Transformation in a time of constant uncertainty

We recently launched a new podcast series: Modern Perspectives where we share the insights from B2B leaders and explore how they’re tackling transformation, change and technology in the context of marketing.

In the first episode, hosted by Nicola Ray, we spoke with two marketing experts to see how they’re adapting to the new fast-changing marketing, societal and political landscape that’s shaped our lives for the past 18 months. Here’s a run down of the episode and you can listen to the Modern Perspectives podcast here.

Transformational change

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and a new focus on better mental wellbeing, the last 18 months have brought changes like never before. As B2B marketers, we have to adapt and find new ways to engage with customers – or do we?

This episode’s guests were senior marketers who are dealing with this constant flux every day:

  • Matt Roberts – North American Marketing Director, Amdocs – Creator and host of the award-winning podcast, ‘The Great Indoors
  • Joel Harrison – Editor-in-Chief, B2B Marketing – Creator of Propolis, a new exclusive community for B2B marketers

It was an enlightening discussion, packed with insight and value. Here are five highlights from the podcast.

New challenges

Welcome, Joel and Matt. Apart from the obvious answer, what do you think is the biggest driver of uncertainty right now?

Matt: The last 18 months have been the biggest change any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. From a marketing perspective, we were on the edge of a new industrial revolution with so many new technologies coalescing.

When the pandemic came along, it caused a propulsion. A recent McKinsey study found we had moved forward in consumer and business digital adoption by five years in an eight-week timeframe. Amazon showed ten years’ worth of growth in three months. Older people are using online banking. It’s changed everything about how we run our lives.

Joel: In the conversations I had with CMOs in the immediate wake of the pandemic, the big question at an operational level is, ‘How do we get to our customers right now?’ We thought we were in a digital world, right? But in practice, we rely so much on face-to-face interactions, whether that’s events or face-to-face sales meetings.

We’ve also seen a profound change in our customers’ needs and desires based on their trajectories and direction of travel. It’s led to new conversations about branding with purpose and building trust in B2B.

Marketing with purpose

That’s really interesting about branding with purpose. How have you changed tack to bring a sense of purpose to what you do in B2B?

Matt: When the first lockdown hit, we were about to go to MWC in Barcelona. When that was cancelled, everybody was like, ‘What do we do now?’ There was suddenly a deluge of digital events and webinars. But, the way we looked at it was that it didn’t really feel right to try and sell right now. So, we took a deep breath and realised we need to adapt – and that was the genesis of our podcast.

I’m a disciple of David Meerman Scott. His latest book ‘Fanocracy’ is about engaging with customers on the things you have in common, your shared experiences and values. The podcast was our way of keeping the conversation going and boldening trust.

Joel: I’d like to add that as well as the pandemic, it would be remiss not to talk about diversity as a catalyst for changing our thinking. We recently did an event for the US market, which really helped me understand its significance, to pay deference to it, and not just pay lip service. Leaders talked about how brands today can’t just be bland and nice, sitting on the fence. Even if it causes you to lose fans, you need to stand for something.

Moving forward with digital events

Do you see this move to greater digital spend sticking in the long run?

Matt: In the US, the first physical events are starting to happen in LA, Denver and Seattle. They’re coming back quicker than I expected, but there’s a real hunger for it. Salespeople and customers all want to be at these events. It’s weird to be planning for these events though, talking about plane flights and booths and things! It’s a national thing though; people aren’t crossing borders to come to physical events yet.

Joel: It’s a different story in Europe. There’s a demand for a return to physical events, but it’s not appropriate for the audience right now. Everyone’s talking about hybrid events, how to offer people the option to consume content remotely. It’s an opportunity to extend the lifespan of the event, building excitement beforehand through community and putting content up to watch again and share.

Martech in the new landscape

Let’s talk about tech. Have you had to re-evaluate your tech stack to deliver what you need as a digital-first organisation?

Matt: It depends on which country you’re in. I see vast discrepancies in marketing tactics and tools from country to country. Where I am in North America – and this is controversial – but outbound email marketing is just about done. The open rates and conversion rates are almost non-existent. It’s almost like a waste of time. However, in South America, Europe and Asia, it’s still a healthy tactic.

But if you look at how Apple is marketing themselves on data privacy right now, blocking automated email marketing from Apple email, the model is going to change. It’s constant flux as we move forward.

Joel: There’s no stopping martech. It’s like the big bang, growing exponentially. But, Gartner data suggests a scaling back in ambition – people are looking at their stacks for ways to save budget.

CX is a core battleground, but I think our audience still struggles to get their heads around it, as there are so many different touchpoints.

Content marketing is interesting. There’s so much content out there that it’s overwhelming. How do you get yourself heard? That’s where community comes in – people talking to people, where no one is going to jump on you and try and sell you something. I see buyers getting more restrained and cynical as the industry gets more sophisticated.

The new roaring twenties

Let’s finish on a positive note. Do you feel optimistic now that things are going to get better?

Matt: Yes. I’m full of optimism and hope for the future after the last 18 months. It’s a romantic notion, but I think we may be heading for a new ‘roaring twenties’. In the 1920s, after World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, there was a wave of innovation and human achievement – electrification of homes, the proliferation of automobiles, The Great Gatsby. I look at the coalescence of new technologies, a new industrial revolution, propulsion of digitalisation. It can usher in a new period of enlightenment, but around society, purpose and mental health.

Joel: I’m buoyed by Matt’s optimism. I hope we can see genuine societal benefits. From my point of view, in the B2B recruitment market, the rebound is already here. I don’t know what it’s like in North America, but the market is going crazy here in the UK. It’s an exciting time to be a B2B marketer.

Key takeaways

Thanks to Matt and Joel for their excellent and thoughtful answers. Here are the five key takeaways from the conversation:

  • There’s never been a period of constant change like we’ve experienced in the last 18 months. It’s led to a lot of uncertainty in B2B marketing as we wonder how to reconnect with our customers
  • Many brands have adapted to this uncertainty by reassessing their values. The pandemic, Black Lives Matter and a new focus on mental health have been catalysts to this transformation
  • While audiences are still understandably cautious, there is a growing demand to get back to some level of face-to-face interaction, such as physical events
  • Your email marketing software may soon be a waste of space in your tech stack, if results from North America are anything to go by
  • It’s not all doom and gloom – we have the opportunity to build a better world than the one we lived in before 2020. Could there be a new roaring twenties on the way?

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