Reaching B2B buyers is rarely as straightforward as reaching B2C consumers. While many of the touchpoints are now the same, the buying cycle, complexity, and content needs tend to be vastly different. An added challenge for B2B sellers in the past year has been the inability to leverage in-person events and meetings to nurture leads and prospects. 

In this post, we look at what constitutes a B2B marketing campaign in 2021 within the context of the  COVID-affected buying journey and how that influences campaign planning, content strategy, and brand messaging.

The Rise of B2B Buying Groups

A 2021-22  B2B marketing strategy does not need to be completely reimagined for 2021.  Even so, it’s helpful to understand how the pandemic has influenced buyers’ behaviors and expectations.

B2B buying groups, already on the rise in 2019 per Gartner, became even more prevalent over the past year according to new research from Forrester. Forrester’s recent survey of 950 B2B buyers found that 63% of B2B purchases involve four or more people, up from 47% in 2017. Buying roles touch on just about every department and include champions, influencers, decision makers, users, and ratifiers.

The number of B2B buying interactions significantly increased—from 16-17 in 2019 to 17-27 during the pandemic. We’re looking at a much more complex process for B2B buying now versus a year ago. This is exacerbating what was already a fairly circuitous path from identifying a problem to selecting a supplier to solve that problem.

One of Forrester’s main takeaways is that buyers find information about B2B products and services almost anywhere—from forums to webinars to search engines to online events and vendor websites. Your B2B marketing campaign strategy must be comprehensive, but it also needs to address the different buying roles, teams, and segments that influence the final purchase decision.

Personas, messaging, and content

Before you begin planning a B2B marketing strategy, we recommend performing persona and messaging research. This up-front step will inform your content strategy and the direction of your advertising campaign. 

The prospect sits squarely in the center of your marketing approach, linking the tactics and the content to the overall plan. The following graphic illustrates how active and passive tactics, combined with content, drive your prospect’s awareness:

Here’s a breakdown of how persona research, messaging strategy, and content planning all work together to create a successful B2B marketing plan.

  • Persona research:  Personas are meant to represent the buyer profiles that are unique to your business. They should consider every team member involved in the buying process so that content, ads, and touchpoints can be planned based on persona behaviors, demographics, and preferences. We provide persona reports that are based on audience research information gathered from user and stakeholder interviews. This helps to identify the most important benefits and information for each target audience since the needs of a COO, CTO, or CIO may require separate content messaging and delivery approaches.
  • Messaging strategy: Your messaging strategy should be closely mapped to your personas, with key messaging threaded throughout all communications, but personalized appropriately for each audience (and each touchpoint). 
  • Content planning: Content planning and deployment involves creating a comprehensive content strategy including the type of content to create (videos, blog posts, social media updates, etc.) and a content distribution plan. This is also the time to clarify and/or develop a consistent tone-of-voice and theme across all content types. We recommend creating a content calendar and associated content briefs to keep content development moving along, while ensuring that all touchpoints and channels are supported.

The importance of omnichannel marketing

Once you’ve nailed down your content and messaging approach, you can create an ad campaign that addresses the appropriate B2B marketing touchpoints. According to Gartner, that includes a variety of offline and online channels that buyers navigate circuitously, rather than with any sort of linear logic. In fact, the Gartner buying journey looks more like a maze than a funnel, per the following illustration:

Source: Gartner

In the above illustration, buyers circulate through four key buying phases, using at least 13 different information sources that include the following:

  • Online research
  • Web search
  • White papers
  • Supplier websites
  • Peer discussions
  • Social media discussions
  • Virtual demos
  • Supplier buying guides
  • RFP responses
  • Live supplier demos
  • Buying group debates
  • Trend reports
  • End-user input

When creating a B2B marketing plan, it’s important to consider each of the above touchpoints and information sources, providing relevant content whenever possible. Online and offline content assets may include: search ads, SEO-friendly website content, postcards/flyers for direct mail campaigns, sales presentations, display ads, social media posts, client testimonials, and customized landing pages. 

And speaking of landing pages—they’re a key piece of content that directly contributes to campaign outcomes. Research from Wishpond, a lead generation and marketing automation platform, found that the average conversion rate for B2B landing pages is about 13%. But this is only a guideline. Landing page conversion rates should be taken with a grain of salt since the goal of a B2B marketing campaign is not only about getting leads, but about getting qualified, high-value prospects into your funnel.

Landing pages can feature video content and showcase valuable selling tools like whitepapers, on-demand webinars, and infographics, all of which improve user engagement and conversion rates.

A word about marketing automation

There’s a good reason that marketing automation is a popular buzzword in 2021 and we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the role of automation in a 2021 B2B marketing approach. Tools like CRMs, email marketing automation platforms, and sales enablement solutions not only streamline marketing workflows, but they help connect all the touchpoints of the buying journey. They ensure that your messaging is personalized, relevant, and highly targeted. We use SharpSpring to set up campaigns, track results, report outcomes, and optimize various tactics.

Adapting to a changing B2B market

Forrester’s B2B Buyer Trends Report revealed that the pandemic created a shift in B2B business drivers, with purchase priorities shifting toward adapting to a changing B2B market. Buyer interactions and purchasing time frames have both increased in 2021 versus a few years ago, as shown in the following graph:

Source: Forrester B2B Buyer Trends Report: How Buying Behaviors and Preferences Are Shifting

B2B organizations can successfully address the increasingly complex B2B buying journey by understanding what motivates buyers and orchestrating a marketing approach that resonates with every member of the buying group across all possible touchpoints. By combining high quality, compelling content mapped to well-researched personas, B2B sellers can simplify the buying process for prospects, ultimately driving growth for their organization.

Contact us to learn more about our B2B marketing approach for your industry or schedule a free consult with one of our B2B marketing luminaries.