eMarketer’s B2B Advertising Forecast 2021: 6 Key Insights and Revelations

August 27, 2021

Group of women collaborating in a meeting room in front a dry erase boardGroup of women collaborating in a meeting room in front a dry erase board.
The long-term transformation to digital ads is here. This trajectory has been underway for several years, but it was accelerated by the pandemic and will not reverse itself.” - eMarketer

B2B companies in the United States are expected to spend more than $10 billion on digital advertising in 2021, representing a 24.9% increase from 2020, which itself had already seen a massive jump from the previous year. Among formats, display advertising is pacing the field, with LinkedIn helping drive tremendous growth for this category.

These are among the key revelations drawn from eMarketer’s US B2B Advertising Forecast 2021. Published in July, the report features revised projections and numbers as a follow-up on the organization’s previous release from August 2020.

There are some eye-catching insights within, shedding new light on the current and future direction of B2B ad strategies and investments. 

Here are six findings from the new report that struck us as most noteworthy.

Digital is Fast Closing the Gap on Traditional B2B Advertising

As recently as 2018, traditional advertising methods (e.g. directories, magazines, newspapers, TV) accounted for almost three-quarters of all B2B ad spending (74.5%). In 2021, that figure is expected to check in at 58%. The divide between traditional and digital stood at 49 percentage points three years ago, and is now down to 16 points. 

eMarketer expects that by 2023, the two will be nearly even.

This fast-closing gap is the byproduct of a long-running shift toward digital, which kicked into higher gear in 2020 for obvious reasons. As the report makes clear: it’s not a temporary trend.

Per eMarketer: “This is the fourth time we have updated this ad spending package, and the story for B2B advertising has never been clearer: The long-term transformation to digital ads is here. This trajectory has been underway for several years, but it was accelerated by the pandemic and will not reverse itself.

B2B Display Advertising, and LinkedIn, Lead the Way

Display is the fastest-growing format for B2B advertisers in the US, according to the report. The ad type is projected to experience a 32.6% growth rate in 2021, outpacing the healthy B2B digital ad market as a whole. 

B2B organizations will spend more than $5 billion on display ads this year, as advertisers gravitate toward the ability to reach decision makers through contextual messaging that aligns with the increased appetite for digital content consumption. 

I’m not here to toot our own horn, but I don’t need to: the numbers speak for themselves. LinkedIn is the central force in B2B display advertising, making up the largest share of investment in the format at 32%. LinkedIn will drive an estimated $1.64 billion in US display ad spend this year, up 27.1% from 2020, and is expected to surpass $2 billion by 2023.

We are excited about this growth and grateful to our customers who make it possible. Our goal remains to lift you up with us as we usher in a new era of digital networking and relationship-building in the professional realm.

Search Stays Strong, But Is Growing Less Quickly

Search advertising remains an essential strategic cornerstone, but isn’t growing as quickly as some other tactics amidst the ongoing digital revolution.

B2Bs are expected to spend $5.36 billion on search ads this year, up 19.5% from 2020. Presently, this level of investment still surpasses display advertising in terms of total share (49.5% to 47.0%), but eMarketer expects that by 2023 display will have moved ahead (50.0% to 47.0%).

Advertisers Pivot Back to Mobile Advertising

It’s no secret that mobile advertising has been on the rise for some time, although this trend has been somewhat less pronounced in the B2B space, where buyers are often still on their laptops or at their desk during business hours. Still, B2B mobile ad spending went from a 30.1% share in 2016 to 41.0% in 2019.

Last year, we saw advertisers press pause on mobile spend. Bucking a consistent upward ascent, mobile investments in 2020 actually declined from the previous year, albeit by only half a percentage point. This was seemingly in response to more professionals working from home as opposed to being out and on the go. Here in 2021, we’ll see a rebound to the pre-pandemic trend line, with mobile expected to gain four percentage points. eMarketer projects mobile to overtake nonmobile in 2023.

Despite losing share, desktop placements are still experiencing healthy growth, with US B2Bs slated to spend more than $6 billion on nonmobile ads in 2021, up 16.5% from 2020. 

Tech & FinServ Lead the Way Among B2B Advertisers

Technology and financial services are on track to jointly account for more than half of all B2B digital ad spending in 2021. Tech products and services alone are behind nearly one-third (32.1%) of all B2B ad spend as the business world adapts to a digitally-driven paradigm, and vendors compete to meet the demand.

The top sectors, according to eMarketer's revised forecast:

  • Tech products & services: 32.1%
  • Financial services: 25.1%
  • Other: 21.5%

What is "Other" you might ask? The cohort accounts for more spend than some notable individual sectors like telecom and healthcare & pharma. Per eMarketer, that collection includes: automotive, industrial supplies, manufacturing, energy, professional services, logistics and shipping, and agriculture.

Social Is the Top Channel for ABM Advertising

And it’s not close. Social media naturally lends itself to the style of personalized, multi-touch, relationship-driven tactics that fuel account-based marketing, so it’s no surprise that B2Bs are making it a centerpiece in their ABM programs. 

These are the channels B2B marketing professionals invest in most for their paid digital advertising as part of their account-based marketing strategy, per May 2021 custom research provided to eMarketer from Ascend2:

  1. Social media: 64%
  2. Paid search: 36%
  3. Email newsletter sponsorship: 23%
  4. Paid commerce channel search: 15%
  5. Custom content sponsorship: 14%

B2B Advertising Is Back on Track and Poised for Growth

Overall, it’s been a resurgent year for the B2B advertising industry, which saw a decline of 2% in overall spend from 2019 to 2020. Here in 2021, overall investments are projected to grow by 16.5%, reaching nearly $26 billion. eMarketer forecast that by 2023, US B2B companies will spend more than $30 billion on advertising.

Returning to growth, indeed.

To get the full scoop and access a wealth of additional stats and insights, you can check out the entire report from eMarketer

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