B2B marketing post-COVID and Brexit

COVID-19

55,000 dead and counting. Fear, heroics, incompetence and corruption – 2020 has had it all, but we keep going.

Economically speaking, COVID was about more than working from home or not being able to go to the pub. It shone a light on how organisations operate, who does what and why? what is essential and what is not? Pandemics, it seems, are a lot like wars, they enforce change and stimulate innovation.

Marketing departments spend money. So it was no surprise that when economic armageddon struck, the marketing department was one of the first places Finance went looking for savings. Conclusively proving ROI is tricky at the best of times, even in the age of digital marketing. But when sales have fallen off a cliff, and most promotional activity is prohibited, it becomes difficult to make the case for carrying on as if nothing had happened. Of course, some businesses have had a record year but most will want to forget 2020.

During the pandemic, online events became the norm. Using services like Zoom, B2B marketeers could deliver content to customers wherever they were. This approach proved useful, essential even, but it was not without its limitations. One meeting after another led to ‘Zoom fatigue’ and, unless the event was followed-up properly, it was hard to gauge the audience’s response and its subsequent value.

For years, some have yearned for a ‘digital’ only marketing mix. In 2020 they got it, but it remains to be seen if its effectiveness in the B2B sphere has been overestimated. Does ‘digital’ flatter to deceive? Is there ‘group think’ when it comes to digital marketing? What difference are all those real-time charts making?

Large conglomerates don’t put complex multi-billion contracts in a shopping cart and then click go-to-checkout. They meet with their partners, they discuss and evaluate. Some sales take years to close. SME B2B sales are also often facilitated through patient account management and the development of long term relationships. People buy people, not bots.

It all points to the eventual return to many traditional marketing activities, most notably physical events. Humans are social animals and COVID reminded people what really mattered in their life; family, friends and fun. ‘Marketing’ is all about human behaviour, and those who practice it would do well to remember what really matters to.

Brexit

The United Kingdom voted to leave the largest free trade zone in the world. In simple terms, this means that from the 1st January 2021, trade between the U.K. and the European Union will be regulated in a different way; more paperwork, more cost, less trade. So from January, if you want to attend a business event in Barcelona you will need a visa to go with your new Blue passport.

Going forward, the U.K. will have no choice but seek to increase trade with places that other developed countries find expensive to deal with. So will, for example, the U.K. now pitch itself as the gateway to Africa and the Middle East and, if so, how would that impact your marketing operations?

Post-Brexit, the U.K. will also create a series of ‘Free Ports’. Each port is effectively a small tax haven where trade can be conducted under a different set of rules to the rest of the country – let’s say free ports have a certain reputation. But if free ports aren’t your thing, you might decide to move your business to a newly independent Scotland to enjoy E.U. membership and easy access to England.

To offset the predicted loss in GDP from leaving the E.U., the U.K. will have little choice but to offer tax incentives and reduced regulation to attract inward investment. As a result, London (and a certain section of society) would thrive, with some of that ‘tax avoidance’ wealth (and, dare we say ‘laundered money’) spilling out into the South East but not much further. Regional inequalities are likely to increase, especially as British made products (typically not produced in the South East) will seem expensive to overseas customers due to local import tariffs. Then, if billions flow into London to enjoy an expanded ‘no questions asked’ regime, that might force Sterling higher making British goods even less competitive.  And what about geography? the further-away the customer is, the more it costs to ship the goods.

Brexit is likely to have an impact on every marketing job, every campaign and every event in some form or other. As a result, some young marketeers may come to deeply resent having had their futures curtailed by an older generation unused to thinking critically and susceptible to racist and xenophobic innuendo. The story of Britain’s relationship with Europe is far from over.

Climate change

In time, the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit may be seen as relatively minor challenges compared to the wider impact of climate change. Most scientists believe that climate change exists and as such will have a major economic and social impact; extreme weather events, mass migration, civil unrest and war.

Of course, none of this seems likely to some, especially if they live in a country with a temperate climate, which enjoys the benefits of economic migration and tends to fight its wars a long way away. Moreover, the effects of climate change can appear subtle or inconsistent. So for some, often older people, it’s more convenient to believe that there isn’t a problem than it is to accept that there is.

During the 20th century, many former local or regional businesses felt enabled to expand internationally due to the proliferation of, and a reduction in the cost of, air travel. Rapidly evolving technology also allowed organisations to operate in new markets with much greater ease. For a single marketing ‘department’ to be spread across borders and time zones became quite normal. Globalisation was the only game in town. The trouble was, this approach failed to take into account the associated negative impact on the environment.

However, with the right mindset marketeers can make a difference. It is possible to off-set the carbon created when shipping goods around – you just need a logistics company who has a system to do it (we work with DHL Go Green).

It is often possible to source products and materials which are recycled or biodegradable.  Events are great, but maybe they need to be more focused and local? Businesses can set an example, they can be a force for positive change and still make a profit.

In fact, once you  – yes you, because let’s face it we all have to take some personal responsibility with this – commit to thinking differently, it’s quite surprising how much you can change within your organisation.

So when it comes to the defining issue of the 21st century, don’t wait to be asked, just get on and change things!

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