Six changes marketers can make to get ahead in 2021

Six changes marketers can make to get ahead in 2021

2020 was the year of the pivot. B2B marketers were forced to quickly adapt their strategies with an audience with changing behaviour, whilst under increased financial pressure and business scrutiny.

In a year of uncertainty, one thing is sure. This year’s B2B landscape is going to be considerably different to last year. How can brand leaders seize the opportunity of change, and get ahead?

At alan, we recently surveyed 600 B2B marketers to better understand how their priorities have shifted in the wake of a global pandemic. Using insights from our study, I’ve outlined six ways we think marketers can best position themselves to ‘win’ 2021.

Lead the transformation journey

For most businesses, audience behaviour has never before seen such a profound gearshift. A new remote world has sped up the transformation roadmaps for most. Over half (56%) of business marketers say the biggest change the pandemic has imposed on their department is an accelerated shift to digital.

Marketers that will get ahead are ones who embed their own departments within this new priority. Or even lead it.

Whilst a third (32%) want to use covid as an opportunity to experiment with new online formats, truly digital-first marketing requires digital to become ubiquitous. It’s worth remembering that digital is more than a format or execution. Digital has to be used to tie together every touchpoint in the brand journey to create a holistic user-experience.

Think about how you can demonstrate ROI

It’s been a challenging year for marketers, and they are feeling the pressure. More than half (53%) of senior marketers have had budget cuts since the outbreak of covid-19, while 43% have suffered headcount reduction.

Against this backdrop, they are expected to demonstrate clear and tangible return on investment (ROI) for their efforts. A quarter of marketers are now seeing increased scrutiny on ROI. Almost seven in ten marketers are now being forced to prove it, with 24% of these seeing it as critical to the existence of the marketing department.

B2B marketers need to ensure there is a clear and agreed ROI framework in place – to measure their clear success.

This means easily measurable quant results, like reach, lead generation, digital analytics. However, it also means ensuring your framework accounts for less tangible results. Share of voice, brand awareness, market share and brand salience are key to measure.

Sector specialism is in hot demand, build the skill set

Over a third (35%) of senior marketers are frustrated by agencies showing a lack of insight into their business or industry. On a related note, the top criticism for agencies is a lack of substance or depth, with 66% of marketers saying this is the case.

The competitor and audience landscape has changed drastically and will continue to do so. Marketers that succeed will be ones that understand the industry context and technical nuances that shape their client’s or customer’s needs.

Revisit the foundations of your marketing strategy

When asked about their internal capability gaps, ‘strategy’ was perceived as the number one need (25%). On a similar note, it was seen as the most desired agency skill for 45% of marketers.

Having gone through the turbulence of 2020 it’s clear that marketers are aware there is a need to press pause and reset the basics, rebuilding the foundations of their marketing work.

The winners from the pandemic were brands that were able to adapt to the changing landscape. In order to be able to flex and adapt, brands need to have a core understanding of their changing audience’s needs.

Pull up a seat at the boardroom table

Disappointingly our findings show that just 27% of senior B2B marketers believe their department is revered and plays a key role in shaping business strategy.

Ultimately, this problem stems from the focus on ROI mentioned earlier – with marketers penning themselves in with vanity metrics like click-through rates and conversions. The leading marketers that earn a seat at the boardroom table are ones that stay close to business metrics such as revenue and gross profit.

Double down on creative

In a list of 10 marketing priorities, maintaining or building brand awareness was top (43%). This is encouraging news in the wake of the global pandemic. A third of marketers we spoke with are committed to using the pandemic as a catalyst for taking risks and being more daring with creative and campaigns.

In trying times, when budget is under scrutiny, the natural instinct for marketers is to play it safe. This often results in a short-term focus on tactical activity, such as lead and demand generation.

Indeed, investing in brand has been proven to work. During the 2008-9 downturn, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising found that brands that invested in growing excess share of voice grew their market share by over four times more during recovery.