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“Show more empathy!” - Microsoft, EY and Mitel on how B2B marketing will evolve in 2021

Being able to adapt to changing customer behaviours amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as showing more compassion in marketing campaigns, are among the key areas B2B marketers will need to improve in order to succeed in 2021.That’s the verdict of marketing leaders from Microsoft, EY and Mitel who spoke on ‘The New Growth Agenda’ panel as part of The Drum and Stein IAS’ recent #B2BWorldFest.

Answering a question from The Drum’s trends editor Rebecca Stewart on what some of the biggest changes will be for B2B marketing in 2021, Microsoft’s managing director for UK sales Ravleen Beeston replied: “With more people obviously at home, further growth is inevitable in the online space. However, it might come from less traditional places, so we need to adapt and keep a proactive eye out to keep track on where it’s shifting to. We also need to prepare for the [B2B] market to completely switch up again in 2022.”

Beeston also warned that B2B brands could no longer afford to look at “brand purpose” as something merely to work on. Rather, it’s something that needs to be implemented right now. “The pandemic is putting brand purpose to its true test and forcing brands to back up personal words with action,” she said. “Whether it is B2B or B2C, consumers have high expectations for the businesses they connect with. Brand purpose can’t solely come out of the marketing department and has to be something that sits at the core of business discussions.”

“B2B firms need to be asking themselves: Why do we exist?” Beeston continued. “How do we positively contribute to environmental or societal progress? Is our supply chain ethical? In the age of COVID-19 consumers want to know the companies they are investing in really care [about these things]. Having a clear brand purpose will also become more and more important when it comes to acquiring the best new talent too.”

David Silke, chief marketing office at the telecoms giant, Mitel, used his appearance on the panel to urge B2B brands to find a way to be “agile” and invest in areas that are providing solutions that will help society through this dark period. “You need to adapt and be agile,” he explained.

“For example, at Mitel we’ve created handsets that are resistant to COVID-19 infections and ushered in much more of a hybrid workspace,” Silke said. “A lot of the growth right now is in people working remotely and moving to this completely contactless society so considering automation or deeper artificial intelligence during interactions will also be massively important in the B2B space. You need to be open minded and always on the lookout for different pockets.”

Toni Clayton-Hine, chief marketing officer for EY Americas agreed with Silke’s assessment, but added that B2B companies need to demonstrate compassion for their workforces. “It is important you consider the mental health of your workers. This pandemic has really taken its toll so the way we provide support for both our consumers and employees must reflect that. It’s about targeting them at the right moment and realising things are tough.”

Clayton-Hine added: “We need to think about how we tell the story more as marketers in the B2B space. What we do can be less cold and less specific to the B2B environment, and there can be more of a human conversation. We can steal from the B2C world more, especially with our consumers having more time in front of their computer to focus on those exchanges emotionally. I’m looking for the ad agencies I work with to make sure we keep honest.”

Getting the last word, Microsoft’s Beeston stressed the need for ongoing empathy. She concluded: “I think B2B marketers need to put themselves in the shoes of their partners and try to really understand what their needs and expectations are. If you nail that then you will take B2B to a place where it can accelerate growth.”

For more from Microsoft, Mitel and EY on the year ahead in B2B marketing you can watch the full video above. To find out more on all the sessions that took place in The Drum and Stein IAS’ #B2BWorldFest visit here.