The impact of the novel coronavirus continues to be massive all around the world. With the onset of extended furloughs, closing down of brick-and-mortar stores, and a possible recession, B2B marketers are more determined to keep their heads above water.
Not being able to operate out in the physical world has turned our focus to the internet – that is now teeming with online activities 24/7. This disruptive spike in internet usage has put marketers in a bit of a dilemma as they address COVID-19 through content marketing.
Needless to say, it’s a rough time for marketers to be able to grasp how the market is changing in real time. To understand it better, we’ve gathered a more accurate, vendor-agnostic analysis of how content consumption has disrupted the B2B space.
Packed with insights and concrete consumer data, the goal of this article is to provide marketers with a crystal-clear view of the volatile market, so as to understand how to navigate their online business in the new norm.
Let’s dive in.
Work from Home
Americans are spending more of their time online than ever. As more of the world is staying indoors, online activities have reached unprecedented heights and remote work is having its moment. Tweet This! Mentions of working from home reached its peak on March 13, showing some preparedness over the closures ahead.
We’ve become more reliant on solutions that allow us to learn and work from home. This dramatic shift, from typically working from our offices to operating from our homes, has brought the need for technological input as well. 23.1% of the work from home conversation is happening around WFH technology and related matters, falling mainly into these three categories:
- The new technology required to work remotely
- The technology needed to keep in touch
- Cybersecurity risks
More meetings are happening on Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams. Brands are investing heavily to ensure their processes and workflows are updated so that collaborations can continue seamlessly from afar. Cybersecurity is an important part of this equation as employees need the right tools and solutions to stay productive while protecting the company’s confidential data.
Zoom has seen a significant surge in its usage since the lockdown. It has also become a popular tool for socializing. As a result, the company had to recently address the data privacy and security concerns when it came under scrutiny by the New York Attorney General's office for its data privacy and security practices.
Web, Search, and SEO – What Would Resonate Best with Your Audience?
With events and conferences being canceled, it appears that marketers are focusing more on increasing the top of the funnel to help with retention and expansion efforts instead of going after new deals. When asked about their budget shifts regarding marketing efforts, this is what we saw:
According to a survey done by Chief Marketer’s 2020 B2B Marketing Outlook, content that has proved to be more effective in moving prospects from the sales funnel are articles and blog posts (55%), reviews and customer testimonials (43%), and whitepapers (38%).
A new report by Centerline Digital looks at how VPs and managers vs. C-level executives are consuming marketing content to make their decisions. C-level executives have shown to take 21% more time in consuming content than managers, while VPs are consuming content the fastest – usually within 24 hours. The report also concludes infographics as the highest-rated top-of-the-funnel content type, with 59% of senior executives preferring videos to text format.
Your website is a key source of moving your business ahead right now. Customers are spending more time on websites and interacting more with online businesses than last year. Hence, your priority should be to focus on education rather than promotion. Hubspot’s benchmarks data noted a significant spike in the average website traffic, with a 13% increase in March compared to February. Weekly chat volume through onsite chat and Facebook Messenger has also risen by 5% after March 16 compared to the previous Q1 global weekly averages.
Instead of focusing on increasing promotions for your products and services, focus on nurturing a long-term relationship with your customers by identifying where you can help them.
How Are Sales and Marketing Reaching out to Prospects in This Crisis?
The 2020 Chief Marketer B2B Marketing Outlook Survey highlights that B2B marketers are using email, search, and content marketing to find leads with the highest ROI. However, the biggest challenges to generate leads have been to engage target prospects (57%) and finding those that convert (48%). The marketing email open rates have increased in the month of March. This change can be attributed to corporate communications conveying COVID-19-related messages and the metric is expected to shift over time.
The chart above shows that average marketing email volume went up by 29% in the week of March 16, while open rates jumped by 53% that same week. Across the month, open rates increased by 21% overall. The sales team, however, are finding it difficult to establish engagement with their sales content. Hubspot benckmarks data shows that companies sent 23% more sales emails on a per-week basis starting the week of March 16.
- Response rates to those emails started to plunge from the first week of March, with an overall decline of 27% from the month of February. Data shows that chat volume has increased quite steadily over the last two months; experts believe this number will go higher.
Conversational marketing can help customers and sales to engage in real time as it also automates the lead routing process. Now’s the time for you to swoop in and respond to customer queries, so your business can serve prospective and existing customers even when you’re working remotely.
Marketers should also invest in chatbots to answer customers more quickly, automate lead qualification or book meetings and meet the increasing demand of customer queries.
Some of the key industry search trends ranking the charts include e-commerce (toilet paper near me, hand sanitizer near me, facemasks near me, thermometers and sanitary wipes), health and wellness information (coronavirus symptoms, home remedies, handwashing techniques, antibacterial essential oils, antiviral foods, antiviral herbs), and news media.
