With an in-person event in Scottsdale, Ariz. not in the cards this year, the 2021 B2B Marketing Exchange kicked off on Monday, Feb. 23 in a virtual format. The B2BMX Online Experience 2021, hosted by Demand Gen Report, focused on delivering informative sessions to help marketers refresh their minds, renew their creative focus and remix their format and channel mix to navigate 2021.
More than 3,000 attendees gathered virtually to connect with and learn from their peers while discovering the newest strategies and tactics for modern marketing. The virtual event explored these strategies in six different tracks: ABM In Action Live!, Channel Marketing, Marketing Summit, Content2Conversation, Sales Impact Summit and Demand Gen Summit.
On the first day of B2BMX, two keynotes focused on the impact marketers can have on their buyers and the changing roles of B2B executives. The keynotes highlighted how B2B has shifted to a more intimate buying-selling relationship, how CMOs are stepping up to drive their teams’ success and how empathizing with the buyer can build better relationships and drive greater revenue.
Leveraging Empathy For Impactful B2B Storytelling
In the morning keynote, titled: “Leading With Empathy: Let Your Customer Become Your Best Brand Storyteller,” Miri Rodriguez, Storyteller and the Head of Internship Programs at Microsoft, discussed the importance of empathy in the buyer’s journey.
Rodriguez explained that when brands create marketing content for buyers and prospects, they often make the mistake of solely using facts and statistics for their storytelling. When marketing to humans, she explained that empathy allows brands to connect with buyers on a cognitive, emotional and compassionate level.
“People transact at the human level,” said Rodriguez. “Storytelling is not just telling stories, but rather a design approach to how we conjure with emotions, to lead with empathy and inclusion in a space where we are interacting human-to-human. In essence, brand storytelling in B2B is about telling your story in such a compelling and connected way that your customers will do that with their own buyers.”
Empathy positions brands are thought leaders in both their respective industries and amongst the human condition. Rodriguez explained that Millennial B2B buyers look to buy from businesses that have important stories to tell and understand their needs and beliefs. Brands who market their stories with this in mind will build better buyer-seller relationships.
She highlighted a five-step process to develop B2B stories that resonate with buyers using empathy. The process includes:
- Empathize — When marketers know who their buyers are as individuals, they will be able to define and ideate their content and marketing strategies in a way that resonates with them and builds a deeper level of trust.
- Define — By defining the story mission, “characters,” “plot,” and “conclusion,” marketers can tell stories that are hyper-focused and impactful for their target audience based on specific points of interest and the level of relatability.
- Ideate — Empathy helps marketers who know their buyers determine which forms of content (blogs, videos, webinars, etc.) are the most impactful;
- Prototypes — Marketers that have multiple creative concepts for impactful storytelling should always iterate and reiterate on ideas, concepts and themes that resonate with buyers, and should not be afraid to deliver new types of stories; and
- Test — By testing the stories amongst target buyers, marketers can determine how impactful their story content is, whether the emotion invoked was the target reaction from the initial phase and gain feedback for future content creation.
“Stories are FOR your audience, not TO your audience,” Rodriguez explained. “’For your audience’ means that you are taking the time as a thought leader in your space to package these stories up and hand them over with intention to your customers, so that they can hand it over to their customers. This is done through empathy. Take your time to ideate and get creative!”
CMOs Renew Focus On Agility, Content & Customer Data
The role of the CMO has changed since the beginning of the pandemic, with many businesses placing greater emphasis on marketing to carry them through success.
CMOs had to get creative with how they kept their teams motivated and their marketing fresh, despite the overabundance of virtual events, email campaigns and more. According to Woods, proper leadership is necessary to ensure a marketing team’s success.
“Face-to-face marketing is how most B2B companies go to market,” said Woods. “It was incumbent on marketing leaders to understand how to make that shift, to create environments and experiences that simulate that face-to-face world. As a result, CMOs have become more essential.”
Bullock spoke to the importance of remaining agile in the coming year, as the shift from physical to virtual and hybrid formats has forced marketing teams to adapt to the ever-changing expectations and needs of buyers. One of the ways CMOs have adapted is by overhauling interaction between internal teams, encouraging marketers to collaborate and brainstorm to adapt to the buyer’s needs.
“People have had to be more agile this past year in their marketing,” Bullock explained. “The teams that have the ability to do that are becoming leaders. CMOs have had to be more thoughtful outwardly as well as inwardly and determine how they motivate their marketing teams to be more creative and mix it up.”
Woods also emphasized the importance of overhauling marketing content in 2021. Over the last year, CMOs have made significant strides in creating content that provides actionable insights buyers can use, but the content is still too vague and unrelatable.
She explained that CMOs need to focus on providing relevant thought-leadership storytelling that buyers can relate to, cutting the fluff and targeting buyers with specific needs to not only inform buyers but increase brand reputation.
“The only thing that will stand for you is your content,” Woods explained. “There needs to be a deeper connection between the information and the insights you are aiming to provide for your clients. Your content has to be the thing that draws people in and delivers on the needs that they have or solve for their pain points.”
Lastly, the panel discussed the impact of data on marketing initiatives in 2021, with Bullock citing the various types of third- and first-party data CMOs have relied on to learn all aspects of their buyers. CMOs are leveraging customer data to gain the necessary insights to not only market to their needs and preferences, but also to respond to any changes in their behavior.
“The more ways you can access customer data is going to give you a more complete view of who your buyers are,” said Bullock. “We’re really starting to get closer to that with customer data platforms, and the number of sources is only going to expand. Businesses that take that seriously will find success, even if it’s not perfect.”
With both employee-level marketers and executives shifting their focus to improved brand storytelling, it is clear that B2B marketing is slowly becoming more human-focused. Marketers who empathize with their buyers and cater to their needs, struggles and goals will not only have stronger buyer relationships, but a greater impact on their industries as a whole.