By Joe Peng, Chief Digital Officer, APAC
The COVID-19 pandemic created drastic challenges for business-to-business (B2B) marketing in China. To cope with shrinking budgets and channels moving online, businesses have been forced to pursue marketing efficiency on new platforms, accelerate digital transformation and shift their attention to achieving greater brand value. The B2B marketing philosophy of focusing on vertical target audiences and fighting for a double win in both branding and performance is still critical, but tactics have had to evolve in this rapidly changing digital world. Businesses need to strengthen their marketing strategy with data intelligence, diversify their online presence and build emotional rapport with customers on digital platforms.
Using Data and Tools to Improve Marketing Efficiency
When B2B marketing goes digital, it involves a number of automations, apps, decision-making models, workflows, and marketing channels – all of which generate and operate data. While this plays a crucial role in driving marketing efficiency, there are two key challenges in using data:
- Firstly, the data is hard to integrate: Offline scenarios remain common in B2B marketing and this makes it difficult to track data. Whereas for online scenarios, the data silos of major media platforms are more concerned with the China market than any other. B2B customers also need to be engaged in a longer purchasing journey with more touchpoints (e.g., apps, websites, electronic direct mail, chatbots, etc.) which further complicates matters.
- Secondly, the data itself is not the solution: It’s ultimately about turning data into actionable insights and incorporating those insights into the business’s decision-making process. In the context of big data and automation, businesses need to look at how insights can trigger an automatic action in B2B marketing.
These challenges have made the role of data scientists critical and resulted in the vigorous development of the MarTech industry, which is in turn boosting data competitiveness with a variety of new tools that support everything from content strategy to predicting marketing performance. One example is how we analyze data with AI-enabled tools to develop content strategies based on analytics. This can be applicable to common tactics like generating leads via thought leadership content. With AI and machine learning, the content strategy can use topic clusters to improve brand visibility and address every possible question around a key set of topics. It can also reflect that a company is an expert on a specific topic via search engines. All this may result in the growth of traffic and leads.
Adopting tools is not new in B2B marketing. As the role of data in guiding businesses through uncertainty becomes more vital, the volume of new tools available has increased to a point where managing them has become a challenge in itself. Advanced analytics, increasingly embedded into software or used alongside deployed software, has pushed the marketing departments of large-scale companies to introduce teams focused on “DevOps” (a set of practices that combines software development and IT operations) to deploy, operate and monitor these data tools. DevOps and marketing functions need to work together, even if they have different priorities, because closer collaboration between IT developers and marketers enables the cultivation of agile development and operations processes that generate data, which can in turn give the company a competitive advantage. For example, by connecting gathered data to Martech systems, DevOps teams give marketers the ability to create more relevant content based on user information. In addition to embracing the power of data, this model can better support digital transformation of B2B marketing, with the potential for major advancements in interactivity, personalization, and automation. At this level, it is essential that a company has the technology, processes, and talent to progress and thrive; but above all else, it must ensure DevOps and marketing functions work as a unified team.
Creating Emotional Rapport Online
As WARC mentioned in Reshaping B2B Marketing, strong brands drive business growth, and this has only become more obvious in the current environment. The report quoted Sonia David and Bill Zengel at ANA Business Marketing Practice, who said: “The buying journey is just as emotional as it is rational." The pandemic has increased anxiety and distrust, and marketers need to engage customers with empathy.
B2B marketers establish emotional connections in response to practical business problem solving, and emotional needs vary between decision makers from big corporations and those from small- and medium-sized businesses. The spotlight on brand value and emotional rapport is also lifted by changes in the external environment. The upgraded concept of private domain traffic management and a booming community / social circle operation in the China market are providing a strong foundation for companies to establish trust among their target audiences.
BCW designed and implemented a B2B brand marketing campaign “From the World’s Factory to the World’s Engine” for Lenovo which was recently named Global Campaign of the Year by PRovokeMedia as part of the 2021 Global SABRE Awards. The campaign uses a branded documentary featuring people stories to reflect a “New Made in China” era to arouse emotions and weave branded content into public discourse. In order to do this successfully the stories needed to be engaging and emotive, so instead of showing the degree of innovation involved using technical terms and industrial scenes, the stories dug into the real and engaging personal narratives of the people who worked within these factories - the faces behind the machines. The campaign led to more than 1 billion online impressions and sales leads worth nearly US$ 1 million. In the words of one SABRE award judge, the campaign was the “…perfect blend of great strategy, quality creative content, and actual business results”.
While the philosophy of B2B marketing remains the same, marketers must understand that tactics need to be constantly evaluated and upgraded in this new normal we live in. There is both pressure and opportunity for B2B marketers to innovate ways to deliver more customer value, improve marketing momentum and achieve better alignment between long-term value and immediate conversion. With this field evolving so rapidly, much remains uncertain but what we know for sure is that digital B2B marketing will be critical in driving growth and creating sustainable value for businesses in the future.