During this year, businesses have become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy. Without wanting to sound too alarmist, in many cases, it has been the deciding factor in whether they make it through the tough times now and the months ahead.
The unprecedented, almost-total disappearance of all channels related to live events and conferences, and the increasing barriers to face-to-face business, pose an enormous challenge. The key to resilience is the development of ongoing contingencies to mitigate this loss.
B2B companies have relied on the annual circuit of trade shows and exhibitions to network and build customer relations. In industries that are not digital-native, they may also be less sophisticated in their digital growth and customer relations strategies.
For smaller businesses, especially, those used to getting new customers through word-of-mouth referrals or on the strength of a hard-won reputation, their loss is coming as a shock.
Larger companies are also now finding themselves in the position of having potentially lost millions through cancelled activities and events and cannot claw back the hours of time and expense spent on preparations for this year, but insurance and flexible cancellation policies will leave them with a marketing budget to reassign.
Digital is the clear winner here, and companies including ones that may not so much as had a Facebook page before will need to move into social marketing, content marketing, SEO and influencer-led campaigns.
Of course, this means there are opportunities out there for the taking if you are a B2B supplier in an industry that has been slow to adapt to digital marketing. A key factor in resilience is adaptability. If it’s standard in your industry to go out and meet new customers face-to-face before you do business, adapting may mean opening new channels over the web or social media platforms where introductions are made and relationships are fostered.
In the coming months, your prospective clients are going to be less open to the idea of letting you walk through the door and shake their hand – and no one really has any idea how long this will last and whether this will lead to longer-term change.
Being confined to the office or even the home rather than on the road on sales visits or at events, means marketers have more time to develop digital strategies. This means researching where your customers can be found online and how different approaches and tactics might impact your success. If your organisation previously put token efforts into digital channels because like a lot of other businesses, you had built your networks offline and that had always seemed to work now is the time to revisit them.
That could be as simple as giving your website and social pages a refresh, or a more innovative approach. It’s undoubtedly true that the coming weeks, or months or however long this situation lasts will be a challenging time for any company that isn’t ready to think about how they will replace the opportunities that have been lost.
As long as businesses approach the shift to digital marketing strategically, there’s no reason why it should just serve as an emergency strategy but could carry on providing long-term value when the world eventually gets back to normal. And of course, it would make companies more resilient to deal with any future pandemics.