Green shoots of optimism for the B2B marketing industry

I’ve been reflecting on how the pandemic has affected the B2B marketing industry over these past few months. More specifically, what this means for us as we look ahead to the future, and the global recession ahead. 

As lockdown measures were introduced, campaigns were pulled, budgets were cut and members of our industry were furloughed – or in some cases, sadly, made redundant. This has even been the case for some of the industry heavyweights, despite their scale. 

But during these unprecedented times, the B2B marketing industry has shown incredible resilience. I have admired the collaboration, nimbleness and creativity I’ve witnessed from both individuals and companies who have adapted quickly to survive. For example, as physical events got cancelled we  saw virtual ones quickly propelled into the mainstream. And as confinement measures were introduced, we saw brands that traditionally relied on out-of-home and print advertising rapidly shift their focus to digital, in order to reach their audiences. 

LinkedIn’s research shows that times are still really tough for a lot of the industry, with budget cuts and reallocations across the board. In fact, B2B marketers have been hit harder by the crisis than their B2C counterparts on that front, with almost three quarters experiencing budget cuts. 

However, both the research and my ongoing conversations show that B2B marketers are agile, resilient and optimistic for the future. In many ways, more so than their B2C colleagues, who are reliant on an increase in consumer confidence and spending.

B2B marketers are also proving they can pivot quickly to respond to these challenges in the following three ways:

1. Adapting content to evolving consumer attitudes

Covid-19 is changing the expectations of consumers and exposing companies to greater scrutiny when it comes to their purpose-led activity. Marketers are responding to this – almost half have adjusted their content marketing strategies to focus more on their vision, mission and strategy. Two-fifths have adapted content or creative to be more emotional in nature. 

This trend isn’t going away. Over the next six months to a year, two-fifths of marketers think they will have to change the tone, content and messaging of their marketing assets.

2. Marketers are taking less risks and focusing on tactical execution 

More than a third of marketers say they are less able to take risks with marketing campaigns due to budget constraints, with around half of marketers saying they will focus more on tactical execution rather than strategic projects over the coming year. 

3. Marketing functions are being redefined 

The pandemic and the upcoming recession are forcing marketers with reduced budgets to rethink how they operate. One of the positive outcomes of these challenging times is that many businesses, despite budget cuts, are valuing marketing more and want their brand to emerge from the recession relatively unscathed. 

This is a great opportunity for marketers to redefine their roles and show their real value to the business. I’ve heard from multiple clients recently that they’ve now got a seat at the board table, which wasn’t always the case before. It’s clear that CMOs are being given the opportunity to steer their businesses out of the crisis. 

The good news is that we are seeing a lot of green shoots, resilience, optimism and innovation in the industry as people embrace technology, find new ways of being creative and pivot their strategies in response to the situation. 

The reasons for optimism vary. There’s a sense that a lot of the new ways of doing things are here to stay, with more than a third of B2B marketers most excited about having the opportunity to redefine their role in the business. More than half of B2B marketers think challenging times bring out the best in their teams – and I couldn’t agree more. 

As we shift our focus from crisis to recovery, LinkedIn is calling on cross-industry collaboration and knowledge sharing to help prepare the marketing industry as we enter an economic downturn. I’d love to hear more about your experiences as a marketer over the last few months and your thoughts on the future.