Let's take a few moments and look past our current reality—the one where we spend our days wearing athleisure wear, watching Tiger King, and spending eight hours a day on Zoom calls.
Though we don't know exactly when "our new normal" will end, let's consider what B2B marketing after COVID-19 will look like: What will permanently change, and what will go back to the way things were in the olden days (er, February)?
Predicting the future is a fool's game at best; it's like figuring out the next person to be offed on Ozark. In this case, it's even more difficult, considering the unique cause of our situation. That said, there are enough breadcrumbs left by previous crises and recessions to make some educated guesses on our post-COVID B2B marketing world.
Assuming we will likely experience a deep recession for at least the next 12 months (and likely for 24 months), here are five realities B2B marketers will face over the next 2-3 years.
Revenue marketing will become more important
In 2010, Harvard Business Review conducted the most extensive research ever undertaken on the impact of past recessions on corporate performance. It studied 4,700 companies over the three recessions prior to 2008. The results were sobering.
- 17% of companies didn't survive a recession.
- 80% hadn't regained their pre0recession growth rate three years after the recession (40% hadn't even returned to the same revenue and profit level).
- Only 9% flourished—outperforming competitors by at least 10% in revenue and profit growth.
It is likely that even more so than before COVID-19 the C-suite will place a greater focus on marketing to deliver significant contributions to sales pipeline and revenue. Increased digital engagement, decreased travel costs, and the need for a return on dollars spent will ensure CMOs are even more accountable for initiating and influencing the top line.
CMOs in turn will need to really focus on closing the analytics gaps that persist in most B2B marketing organizations, preventing their team from actively measuring and optimizing pipeline performance.
Martech will undergo contraction and innovation
More than 8,000 martech vendors was always way too much. There was a lot of wheat, but also a lot of chaff. Shiny object syndrome resulted in many organizations' buying apps and platforms with little realized value (or even usage).
Recessions are great for pressing the reset button. There will be a natural culling of the martech herd as capital dries up. At the same time, recessions are also great for being the birthplace of innovation.
Two major martech trends will emerge as a result of the current situation:
- Market leaders will pick up valuable technology at distressed prices to add to their stack and create stronger and broader platforms.
- Innovations will flourish that drive the next generation of incredible marketing technology. Salesforce and Eloqua emerged from the carnage of the 2001 dot-com burst. Marketo, Hootsuite, and HubSpot launched in the 2008 financial crisis. The innovation and market leaders of the next 10 years will likely emerge from this financial crisis.
Live events will return
Much is being written about the death of live events. But I don't believe that will be the case. In a digital world, our desire for face-to-face interaction and real social affiliation will not change. We are hardwired for it—especially marketers.
I look at live events in much the same way as travel following 9/11. People had every reason to stop traveling then: Their concern for personal safety, and the process of traveling became tedious because of the safety precautions put in place. Though it did take close to three years for travel to return to its pre-9/11 levels, we have experienced record travel growth since.
Similarly, it will take time for marketing conferences to flourish again. Global vaccination will be the first critical step. Revenue and marketing budget growth will also be a critical driver. But. eventually, events will return as strong as ever.
The recession roadblock: young talent will struggle
I started my career in the mid-'90s, when the effects of that decade's recession were still lingering. It took me two years to find a permanent role. I wasn't alone. Recessions have the most significant impact on those who are starting their career.
B2B marketing has benefited greatly from the influx of Millennial talent in the past 10 years. They have brought curiosity, collaboration, technical skills, and many other outstanding attributes.
Companies and young talent alike will suffer with a drop in early-career employment opportunities. My advice: over the next 2-3 years, both parties should look for contract opportunities rather than permanent employment to drive results and experience. The gig economy will come to B2B marketing.
What you sow, you reap: Marketing investment now will drive growth then
There's an old saying, "In good times you should advertise. In bad times you must advertise." That's backed up by significant research. Brands that maintain or increase their marketing spend during a recession drive revenue and market share growth both during it and long afterward.
For brands with the cash reserves to do so, now is an amazing opportunity to take share. Less noise, lower media costs, and staying present in the heads and hearts of your audience will pay off significantly.
CMOs should look to pare back other operating expenses (looking at you, tech apps that haven't been deployed) and shift more dollars into content, paid media, and digital engagement.
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The last 10 years have been the golden age of B2B marketing. We have grown our strategic posture within organizations dramatically. That won't change throughout the next 2-3 years, but how we navigate this period will—dramatically so. More than ever, therefore, we marketers will require some of our best traits: agility, flexibility, collaboration, and an ability to see the forest and not merely the trees.