How to approach B2B marketing during a crisis

Trinity Mirror - B2B Marketing During a Crisis

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has created a commercial space that is difficult to navigate, especially for those working in a B2B environment.

As we prepare to head into a recession, it is important to take into account a few of the consistent lessons that the key players in the industry have taught us, so that we might not only survive but thrive on the other side. 

As a branded content agency focused on creating animated video to support both internal and external marketing and communications, we decided to dig a little deeper into how  B2B marketers should best approach a time of crisis. 

Maintaining your marketing budget

Unsurprisingly, the main focus for many businesses during an economic downturn is survival. This survival mode often includes cutting costs that don’t directly drive revenue and may be considered by management as  ‘unnecessary spending’. Often, marketing and communications budgets fall into this category. 

However, one of the most consistent messages we have seen throughout COVID-19, is that maintaining your advertising spend is crucial during a time of crisis – and one that can make or break your business. 

But this is not just a recent phenomenon. Throughout history, there are plenty of examples of companies that increased their marketing spend during a crisis and prospered as a result. Most MBA students will have heard the story of Kelloggs, who during the great depression, doubled their marketing spend at a time where others slashed theirs. The result? Kellogg’s profits rose 30% as the economy suffered all around it and they moved from an underdog to the dominant player they remain today. 

Kelloggs was highly visible during a time where no one else was. Their competition stepped back from the limelight and over time, they were able to develop brand recognition and trust. 

But what about those that did the opposite? During the 2000 downturn, Sony made a decision to focus on cutting their spending, which resulted in a difficulty in regaining momentum. This was made clear with 1% sales growth the year following the downturn as compared to 11% growth the three years prior, as well as the inability to develop new products, as they were already bested by their competitors in most areas.

What both these examples, and others, teach is that maintaining a marketing presence during a recession is critical for the long-term success of a business.  

Thinking Long Term

This leads us on to the next lesson history teaches us. While having a short term survival strategy is necessary during a crisis, companies also need to be thinking long-term to build their brand image. 

With a short term strategy, you may find that you endure through a recession, but you will set yourself back greatly when it comes to brand perception following the downturn. This is no different from focusing solely on the long-term strategy, which will take your focus away from the ‘reactive’ opportunities. 

The best thing that B2B marketers can do in these situations is to find a balance between the two rather than focusing on one over the other. This is supported by the fact that B2B brands identified as outperforming their competitors were twice as likely to allocate 60% or more of their budget to achieving long-term marketing goals.

How you split that effort depends greatly on your industry and goals, but it has recently been recommended that B2B marketers should favour short-term investments, suggesting a 55/45 split toward sales activation over building your brand. This means promotional product and service videos are important to maintain during the recession, but not at the long-term expense of branded content.

Keep your messaging consistent

One of the first changes we tend to make to our communications during a time of crisis is to tailor our messaging to suit a more sombre mood. But a recent article, Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at System1, argues that there is no reduction in advertising’s ability to connect with people in difficult times.

For example,  in the last few months, campaign creative that showed a human connection and ‘betweenness,’ and exhibited self-awareness, performed better. The same goes to say for ads that demonstrated a connection to a place and a community. On the other hand, ads that have a hard, fast selling approach are not working well. 

The lesson here is to keep your messaging humble and full of empathy. Ask your customers how you can help rather than tell them what they need. In giving your brand a human touch, with humour, generosity, and humility, your B2B campaign will resonate with audiences who have shared the trials of 2020 with you.

Video of The Big Issue Foundation's #EasyGiving Campaign showing mother fox shopping with children

Plan for a targeted content strategy

As a branded content agency, we know how important it is to have a strong content strategy. Whether that’s through animated video or another medium, content that is relevant, original, timely and that provides value to your audience is how you effectively communicate your message.  

In the past, these strategies were generalised in order to reach as many segments as possible. But during a time of crisis, people will (understandably) focus on what they know and trust.  

According to the  Content Marketing Institute, this means that your strategy should shift to be highly relevant to the needs of who you are trying to reach. To strengthen this further, gear your messaging towards your ‘true believers’, or those who are engaged with and trust your brand. 

Building on the idea of ‘true believers’ isn’t just external either. Take the opportunity to develop your internal marketing initiatives to support your marketing efforts.

Your workforce often makes up the people that believe in what you are doing the most. By sharing updates, new product developments, and company values with them, they will be able to take that forward and market your brand better. 

Finally, it’s also important to remember that marketing and communications during a crisis tend to get repetitive. To stand out, ensure you put a unique spin on your content so that it remains relevant but isn’t following the masses.  

Adapting to the digital revolution

So what does all of this mean for your brand? Remaining consistent seems to be the overarching theme on how to approach B2B marketing strategies during a crisis. However, if there is one thing we need to accept and adapt to, then it’s the digital revolution of the professional world.

Through the coronavirus crisis, many of us were either forced to work remotely or adapt our product and service offerings to a digital platform to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This has since triggered a new way of working, and, as a result, it is unlikely that we will go back to the way we were before. 

To facilitate this new professional environment, companies operating in the B2B space should consider different ways to digitalise their strategies. 

A good example is using animated video to communicate to internal and external stakeholders, as it is an engaging, easy, and digestible way to communicate regardless of timezones. For inspiration on how to communicate using video, take a look at our recent blog. And don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team with any thoughts, opinions or ideas on navigating B2B marketing during a crisis.