The ongoing global crises—pandemic, economic uncertainty, political tensions, and more—have presented unique challenges for businesses and marketers across the globe. As marketing leaders, we need to carefully consider the strategic and tactical lessons learned thus far so that we thrive and ensure our companies' brands show up appropriately across channels.

Considering the evolving environment and potential new challenges ahead of us, how can we ensure we adapt to the moment and communicate in the best way possible?

1. Demonstrate agility and flexibility

Anything can happen, the past year has shown us. The marketing landscape can be completely shaken up in a matter of days—even hours. We must be ready to quickly decide how to move forward with our campaigns: whether to pivot our strategy, delay a product or service launch, or abandon plans altogether.

Likewise, enterprises need to have agile marketing processes set in place so they quickly respond to market conditions and revise marketing campaigns and messaging as needed overnight. You should be able to act on a new strategy within 24-48 hours.

When you're rethinking or reinventing your processes, listen to your customers. It's important that you have tools that help you monitor your customers' conversations so you know what's on their mind.

You can also reach out to them based specifically on what issues the market is experiencing. Regularly monitor overall industry trends by reading up on the news and current events, and try to anticipate what might be the best message to put in front of your customer at that moment. It may feel like trying to predict the future, but that's part of what makes marketing fun!

And capture how your customers respond to your tactics. Consider their reactions for all future marketing activations.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic we at Acoustic realized that email recipients were starting to open and read their emails at higher rates. To better understand that behavior and help our customers react accordingly, we explored recipients' email habits based on campaigns that our customers executed on our platform from January through June 2020.

In our COVID-19 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, we found that email open rates had increased 4.7% from February to April, and that industries most affected from COVID-19—such as transportation companies—recorded the largest uptick in open rates. Customers were hungry for content that detailed the changes going on at those companies and ways those changes might affect them.

We continue to monitor widespread email consumption data, across all industries, at a macro level, to help our customers pivot their email marketing strategies.

Another example: collaboration platform Slack also conducted a survey to provide important takeaways for its customers. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Slack decided to help its business customers navigate the new work-from-home world, so it carried out a nationwide survey about remote work and issued a report based on the survey data.

The takeaways provided information and best-practices for other businesses, and also gave insights about collaboration tools. Providing helpful resources to customers helped Slack establish itself as a trusted partner and demonstrate its customer-centricity at a time when its B2B customers needed it most.

2. Lead with purpose and communicate with empathy

The importance of digital channels for enterprises has steadily grown over the past couple of years, but the pandemic really put digital in the spotlight. In fact, sales leaders now rate digital channels two times more important than before, McKinsey reports.

The challenge with digitally enabled interactions is that they often happen in real-time across multiple platforms, including social channels, mobile apps, and online communities. When communicating through digital channels during times of crisis, you need to be continually aware of the tone you're using, along with the reactions you're getting, as it can greatly influence how customers will respond to your company's offerings.

Be cautious with the content in all your marketing messages and ensure you understand the circumstances that society and your customers are facing. Then, adapt to the shift in customer behavior to meet them where they are and recognize with empathy the difficulties they may be going through.

Customers are also demanding more responsibility from brands on social issues. Even before the pandemic, 74% of B2B companies considered purpose to be relevant in business growth. In 2021, leading with purpose is even more important.

What does that mean for B2B marketers? To strengthen your customers' trust, you must show customers what your brand's values are and how your company is living up to those values through its actions, whether by implementing institutional change within the company, supporting a social cause, or demonstrating an environmental commitment.

In a recent blog post, I recommended a few questions that we marketers should be daily asking ourselves:

  • What does my brand stand for?
  • What are the pros and cons to joining boycotts and movements as they progress?
  • Do I have an accurate running list of sites where ads are being placed natively?

By asking those questions, you'll ensure you are keeping a close eye on societal issues and the ways your company is responding and communicating with regard to those topics.

3. Use personalization and segmentation

Of course we should be tailoring messages to the needs of our B2B customers and the overall market environment, but it's also important to make sure our communications are personalized to customers' psychographics and location.

Highly personalized messaging will move from being a nice-to-have to a must-have in the coming years—perhaps even in the coming months.

We have long passed the point where consumers expect every email to be personalized with their name in the greeting. Now, customers expect that the email sender will consider their behavior and use it as the basis for a personalized message.

We are all familiar with the "You downloaded a whitepaper from our website" and the "I wanted to follow up after the webinar" emails that B2B marketers use to generate leads. What comes after that? Perhaps a "We thought you'd be interested in a preview of our new report" email that picks up on customers' interest patterns and highlights useful information before they even visit the site.

To accomplish that advanced, predictive version of personalization, use AI technology to assess real-time and historical customer behaviors so you can offer tailored B2B content and relevant products and services to visitors across websites, landing pages, and mobile websites.

In addition, you should analyze marketing segmentation results to assess success and make better decisions about where to invest future funds. Move beyond the basics of which segment yields the best results and start thinking about multidimensional cohorts.

For example, if one segment responds better at a certain time of day, how can you reanalyze the data to see what new cohorts can be created around those behaviors? Are you looking at open and clickthrough rates as independent variables across segments, or can you instead examine how opens, CTRs, and conversion are related as elements of multidimensional analytics across different cohorts?

There is so much data out there, and you have to be quick and smart about analyzing it to enhance your B2B marketing communication strategies. You can do so by rethinking your approach to data analytics and moving to deploy automation solutions that enable a personalized customer experience.

* * *

2020 was a challenging year, but it presented B2B companies with an opportunity to learn important lessons—such as defining our brand values and developing agile personalized marketing campaigns—and implement new marketing communication strategies we can use in 2021 and beyond.

More Resources on Marketing Communication Strategies

How to Effectively Talk to Your Customers During a Crisis

Struggling With Digital Communication? Here Are Five Ways to Nail It

Five Components of Effective Sales and Marketing Communication

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image of Norman Guadagno

Norman Guadagno is the CMO at Acoustic, an independent marketing Cloud platform, where he has been shaping the company's brand since its carve-out from IBM.

LinkedIn: Norman Guadagno

Twitter: @thinktone