The Corona pandemic may have been contained, the time of contact restrictions, voluntary isolation, involuntary cocooning may be over. But what effect has Corona had on B2B marketing and will this effect last when the virus has finally dissipated? We have tried to trace the fever curve of B2B marketing in a survey.
Forecasts, the world-famous marketing thinker Mark Ritson must have thought, are easy when the present is the already experienced reflection of the future. And that is why Ritson formulated at the beginning of April - you remember: we were all at home there -. Some theses on the impact of the Corona crisis on marketing. Central to this: Ritson used the term "pneuma", known from Greek, to describe a quite popular interpretation of the future for the time after Corona.
Pneuma stood for the all-pervading breath of God, for vortex; thus for a serious change, in this case triggered by a serious crisis. Today's pneuma expectation, often circulated in the media, conjured up by good people, would therefore be: Corona will continue in our consciousness as consumers. We will renounce blind consumption, prefer to sit at Zoom meetings out of consideration for the environment rather than fly somewhere for a brief day for a meeting, so we will become better people overall.
But Ritson does not really believe in it. His argument: two or three months of deprivation will not be enough to change our civilisational code. On the contrary: people, according to Ritson's assumption, will have had enough of the mindfulness and consumer abstinence that is communicated everywhere, including by companies. And in a few weeks or months, people will no longer want to hear how well a company made an effort to protect its own employees and customers during the pandemic, how much it was there for everyone.
Ritson says: predicting the future, long-term behaviour of consumers is not possible with a comparatively short-term extreme event like Corona, the influence of this extreme event in the long term is not great enough. He cites BSE as an example: at the time, 60 per cent of British consumers said they would never eat beef again. Shortly after BSE disappeared from the headlines, meat consumption rose again to new heights.
The pneuma in B2B marketing
Sure: we're talking about B2C here. But what impact does Corona have on B2B marketing? Or in other words: do B2B marketers also expect pneuma? Spoiler: probably not so much as the breath of God, but at most as an emergency reluctance to invest on the part of their clientele.
In a survey we have now conducted among B2B marketers, in which we tried to trace the fever curve of B2B marketing, it became very apparent: B2B marketing reacts in a template-like way to difficult economic developments.
Almost 60 per cent of respondents said they had already cut their marketing budgets. In most companies, cutting marketing budgets is the simplest of all exercises, the measure that is assumed to have the least impact on the functioning of a company. This is as obvious as it is wrong. For it is precisely in B2B marketing that customer relationships build up much more slowly than in a B2C environment, where strong brands, for example, may have been tightening the bond between customer and company for decades and there is much less rational basis for an investment decision. And in B2B marketing, we are convinced that the whole toolbox of marketing methods is needed to create enough touchpoints for the customer.
Those who are now able to recklessly cut marketing budgets run the risk that the construction as a whole will become unstable. And on the other hand, one should also ask oneself quite honestly: was what can now so easily fall victim to the red pencil perhaps already dispensable before Corona? That, too, is Pneuma, to return to Mark Ritson: the breeze that reveals everything that was unnecessary - even if the Corona crisis is perhaps only the occasion for it.
In our survey, we also found out what marketing managers are willing to change in their communication toolbox: a majority wants to invest more in digital marketing, many also in online events. That is understandable. But with both plans, one thing seems important to us: investing more in digital forms of communication should not be based on a lack of effective alternatives and should not happen reflexively.
Anyone who now puts their marketing budget into pixels must do so - Corona has not changed this - firstly in conjunction with "analogue" instruments and also sustain this digital dominance in the long term. It is a fundamental decision and one that must be well thought out. And in the hierarchy of decision factors, the prospect of cost savings should not rank higher than the idea of impact. Because even if digital now dominates marketing, it is equally clear that the customer journey in the capital goods business has become longer rather than shorter in recent years. In this respect, digital will not be able to accelerate customer decisions, but it will help to solidify them.
The desire to invest more in online events is also understandable. However, the question of the success of such efforts is determined by the uniqueness of digital events. An online event is not just a physical event without distance rules. It must have its own character. Moreover, because the socialising factor is inevitably absent from such events, one thing is added: content becomes more decisive and thus also the link with content marketing.
Longer customer journeys
Content marketing. Of course. A constant. Of course, we also asked about its relevance. Content marketing is in first place among all communication disciplines that will be preferred in the future - of course we think: rightly so. And we predict: the more investment restraint the economic crisis resulting from the Corona crisis produces, the more dominant content marketing will become. Content marketing.
Because the customer's consideration of his journey is best and most sustainably accompanied by storytelling. The customer journey is increasingly becoming a content journey and we know that the customer's decision-making reliability is fundamentally influenced by the information he has already received before the first contact with the sales department. If you don't take this into account in the coming months and don't design content marketing for these long customer journeys, you won't be successful, no matter how active sales is. This is another reason why it is important to understand the shift towards digital marketing as a fundamental, long-term decision.
In our survey, by the way, a majority of the companies stated that they had also communicated how they had acted in the Corona crisis. That was the right idea. But those who have not moved in this thematic ecosystem before - see Ritson - do not have to start now.
Back to Mark Ritson: he predicts a 40% reduction in marketing budgets. And he says: those who do not reduce their budgets in the recession have a good chance of capturing market share from the competition.