B2B marketing trends for 2021: 5 important developments to get ahead of
By Pete Winter

B2B marketing trends for 2021: 5 important developments to get ahead of

From the crumbling of the cookie to the rise of product marketing, this year will bring both challenge and opportunity for marketers.

As 2021 dawns, one thing is certain: the world looks very different to how it did one year ago. ‘You-know-what’ triggered rapid digital transformation, radical shifts in work patterns, and economic turbulence. Here are some of the key trends we see shaping the months ahead, as marketing moves forward to greet the changes.

2021 marketing trend 1: Virtual events go from temporary fix to serious strategy

The Zoom boom was fueled by companies scrambling to replace their traditional modes of communication. But virtual events have emerged as a viable stream of activity in their own right, widening access and reducing cost outlay, to increase ROI.

What to expect

In 2021, dedicated virtual events that were pioneered in 2020 will return, and new ones will be established. Companies will start to build online events into their permanent activity programme, honing their approach to maximise effectiveness as lessons are learned. Even when live events return, virtual will continue to play its unique part.

How to take advantage

You may have moved a key event online and done your best to make it fit the new format. But now is the time to plan a virtual-first event, optimally planned and built to take advantage of the new mode of audience engagement.

2021 marketing trend 2: Product marketing takes the lead

The rise of product marketing came as companies develop more sophisticated offerings and ramp up their product development. They needed something in addition to overall positioning and brand strategy, to stand out in a crowded market.

What to expect

In 2021, the increasingly competitive landscape will be even tougher thanks to budgetary and commercial pressures. B2B technology and SaaS companies are set to embrace product marketing en masse, as they seek to gain the edge and build lasting success.

How to take advantage

Build a robust product marketing strategy that effectively brings together the essential components of product development and strategy, marketing, sales, and customer success. Develop a detailed understanding of each buyer and journey, using this to build a blueprint for positioning, targeting, launching, promoting, driving demand, encouraging adoption, and ensuring success of each product.

2021 marketing trend 3: The podcast comes of age—and starts to earn its keep

Our favourite podcasts helped get us through 2020, and the medium is certainly going nowhere any time soon. No longer the ‘cool new thing’, podcasts are growing into a serious commercial contender.

What to expect

Many more B2B brands will join the audio content wave, increasing the volume of content and driving up the need for quality and differentiation. LX (listener experience) will become a mainstream term as the podcast medium becomes increasingly professionalised.

How to take advantage

If you haven’t already, consider seriously how best you could take advantage of the highly popular podcast format. B2B brands are often targeting highly specialist personas. This offers an ideal opportunity to develop niche content and build deep engagement with your expert audience.

2021 marketing trend 4: Tracking cookies set to crumble after privacy measures

From GDPR in Europe to FTC and COPPA in the US, data privacy regulation is stricter than ever before. The tech giants have taken note: Safari and Firefox already block third-party cookies by default. Last year, Google announced that Chrome web browser would follow suit by 2022, making 2021 effectively the last year of the third-party cookie.

What to expect

Third-party cookies are the basis of behavioural targeting online, used by marketers to display adverts based on user browsing history, user ID, session ID, and more. Once Chrome deprecates this feature, it will no longer be possible to reach the vast majority of internet users in this way.

How to take advantage

Start early, by making a plan for how you will ride out the demise of third-party cookies. Contextual advertising, where placement is guided by the content, rather than the specific user, is likely to make a comeback. This shift is the latest reminder of the importance of building and nurturing your owned dataset of contacts, reducing reliance on changeable external platforms.

2021 marketing trend 5: Social purpose is no longer just a ‘nice to have’

There was a time when just a few brands were known for having a social purpose. It was their ‘thing’. Ben & Jerry’s cared for the Earth. The Body Shop was against animal cruelty. The rest just kept their heads down and focused on making money. Not any more.

What to expect

The events of 2020 made it virtually impossible for even the most impersonal of brands to stay ‘above the fray’. Both the society-disrupting events of the pandemic, and the high-profile Black Lives Matter campaign for racial justice, forced companies to put some kind of message out there. As Millennials mature and the even more socially-minded Gen Z enter the arena, social purpose will become absolutely essential.

How to take advantage

What does your company stand for? What kind of culture do you want to create? How are you making an impact beyond simply improving the bottom line? Develop and communicate strong answers to these questions. They are increasingly being asked by potential customers, commercial partners, and prospective employees.

Conclusion and key takeaways

It’s clear that 2021 will be another year of change and evolution across the industry. But despite the rise of new formats and approaches, certain things still hold true. Whether looking to build a strong virtual events programme, establish an engaging podcast, or build compelling product messaging, customer insight is absolutely key.

Those B2B brands who develop the best possible understanding of their prospective buyer will give themselves a headstart in 2021.

  • Develop a standalone strategy for virtual events, taking advantage of the benefits of this medium: lower cost outlay, greater reach, and potentially higher ROI.
  • Build a robust product marketing strategy to give each of your offerings the best chance of success in a crowded market.
  • Consider how you could use the podcast medium to develop a highly specialised channel of engagement with your target buyers.
  • Put down the cookie jar! Develop a strategy to ensure the loss of third-party cookies will not leave you at a disadvantage.
  • Develop and communicate your company’s values, purpose, mission, and social purpose. Know your stance on key issues of the day.

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