outbreak.
Marketing Winners & Losers During A Pandemic
As the table below shows, the “winner” marketing strategies are the ones that:
(a) can be done virtually
(b) reward today’s efforts with big returns a few months down the road
Below, I explain the advantages of investing in all the “winner” marketing strategies and the complexities of investing in the “loser” marketing strategies.
Webinars. The model of educating your target audience in exchange for them witnessing your expertise and learning about your brand is an excellent one during a pandemic. It’s fully virtual and either establishes or deepens a relationship without an expectation to buy right now. In the era of coronavirus, in-person events will be replaced by webinars just as sales meetings will be replaced by video conferences.
Thought Leadership Content. Thought leadership content—which includes blogs, case studies, white papers, and e-books—is especially impactful at a time of crisis. Like a webinar, it seeds interest that can be harvested months down the road. But the advantage it has over webinars is:
- Ease of access: many potential customers won’t be willing to watch an entire webinar, but would be perfectly happy to read a 5-minute-long article
- SEO-friendliness: Google prefers to promote written content, especially in blog format (given its frequently-refreshed nature), for most valuable B2B searches
- “Pull” nature: Whereas a webinar often requires active outreach to get attendees, thought leadership is discovered by members of your target audience while they’re attempting to solve a problem, which creates a higher level of psychological interest
SEO. Basic SEO means ensuring your site is fast, secure, and mobile optimized; and rewriting your main pages’ meta page titles to target valuable keywords. These optimizations are an important complement to thought leadership content, as they cause Google to trust your site enough to promote your content in the search results. Because Google also promotes sites that have high engagement levels, SEO today includes activities that naturally increase conversion on the site, such as investing in UI improvements, more interesting content, and graphics. Together, the investments of SEO take a few months and deliver huge ROI down the road, making them ideal to work on during coronavirus sheltering.
Video Content. Pandemics will force businesses that rely solely on in-person marketing and sales meetings to create more content that can be viewed virtually, making video an excellent investment in these times.
- Product demos that typically occur in a physical space can be converted into videos that showcase your product in better ways than an in-person visit ever could.
- Explainer videos can act as a form of thought leadership, increasing conversion rates on a landing page or article and ranking highly on Google for searches where people would prefer a video.
- Interview series’ that introduce customers to the company, culture, executive team, or other customers are impactful and lead to higher conversion and a deeper brand experience.
Conferences & Trade Shows. Sadly, these are simply not an option right now. And, while many groups will attempt to gather virtually, video conferencing is not an effective replacement for large group meetings that involve networking and side conversations. While a video conference works well for a webinar where there is only one main speaker at a time, the actual marketing at a conference takes place on the show floor, at breaks, and at meals.
Outdoor Ads. The audience for outdoor marketing is extremely limited at a time when most people are staying home rather than commuting to work, school, or social events. Your ads probably will not reach a critical mass of viewers, and are even less likely to get repeat exposure to the same people in a way that would build a deeper memory and impression of your brand. Even if people do see your ad, they will be distracted and not as receptive.
All Direct Marketing & Advertising. Right now, how willing is your business to buy something that isn’t helping your team to work from home or keeping the basic functions of the business running? Probably not very. That’s why your advertising efforts should probably be put on pause until business’ buying confidence returns. Those dollars should be reinvested in marketing programs that build long term value that can be capitalized a few months down the road, such as webinar, video, and thought leadership content.
E-mail Marketing. Even if your email is not looking to make a sale immediately, your target audience is inundated by e-mails right now and their minds are unusually occupied by anxiety and distraction. Your email marketing results are likely to be suboptimal, if not entirely wasted, and could even cause mild negative feelings among your target audience depending on wording and frequency. It’s better to spend this time generating content to support these emails in the future so that you’re ready to implement once things settle down and businesses are open to new ideas again.
The Importance of Sustaining Medium-to-Long Term Digital Marketing Activities
As much as it’s advantageous to invest your company’s time and resources into online activities that will bear fruit in a few months, any medium-to-long term digital marketing you’re already doing must be sustained through this period. To demonstrate why, we’ve put together data from clients that have paused their campaigns and then picked them up later, only to find that a lot of lead generation ability had been lost.
All clients in the data set ran content-based marketing campaigns for at least 12 months before pausing. The data clearly shows that eliminating content publishing had an increasingly negative impact on lead generation, especially after 6 months. While the initial campaign was still a worthwhile investment — the level of MQLs even after a year of pause is higher than it was before the campaign started — there were serious ramifications to ceasing content publishing.
The reason for the increase in MQLs during the campaign, and subsequent decrease when it was paused, is that Google’s algorithm rewards websites that act like industry resources and news sites, granting them greater search visibility. As long as the keywords in the titles of your content match the ones your target audience is searching, consistent content publishing results in higher leads. Conversely, stopping publishing slowly erases a site’s status as a kind of news site, leaving them stronger than they were before the campaign but without a special advantage.
Old Reality Vs New During A Pandemic
Before closing this article, I want to highlight the conversion from old marketing activities to new ones during this moment of coronavirus — or any pandemic, for that matter.
- In-person presentations become video content, conversion-optimized landing pages, and online slide shows
- Product demos become video content
- Conferences and trade shows become webinars
- Direct Advertising & Marketing becomes thought leadership content: blogs, white papers, case studies, and videos
- E-mail marketing becomes even-better e-mail marketing content put aside for later
Who Handles All These New Marketing Activities?
While it’s tempting to re-assign your newly-“grounded” sales team to these newer marketing and sales activities, not everyone will be a fit for them. A salesperson may or may not be inclined towards being an on-air personality, a written content creator, or an SEO strategist. Changing times call for changing skill sets, and sales and marketing team members will need to work with internal team members or outside firms who have the skillsets that are most valuable during a pandemic. This could mean, for example, that they provide content via an interview to an outside writer; or write the script for a video that a person with great on-screen charisma reads.
The new reality we are facing is best embraced earlier rather than later. We will not only make it through the coronavirus crisis, but do so with a new set of tools for our company, as long as we are swift to adapt to the marketing & sales activities that have a longer term impact.
First Page Sage is a thought leadership marketing & SEO firm. It ghostwrites all forms of thought leadership content in conjunction with experts from our client’s industry, resulting in higher qualified leads and sales. Contact us here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.