Food and recipe websites have also seen a spike of 22%, while travel-related searches have declined by 46%. Some useful SEO/SEM tips for marketers:
- Keep a regular check on your analytics data
- Stay at the top of Google Trends
- Reduce paid search and gear up for daily management
- Maximize your email outreach
- Continue down the path of SEO and content marketing
- Don’t promote coronavirus sales or deals
- Help and support your community
- Start thinking about Q4 initiatives from now
- Focus on customer support and consolidation rather than acquisition, depending on your industry
Social Media – Should Brands Be Looking to Promote Right Now?
Aside from emails, social media has witnessed a massive surge in engagement as the pandemic continues to unfold. With LinkedIn as the highest ranked for B2B content engagement so far, Facebook also saw a 70% increase in usage of all its apps for the month of March.
LinkedIn reported increased engagement as people kept coming to engage in profound ways. According to LinkedIn, COVID-19 had not affected employer branding up until late February and early March. The platform saw at least 1 out of 4 companies mention COVID-19 in its posts. The data shows how COVID-19-related posts went up within a matter of weeks.
By mid-March, it had already dominated the main stories and brand postings had started to reflect the same. By the week of March 2, COVID-19-related posts were 4% of all company posts on LinkedIn. Two weeks later they were 24% of all posts.
The data shows that the COVID-19-related posts made up nearly 50% of the companies posts in the legal industry followed by public administration. Healthcare, non-profits, and public safety were among other industries that made up the rest. During the same time, employees who were able to work from home had to make adjustments, impacting the companies’ messaging. Marketers grappled with the new setting by posting more about working remotely – showing that 15% of company posts had been about this topic from mid-to-late March.
Likewise, Twitter said its quarter-to-date monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) has increased by 23% YoY to 164 million. According to the survey, people on Twitter want to specifically see how brands are supporting others, whether they are vulnerable individuals (86%), frontline staff (82%), their own employees (80%), or their local communities (77%). Twitter also reported to seeing a surge in the consumption of video content.
There’s an increased demand for more video content by users. With streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ leading the pack, people are spending their time engaging with content about news, sports and watching content creators.
It’s important that you understand the impact of your words, especially around this time. What you say and how you say matters now more than ever. People on Twitter are most interested in seeing brands take on supportive (45%), informative (44%), and positive (35%) tones on social media.
Digital Advertising – to Advertise or Not to Advertise?
Increase in media engagement isn’t necessarily translating into increased ad revenues. A slower economy has resulted in crashing of markets and supply chains, prompting advertisers to either pull or pause their ad spend. Digital ad spending predictions have, therefore, declined from $712.02 billion to $691.7 billion across all forms of media.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau highlights that 1 in 4 media buyers and brands have postponed all advertising for the first half of 2020, while Facebook reported 89% of advertisers took action with their budget in response to the pandemic – stating “45% saying they have adjusted media type usage or shifted budget among media types”.
March 2020’s survey of internet users in 13 industries revealed that nearly 4 in 10 US respondents from ages 16 to 64 agreed that ads should continue per usual, and a similar share (35%) were neutral, compared with 28% who disagreed. The global results were also on par with those in the US, at 37%, 36% and 27%, respectively.
A large share (54%) of the US marketers have said that ad content centering around travel shouldn't be near COVID-19-related content, nor should food and beverage or automotive. Whereas 55% of respondents agreed that health and pharmaceutical ads were okay.
While consumers don’t expect brands to stop advertising, brands need to rethink their strategies and respond to the changes appropriately. Campaigns that were planned pre-pandemic may no longer be considered appropriate now as consumers look for information about how the crisis is being tackled and how they can stay safe. Likewise, in another March 2020 survey of ad trends, 77% of respondents said they wanted advertising to “talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life,” and 75% said the ads should “inform about (the brand’s) efforts to face the situation.”
It’s Time for Empathetic Employer Branding
Whether it’s honoring healthcare workers, supporting local communities, or caring for the employees, messages that are putting people first are performing the best. Brands that convey empathy and togetherness in their messages are seeing the most engagement and rightfully so.
Some of the COVID-19-related posts that companies are seeing more engagement with have often included key words like, “health”, “help”, “people”, “support”, “employees”, “social distancing”, “health authorities”, “public health”, “take care”, and “healthcare workers”.
What Will Be the Content Marketing Priorities for B2B Marketers in 2020?
As of now, there’s no knowing what to expect as the rest of the year unfolds. However, here’s what marketers will be prioritizing their budgets for 2020 – with a strong focus on consumer behavior of course.
2020 will be the year of creating and delivering more quality content that’s grounded in empathetic brand messaging and reaching out to as many prospects as possible.
What People Expect from Brands in This Time?
There has never been a more appropriate time for marketers to listen to their customers. Make sure to align your messaging with what your customers expect to hear from you amid the crisis. Respect, support, and nurture – be there for those who are need in of you. Right now, it's less about what you want to say, rather more about what your audience wants to hear and will respond to. Let your marketing approach be human-to-human.