COVID’s Impact On B2B Marketing And PR: Insights From Our Clients

Feb 16, 2022

COVID-19’s impact on remote work, supply chains, and staffing has been well documented, but one area that hasn’t received much attention is the effect the pandemic has had on the marketing and public relations (PR) efforts of businesses. Insights gained from a survey of our clients’ 2022 B2B marketing and PR priorities show the pandemic is influencing several aspects of the marketing mix – from budgeting and brand awareness to lead generation and nurturing.

Building brand awareness is a primary challenge

We asked our clients to select their top three marketing and PR challenges from a list of nine commonly cited struggles. “Increasing brand awareness” topped the list, being selected as a top-three challenge by 67% of our customer base.

A contributing factor to this challenge may be ineffective use of marketing mediums. For example, the pandemic has caused many businesses to turn to social media for brand awareness, replacing more traditional branding outlets such as events and mass media. While this can be an effective strategy, it can also be risky. Leveraging social media for sociability’s sake won’t help build your brand. In addition to being engaging and compelling, social activity should closely align with your messaging and business objectives to reinforce brand consistency and drive results.

Thought leadership drives action

When asked what marketing and PR efforts would impact their success most in 2022, 53% of our clients responded with “participation in thought leadership opportunities,” topping other initiatives such as digital marketing (20%) and strategic planning (27%).

Research validates the importance of thought leadership to business success. According to data from Edelman, 55% of C-suite executives offered to provide their contact information to an organization after viewing thought leadership from the company, and 42 percent reached out to the organization to follow up on the material. In addition, nearly two-thirds of executives invited organizations to participate in a request for proposal after seeing its thought leadership.

With COVID, thought leadership is particularly sought after in healthcare. Businesses serving this space have an opportunity to gain mindshare and attract prospective customers by weighing in on pressing healthcare challenges and demonstrating how their solutions and services can address these issues. More on this topic can be found in our earlier blog, Why Thought Leadership Matters in Healthcare.

Leads stall at conversion phase

According to our clients, closing leads is their biggest marketing-related sales challenge. A convincing 53% of our clients said the bottom of the sales funnel (the Conversion & Purchasing phase) is where engagements frequently fizzle out.

A primary reason for this issue is an unbalanced mix of marketing messages and content. For example, many marketing efforts focus too heavily on the Awareness phase of the buyer’s journey (e.g. introducing specific pain points or problems, making prospects aware of potential solutions and associated benefits, etc.). Few businesses spend equal time and effort crafting strategies, messaging, and content for the downstream Evaluation and Conversion phases, resulting in leads stuck at the top of the sales funnel. More attention should be given to later phases of the buyer’s journey. Self-evaluation checklists, ROI calculators, and customer references/testimonials are examples of marketing pieces that can move buyers beyond Awareness and toward Conversion.

Lead generation takes priority

Even though brand awareness was identified as the most significant marketing/PR challenge, lead generation is the top marketing priority for 73% of our clients in 2022. COVID has placed new pressures on business sales efforts, causing many organizations to demand more leads to nurture in order to meet sales quotas.

B2B brands often treat brand-building and demand generation as two separate objectives with different budgets, but it is more effective to have one integrated approach through the whole marketing funnel. Considering branding and lead generation together leads to more consistent messaging and conversion success.

Events still viable marketing medium

When it comes to B2B marketing and PR outlets, COVID has likely had the biggest impact on events and trade shows, causing many to go virtual and others to be cancelled outright. You would think this disruption would sour business enthusiasm for industry events, but our clients indicate the opposite is true. In fact, 53% of our customers say they plan to budget more for events this year than they did before the pandemic.

In-person networking events have been sorely missed by healthcare vendors, who are eager to invest in and attend these conferences again in 2022. Prior to the pandemic, 24% of B2B marketing budgets were allocated to meetings, conferences, trade shows, and events, and there’s a good reason why. Meeting face-to-face sparks genuine, enduring connections. Events are where businesses often turn prospects into customers and customers into relationships and revenue.

It’s clear that COVID-19 has impacted traditional B2B marketing and PR approaches, particularly in the healthcare space. Adjusting to these changes requires a proactive strategy, a wider network of marketing content and channels, and an experienced partner to help you navigate unfamiliar terrain.