Predictions for the B2B marketing industry in the 2020s

As the new decade gets underway, and we all settle back into working life after the Christmas break, it’s the perfect time to look ahead to the 2020s and the trends and opportunities in store for the B2B marketing industry.

Reaching business decision makers and influencers with effective marketing can be the difference between commercial success and failure.  As we go deeper into an age where economic uncertainty looms, automation becomes prevalent and fears over global warming increase, the credibility and reputation of a brand will become increasingly linked to its survival. For brands from all sectors to fuel growth in a decade where businesses will be under the spotlight, marketers must consider the following: 

1. Double down on B2H – business to human 

Last year, in a piece I wrote for B2B Marketing, I argued that the lines between B2B and B2C marketing are becoming increasingly blurred. In the 2020s, those lines will cease to exist.

B2B marketing has for too long been seen as the poor cousin of its consumer counterpart. However, by recognising the similarities between B2C and B2B, we can streamline our approach and harness the best of both worlds. 

The 2020s will be the era in which the importance and value of B2B marketing comes to light. This will enable businesses across many sectors to grow their brands and fuel growth in a stakeholder-first world - and through a potential economic downturn. The ability to promote products and services in a sophisticated, creative and targeted way will play a crucial role in the UK’s growth story in the 2020s.

2. The role of the CMO should not be overlooked 

In recent years we’ve seen an increase in roles such as chief customer officer, chief growth officer and chief purpose officer at the expense of the chief marketing officer. As a result, some CMO roles have become narrowed and focused solely on communication. 

But arguably the role of the CMO has never been more important in generating and maintaining customer relationships across multiple touchpoints. And some companies are cottoning on. Just last month, Coca Cola announced that it is bringing back the global CMO role, having replaced it with a chief growth officer in 2017.

In 2020, those CMOs who will succeed are those who assert their unique expertise and create real business impact. Last year, LinkedIn launched ‘The B2B Institute’, a think tank supported by LinkedIn which aims to arm marketers with the information and knowledge they need to market effectively and have real impact.  Through our work, we hope to champion CMOs to be more productive and in turn, solve business problems.

3. Marketers must strike the right balance between brand building and lead generation  

In the last few years, the questions I’ve been asked most frequently by our customers - and debated within our team - are about balancing brand building and short-term lead generation. 

According to new research by Les Binet and Peter Field, two of the sharpest marketing minds of our time, a number of key growth drivers in consumer-facing marketing also apply for business-centric advertising. By implication, there is much greater commonality in best practice across B2C and B2B sectors than is generally assumed. 

Through their research, Binet and Field found that broadly, advertising investment should be balanced between long-term brand building and lead generation. While both have a role to play, brand building is ultimately more impactful, because the effects last longer and earn positive ‘interest’ over time. Brand building also reduces price sensitivity and increases margins, therefore helping to drive sustainable long-term business and profit growth. 

4. Trust is crucial 

If there’s one word that defined the last decade for me, it’s ‘trust’. The 2010s were characterised by a series of high-profile fake news incidents and backlash against fraudulent followers and influencers from some of the world’s biggest advertisers. As a result, trust in social media platforms has hit an all-time low.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, only a third of people in Europe viewed social media as a “reliable source of news”. But interestingly, the barometer also found that the public expects brands to work closely with social platforms to alleviate ambiguity around fake news and how data is handled. 

What these stark findings show is that more needs to be done by social media platforms and marketers to earn or regain trust in this next decade.   

For marketers in the B2B space, this means creating authentic campaigns fronted by senior executives that not only demonstrate what their business stands for and believes in, but also how it acts on its responsibilities. Shaping perception that ultimately drives sales can no longer be faceless and in the next decade, I suspect we’ll see a growing number of brands harnessing the power of thought leadership as a way of boosting trust. 

Marketers must remember the importance of context, research shows that the environment in which somebody encounters an ad doesn’t just influence how they experience it – it can completely rewrite its meaning, and signal something very different to what the advertiser intends.

Of course, it’s always hard to predict what will actually happen in the next decade. If we took the marketing predictions set out in 2010 as gospel, we’d be living in a world of QR codes, and virtual reality would be a part of our daily lives. The one thing that seems certain is that over the next decade, businesses will face more scrutiny than ever before, and marketing will play a key role in promoting and protecting reputation. 

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