The MarketingProfs team convened a virtual roundup of marketing expert friends to get their take on trends and predictions that CMOs will need to be aware of to succeed in 2021.

Here's what they predict.

1. A long-term approach is the Miracle-Gro that B2B brands need to thrive

Ann Handley
Chief content officer, MarketingProfs

In 2021, one-off B2B marketing programs are permanently choked off so that true relationships can thrive. We reward the companies that have been there for us in these weird times.

Marketers will need to (a) refine what the customer needs from us right now from a content, service, and product point of view; (b) lead with empathy—not regular, garden-variety empathy... but pathological, focused, extreme empathy; (c) find creative ways to enhance/improve customer interactions to make them memorable; and (d) avoid delivering a disjointed customer experience. (I call this the business equivalent of a "Zoom mullet": Your business is perfectly presentable from one perspective, but a hot mess from another perspective.

2. Smart marketers will leverage macro-economic data

Christopher S. Penn
Co-founder and chief data scientist, Trust Insights

Macro-economic data will give marketers a better handle on the forecasting that has been so difficult to predict this year. In addition, B2B marketing is about to be rocked to its core. New and increasing data privacy laws, changes to analytics tools, and the loss of third-party cookies are going to force us to reimagine B2B marketing in significant ways. The planning and implementation of what comes next must start now.

3. Distracted, disconnected customers require more attention

Nancy Harhut
Chief creative officer, HBT Marketing

Marketers need to work harder than ever to attract the attention of customers and gain their trust, and to reframe The Why underlying the buy so that it's relevant. Old segmentations, strategies, and selling points may fail because customers now have different mindsets and motivations; however, humans are still hardwired to rely on decision defaults. And that means it's even more important to understand human behavior and the decision-making shortcuts people use, so that marketers can increase their likelihood of success.

4. Fostering a human connection

Kenda Macdonald
Prime ninja, Automation Ninjas

We've been disconnected from human-to-human interaction in 2020, and depersonalized automation has been building that disconnection for years. Businesses that flourish in 2021 will be the ones focusing on using their systems, automation, and processes to personalize and foster a human connection. Customers are craving deep personalization now more than ever, and those businesses that find a way to connect deeper with their audiences are going to be the ones that win.

5. Clearly identified market positioning

April Dunford
Consultant, author, speaker,

2020 has taught us that unpredictable forces can suddenly tilt an entire market in one direction or another. We will need to clearly identify the pillars of our market positioning, understand the dependencies, and then prepare to turn on a dime as the market shifts. We are in deeply uncertain times, and we need to be agile above all else. CMOs who understand the exact elements that impact their market positioning fundamentals will be much better prepared to react to changes.

6. Brands demonstrating empathy

Nick Westergaard
Chief strategist/partner, Brand Driven Digital

As businesses face one of the most challenging climates in history, brands will need to demonstrate empathy in dealing with strained customers—working to accomplish their own lofty goals with limited budgets—in a challenging environment of their own. And when the issue is empathy, it's much easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk. It's going to require a lot of listening and understanding. Switch off the automated responses and focus on being even more human in 2021.

7. B2B marketing to resemble B2C marketing

Juntae DeLane
Founder & chief strategist, Digital Delane

LinkedIn's adoption of stories and live streams is evidence that personal interactions are increasingly in demand for professionals. Overall, suits will become shirts, sales pages will become stories, and stiff brands will become more personal.

8. Uncertainty will challenge marketers who are re-evaluating their marketing channels

Lee Odden
CEO & co-founder, TopRank Marketing

New research into B2B influencer marketing has revealed that collaborating on content with industry experts helps improve customer engagement and marketing effectiveness in three key areas:

  1. Trust: 77% of B2B marketers say they believe that prospective customers rely on advice from industry experts.
  2. Experience: 77% agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand.
  3. Performance: 63% say their marketing would have better results if it included a B2B influencer marketing program.

9. Smart brands make full-time offers to influencers

Andy Crestodina
Co-founder & chief marketing officer, Orbit Media Studios

After a tough year of disruption, a lot of influencers are ready for a steady paycheck. Couple that with years of high agency fees and flat results, and a lot of brands are ready to try a new approach to social media. Put those together, and in 2021 you may see smart brands making full-time offers to influencers. And some influencers will welcome the opportunity. The brand that can land one of these highly visible subject-matter experts gets instant reach into a large, engaged audience. The influencer gets a W2 and health benefits. Everybody wins.

10. Back to basics

Jen Smith
VP of marketing, MarketingProfs

Marketers have been on a neverending wheel of "more, more, more." 2020 made us take a step back and remove the clutter in our personal lives and in our marketing plans. 2021 will be about "less but better." Better stories. Better campaigns. Better experiences. 2020 showed us that even in B2B we're all craving connection. The B2B marketers who find ways to humanize their efforts are the ones who will stand out from the crowd.

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MarketingProfs' Top 10 B2B Marketing Trends and Predictions for 2021

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