What does 2021 Have in Store for B2B Marketers?

Mike Maynard, Managing Director, NapierMike Maynard, Managing Director
Oscar Wilde said, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” 2020 definitely falls into the second category! Although business-to-business organisations generally suffered less than most consumer brands, 2020 was a year most of us would like to forget.

We enter 2021 with hope. Although COVID continues to damage many lives, the vaccine offers us a way out. There is no such thing as the “new normal”. In fact, I’m ashamed to even use such a lazy cliché. Things are going to change rapidly in 2021 as the restrictions on daily life are lifted. Equally we’re not going back to the “old normal” either (assuming there was an old normal).

My first prediction is that marketing and sales will continue their love-in. During COVID something strange happened: marketing and sales, two sworn enemies in most corporations, worked closely together. When salespeople realised that even more of the customer journey happens before contacting a vendor when sales can’t visit customers, they also recognised the value of marketing to nurture these opportunities and generate leads. This cooperation will continue, making both the marketing and sales functions more effective, and ensuring marketing is more measurable and accountable.
Forget about differentiating your marketing by the technology you use. In 2020, martech is the entry ticket. Creativity will be the differentiator. I’m so excited about the future of B2B marketing. To compete organisations will need to invest in a decent martech stack. With technology no longer the differentiator, creativity will again be the currency of the marketing arms race. Campaigns will be more engaging and exciting, and will ultimately be more effective than drab campaigns that are launched at customers with a battery of technology.

In 2021 we will finally realise the importance of building great experiences. It’s amazing to see so many companies show their human side in 2020, which naturally built better customer experiences. As we emerge from the pandemic there will be a lot of recriminations: the companies that behaved well and looked after their customers will deliver outstanding results when compared with those who focused on short-term profit.

As we emerge from the crisis mode we lived in for most of the last year, it’s inevitable that we will look at who helped us when we needed it, and who didn’t. Inevitably we are all going to have a naughty and a nice list of suppliers, and want to partner with the nice ones: those whom we can trust to help in a crisis.

My last two points are not really “predictions”, as they should be obvious. Firstly, virtual events are here to stay. Don’t panic, as when we are not on Zoom or Teams all day and organisers have had a bit of practice, they will be much more engaging and useful than the many haphazard attempts we forgave in 2020.

My final prediction is that podcasts will be the fastest-growing medium in terms of impact. Podcast listening grew strongly during 2020 and, as we return to commuting to offices, this will accelerate.

If you, like many people, had a tough time in 2020 I hope that 2021 will prove a better year. I think that Drake said it best: “Tables turn, bridges burn, you live and learn.” Keep healthy and keep learning.