B2B Marketers Look on the Bright Side of Things

January 12, 2021

By Matthew Schwartz

To describe 2020 as annus horribilis would be charitable. The year is mercifully over, but 2021 is off to a harrowing start after rioters breached Capitol Hill January 6 as both the House of Representatives and Senate met to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

Amid the mayhem in the nation’s capital — which was quelled following several tense hours — the pandemic raged and the first of what’s expected to be more new strains of the virus was discovered in the U.S. And while vaccines have arrived, they’re not getting into people’s arms nearly fast enough. It’s going to be a rough slog, with a good slice of 2021 resembling 2020.

In addition to an horrific loss of life, the virus has taken a major toll on the economy.

However, B2B marketers, for one, are confident that things will turn around fairly quickly post-pandemic (even though that may not align with their CEOs, who take a more jaundiced view). CMOs are also being more proactive when it comes to ramping up their online ad spending, which may be an encouraging sign that following years of fits and starts, B2B companies may finally and inexorably be moving to a digital-first marketing strategy.

The trendlines are borne out by a pair of recent B2B Marketer articles:

Despite Cutbacks, CMOs Remain More Optimistic than CEOs. B2B marketers hopped up Norman Vincent Peale tapes? Enrolling in the Frank Costanza School of Serenity Now? Seventy-three percent of CMOs expect the near-term negative impact of COVID-19 to be short-lived and more than half expect a return to business-as-usual performance in the next 18 to 24 months, according to the Gartner 2020 CMO Spend Survey.

CMOs can’t be faulted for looking at the economic glass half full. At the same time, their CEOs are a lot less sanguine when it comes to the economy post-pandemic. According to a World Economic Forum survey of more than 3,500 CEOs released last April, 60 percent of the respondents said there will be a U-shaped recession stemming from the pandemic, meaning the recovery will last at least as long as the recession does.

As an industry observer told me recently, B2B marketers should think hard about planning for a relatively quick economic recovery post-COVID, and understand that their CEOs scrutinize the numbers and forecasts a lot more carefully than CMOs. But, as the Gartner study indicates, B2B marketers are focusing much of their efforts this year on existing markets (read: account-based marketing), which may help explain why B2B companies are pretty bullish.

Some B2B Brands Are Going All-in On Digital. A perpetual knock on B2B companies is that they have been slow to shift their ad spending to digital platforms, particularly when stacked up against consumer brands. A lot depends on the business sector and the company, of course.

But whether they have been leaders or laggards regarding digital advertising spending in the past, most B2B marketers now face a very similar situation: grappling with curtailed budgets due to the pandemic and how to stretch their dollars and resources.

Turns out more and more of those budgets are increasingly geared to online venues. B2B digital ad spending is expected to grow 22.6 percent in digital advertising expenditures in 2020, compared with 2019, says eMarketer. Meanwhile, the overall digital ad market will grow just 1.7 percent year over year.

To be sure, the additional dollars B2B marketers are allocating for digital ads probably stem from a much smaller pie than previously. But the survey underscores that B2B marketers don’t want to let a crisis go to waste, and are eager to accelerate their transition to digital platforms, and recalibrate their ad-creative, sales, and distribution for the web.

Both articles take a deep dive on these crucial issues that will only get more pronounced in the months ahead.

comments (1)

Tom Stein

January 17, 2021 7:04pm ET

I agree that many B2B marketers do feel the glass is half full. I do. The reasons you cite, Matt, are valid for sure. But there’s a bigger story here - amid challenge, B2B marketers were equal to the challenge. The sector has come a long way - and as with so many things, the pandemic served as a powerful and necessary accelerant.


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