Throughout 2020, B2B marketers were forced to adapt: shifting their goals, experimenting with new tactics, managing expectations, and adjusting messaging to account for the fragile state of the world.

Many turned to more humanizing tones, enhanced virtual events and webinars, better thought leadership on social media, and, of course, increased digitalization.

So where do we go from here?

In 2021, anticipate an acceleration of the same trends that emerged at the end of 2020, as well as an increased focus on using digital tools to build strong relationships between companies and their customers that prioritize long-term success and growth—even in the face of uncertainty.

1. Adapted Messaging

One of the biggest lessons we can take away from 2020 is that adaptability is critical. We know things can change at the drop of a hat: why not be ready to roll with the punches?

When you consider your B2B marketing strategy for 2021, prioritize flexibility in your messages and tactics. People will be most receptive to sensitive and empathetic tones, even when considering business and sales partners. To avoid coming off as dismissive or insensitive, marketers must be attuned to the challenges that individuals and businesses may continue to face.

Humanizing each message and action can go a long way, and it doesn't take a lot of effort. It can also do wonders in furthering long-term relationships between businesses and product and service providers. If your customers don't feel respected, your relationship will go downhill.

2. Personalized Virtual Events

Marketers have been forced to say goodbye to traditional in-person events and tradeshows and welcome the concept of virtual events to meet new partners and drive leads. Many of us have gotten our feet wet in the virtual event space, but most people are still trying to figure out how to make those events as interactive and impactful as possible.

Anticipate an improvement of the virtual B2B event sphere in 2021. More time and effort will be put toward planning virtual events as a way to compensation for the lack of in-person functions lost to the pandemic. Companies are now realizing that large scale, in-person events may not occur until 2022, so they will be making the most of the situation at hand.

As for in-person networking, I gather it will migrate to either matchmaking chatbots or personal introductions based on prior matches. Technology has made close to anything possible these days, and throughout 2021 businesses must implement new and unique ideas for reaching potential partners and clients to drive leads, site traffic, and sales.

3. Digitalization

2020's drastic shift from in-person connections to predominantly remote ones makes it no surprise that digital advertising increased. US B2B marketers spent roughly $8.14 billion on digital ads—up 22.6% from 2019, one report estimated. In addition to paid social media campaigns and native digital advertising, SEO and paid SEM will become more crucial for digital marketers.

Now that increased restrictions are in full swing for the winter months of 2021, most businesses that seek new service providers will begin the process with online research rather than traditional in-person networking events. Companies will want to keep their products and services at the forefront of potential partners' minds through search results, sponsored content, and online advertising.

4. Social Media and the Power of LinkedIn

LinkedIn means to B2B marketers what TikTok means to Millennials and GenZers. LinkedIn will continue to grow as a B2B platform in 2021, and among companies using the platform we can expect there to be an uptick in video content, in particular. Video, rather than lengthy text posts, can captivate potential customers and drive more engagement.

The concept of influencer marketing in the B2B space is different from that in consumer spheres, but many company leaders and decision-makers use social media to explore relevant trends, as well as find and vet potential partners and vendors. When they embark on those searches, you want your company and its leadership to be well-established as industry sources and influencers. That will drive brand awareness, engagement, and eventually increased lead generation and sales.

* * *

2020 caused looming uncertainty for many companies, but, as some say, we can only go up from here. Anticipate 2021 to be a year of creativity, innovation, and reinvention. Versatility will be everything. Businesses looking to market to partners and clients must be open to new ideas.

In 2021, getting out of your comfort zone and changing with the times will be the secret sauce for growing sales and building meaningful B2B partnerships.

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What's Ahead for B2B Marketing in 2021: Four Areas to Focus On

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image of Justin Kline

Justin Kline is CEO, managing director, and a co-founder of Markerly, an influencer marketing agency and technology company.

LinkedIn: Justin Kline

Twitter: @justinkline