Halfway Through 2020: A Look Backward and Forward for B2B Marketing

June 22, 2020

Happy female marketer looking at camera at home with laptop

You’re familiar with SMART goals, right? It’s the acronym people use to assure each goal they go after is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART.

Given our current situation, maybe we should all agree to swap out “Relevant” and replace it with “Revisable.” Just for 2020. Because what if revising goals is the only way to keep our objectives relevant and attainable? They don’t necessarily need to be revised downward. Some projections are being lowered, to be sure, but they’re your goals – do with them what you wish. Change the timeline. Create a six-month moonshot. Whatever works for you. 

So in the interest of ambition, let’s allow ourselves to adjust our targets and ramp up for a big finish to a consequential year. But before you get started, let’s zoom out and take a look at what we’ve learned so far in 2020, what’s changed, and what’s coming in the second half. 

What Marketers Have Learned So Far in 2020

We’ve learned that, especially during difficult times, it’s important to maintain a positive light. That doesn’t mean being oblivious to what’s happening or ignoring emotional needs. Maintaining positivity means viewing the current landscape through a constructive lens and thinking about what’s possible rather than dwelling on what’s not. As you read this, many marketers are currently delivering on an increased demand for content as a way to grow their brand’s share of voice.  

If we look around, opportunity still surrounds us. Being opportunistic, however, is a bad look. In the digital age, shortsighted moves that prey on vulnerability are almost certain to compromise brand equity and profits in the long-run. Being helpful, on the other hand, is a style that endures. The demand for helpful, difference-making content is higher than ever. 

We’ve also been reminded that advertising tends to drive particularly high returns during a downturn in the economy, however it’s not a luxury every company can afford right now. Studies show that marketing in a downturn boosts share of voice because of few advertisers to compete with and due to less expensive advertising space.  

But unlike companies of the past who were forced to wait out recessions with zero market presence on mass media channels, we have the internet and social media. Organic will always be there for you. Regardless of budget, all marketers are empowered to build online communities that feel welcoming, and present opportunities for connection and inspiration. 

As a result of needing to focus on what’s essential, we’ve also learned just why it’s so important for each piece of content to be purposeful. More content isn’t a good indicator of a job well done. It may just reflect a lack of focus and direction. 

What’s Changed with Marketing in 2020?

It may feel more appropriate to ask what hasn’t changed, but upon closer examination, not much has. Research shows no reduction in advertising’s ability to connect with people, though it’s worth noting that ads with certain characteristics connect better during an economic downturn. So there’s no need to completely discard the collective wisdom we’ve accumulated. Much of the playbook is still valid. Plays just need to be adjusted based on what’s in demand, team strengths, and available resources. 

Take marketing events, for example. Big events like Dreamforce have already announced that they’re taking the action online this year. That’s not to say expectations need to be lowered. In fact, with effective planning and marketing, online events can be more successful than their in-person counterparts. Domo’s event, Domopalooza, welcomed roughly five times more attendees on LinkedIn than the in-person version. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to see what’s new with LinkedIn Events and learn how you might use them to accomplish your second-half goals. 

The need to measure advertising ROI is another trend we’re seeing accelerate. If proof isn’t already demanded by leadership, it’s definitely favored. By learning how to solve for ROI, (though not too quickly, which we’ll touch on in predictions) marketers can become better stewards of their budgets, thereby making themselves more essential. 

Predictions for the Rest of the Year

Right now, it’s harder than usual to extrapolate on trends because nobody knows what’s to come for the remainder of 2020.

Disclaimer disclaimed, we’re already seeing more and more brands returning to their regularly scheduled activities on LinkedIn. We should see marketing spend begin to go back to normal, partly because advertising during a recession correlates strongly with market share growth, and partly because advertisers’ audiences are generally getting back into the swing of things.

In regard to measurement, we should see marketers continue to move beyond immediate gratification metrics like CPC, instead using longer-term, more telling metrics like LTV and influenced bookings as prime indicators of success. 

Customer stories and third-party validation have always been important. This aspect of credibility will become even more powerful as companies make risk mitigation a weightier criteria for evaluating which vendors and partners they should work with. Few will want to select vendors who haven’t demonstrated real-world success, or are considered “off-the-radar” by reviewers and analysts.  

As decision makers lean on content to help them accomplish their changing objectives, content that’s acutely focused on customer needs will earn a growing share of attention. Chest-beating, long in decline, will become even more awkward and ignorable. 

Forrester’s research shows that credible and empathetic content is a winning formula for engagement. As such, content that plays to customers’ consumption preferences and makes good use of their time will rise to the top. By serving up content in a variety of formats, marketers can attract time-strapped buyers (i.e. all buyers) to their brands. On LinkedIn, marketers will increasingly use LinkedIn Video and live-streaming to stand out in the feed

Finishing 2020 in a Stronger Position

There are no exact steps to advise because the proper response to such a fluid and ever changing environment will vary by company, industry, and even department. And we’re still figuring out whether adjustments designed to keep stakeholders safe and productive are working as intended. 

In general, though, B2B marketers can prepare for the path forward by adopting a pragmatic approach to monitoring and meeting customers’ changing needs. By making your goals Measurable and Time-bound, while adopting approaches which provide Relevant data, you’ll know success when you’ve accomplished it because you’ll have shown the relationship between your marketing actions and revenue delivered. SMART. 

We’ll continue to share advice and data-driven insights focused on helping you navigate the changing times. Get it delivered and don’t miss a thing when you subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog