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B2B plays a big role in our economy, but how can it contribute to our recovery?

B2B plays a big role in our economy, but how can it contribute to our recovery? 1

By Richard Parsons from True, creative B2B marketing agency, discusses the current state of marketing and looks ahead to what the future might bring. 

The average consumer will likely be unaware that more than half of the companies listed on the FTSE 350 operate purely in B2B transactions. Not only that, but 50% of our economy is generated by B2B transactions and 82% of companies derive some or all of their income from B2B. There is also a global B2B trade surplus, unlike in B2C. The significant conAltribution of B2B is routinely missed but could hold the key to economic recovery.

The famous essay “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, lays out the different skills, materials and jobs utilised in the production of a pencil. An inexhaustive list includes cedarwood from Oregon, logs from California, graphite from Ceylon and clay from Mississippi. The list was so comprehensive that Read even named the lighthouse keeper signalling the ship in and the factory worker sweeping the floor as part of the employment dependant on the pencil.

B2C might dominate brand awareness for obvious reasons, but what is less obvious is it’s inescapable foundations in B2B. These companies play a vital role in our ongoing economic recovery and – drawing on lessons learned during previous economic challenges – here are some of the trends that we expect to play out over the coming months and into 2021.

Below the Line to Above the Line

Even in normal times, businesses tend to place a skewed emphasis on lead generation and brand conversion when they should be focusing on the top of the funnel. Typically, 90% of marketing spend is allocated to short-term lead generation, which translates as telemarketing and mailshots. This balance should be much closer to 50%, with the remaining 50% spent on building brand equity. A shift from Below the Line to Above the Line is essential if brands want to recover well.

Lead-generation tactics do have a role to play. Still, the B2B industry can be guilty of neglecting emotional marketing in favour of rational campaigns, and here they lose their power to attract new interest. The B2B Brand Index Study – the most extensive global study of its kind – established that creative campaigns are 12 times more efficient at delivering business success.

While there are clear differences, B2B and B2C also share certain similarities. For instance, brand awareness among a target audience will always be a fundamental part of securing revenue. A B2B decision-maker will not be as impulsive as a consumer, for example, choosing Coke or Pepsi, but it is still vital that your brand is well known.

This brings us to the Rule of Three – a well-documented concept of brand market share and consumer decision making in a developed market. When looking for the answer to a problem, a prospective customer will have around three known brands that could solve the issue immediately spring to mind as a result of exposure to memorable campaigns and sustained awareness building. Further research will often expand this pool of options to around ten brands, but when it comes to the crunch, one of the original three will win the purchase between 70-90% of the time.

Value for Money

Marketing budgets have been understandably pared back this year. In an April 2020 survey, 90% of respondents said their budgets were delayed or under review. The full economic impact of the COVID-19 is not yet clear, but we are a long way from normal market confidence, and many businesses are increasingly cautious when it comes to allocating marketing spend.

We know that this approach is wrong. According to System1, advertising ability to connect with people remains as strong as before, and media consumption has risen during lockdown. The CPM of Facebook advertising has gone from $1.88 in November 2019 to $0.81 in March 2020. In short, the ROI for marketing spend is better now than before and so those who can spend, should.

Event Budgets

The events industry has clearly been badly hit, with months of planning, investment and time redundant. But seminars can become webinars and conferences can become virtual, and while this is small consolation for a devasted industry, virtual versions are generally cheaper than in-person events. This will leave a surplus of budget previously earmarked for events which means a reallocation of money to other facets of marketing to stimulate new revenues and a better recovery.

Think Long Term. Hold Your Nerve.

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising case studies show that brands that maintain marketing investment in recessions grow 4.5 times faster than brands that cut spend. Those that cut spend also struggle for longer and take five years to recover revenue. A marketing black-out might alleviate damage to bottom lines in the short term, but it will breed serious problems and long-term profit loss.

Of course, many brands will pursue the short-term fix and cut marketing costs, and this presents an opportunity for those willing to be bold. It might not feel like a wise investment as profits tumble alongside the rest of the sector but maintaining or increasing spend will allow brands to outflank competitors and for smaller brands to increase their share of voice and gain ground on more cautious industry leaders.

What’s Next?

It remains to be seen how short-term marketing cuts will pan out in the mid to long term, but changes are indeed afoot. Crises are catalysts for change and, like any crisis, the current one will have winners and losers. Brands that hold their nerve, innovate and invest in their recovery are likely to see the benefit in the long term. The current economic uncertainty is accompanied by changes in other aspects of the way we live, work and travel. Rather than a threat, it presents an opportunity.

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