Is It Time to Rewrite Your B2B Marketing Playbook?

If 2020/21 has taught us anything, it’s that B2B marketing needed to be broken. Big time. Our team was so convicted of that at the end of last year that I literally got in a dumpster. All of the sudden, every play in our B2B marketing playbook seemed futile in a world without in-person events, and slashed marketing budgets. Luckily, the best B2B marketers did not panic. Instead, they started ripping pages out of their outdated playbooks, throwing them into the 2020-fueled dumpster fire, and writing brand new ones that better align with not only the world we live in today, but also for the “return to new-normal” that’s on the horizon. We realized that there were tons of quote-on-quote rules of marketing that were actually sucking the life out of our strategies, and leaving marketers without their superpower: creativity. So, we want to honor the brave and daring marketers who have been rewriting the playbook over the past year and a half. Here are five new rules that you should consider adding to your marketing playbook.

Stop Woke Washing Your Marketing

Did you post a black square last summer during the Black Lives Matter movement? Have you updated your profile picture to a rainbow version of your logo for Pride month? Awesome. These are wonderful causes and initiatives to support. But now I want you to think long and hard about why you did that. Was it to earn your buyers’ trust by aligning with their socio political leanings? Was it so your audience wouldn’t assume you weren’t in support of those movements and communities? Marketers, we’ve been woke washing. Katie Martell took time to remind us recently that true allyship is so much more than using a social movement as marketing clout–in fact, it’s the total opposite. It’s far better for brands to actually make an effort to make the world a better place and support worthy causes and movements in action, not only in social media messaging. Katie calls is “performative allyship”, which…yikes. That doesn’t feel good, does it?

So, what can we do to ensure that we’re not simply woke washing our marketing? What can we do to be true allies? Start from the inside out. Take a look at your company, your processes, your “unwritten rules”. Are they inclusive? Are they sustainable? Are they ethical? People are smarter than we give them credit for–if you’re posting a rainbow logo for Pride month and you don’t have any initiatives to ensure that your LGBTQ+ colleagues are supported and treated equally within your organization, then you’re woke washing. Be genuine. Be authentic. Make the changes internally before you turn them into marketing campaigns. Katie emphasizes the power our brands hold to make a change in the world:

“Every business, regardless of what industry you’re in or your size, creates economic opportunity. We exist within the fabric of the societies, in the communities in which we work. And so every one of our businesses has an incredible opportunity to give back to these social movements, to be real allies, to contribute in meaningful ways that goes far beyond a tweet, a hashtag or a Super Bowl campaign.”

We have a responsibility. Let’s be true allies.

Sell The Truth

Or, as Rohit Bhargava puts it, “stop selling bullsh*t”. We won’t belabor the “after the past year” point, but it’s kind of uber-relevant for this one–people just want the truth. This goes for your audience, too. If you’re coming out with a product release and you know there’s a portion of it that isn’t quite up to snuff, consider releasing that portion as a “public beta” and tell people it’s still a work in progress. If your company is taking a holiday off, post on social media that your employees will be enjoying a day off, so instead of scheduling posts out for the day no one is around, social media will be quiet for the day. Not only does marketing become much easier when you opt into being truthful instead of “working your angles” all the time, but it also works wonders on building trust with your audience.

Listen Before You Influence

Your audience doesn’t want to be marketed to. At least Tatiana Holified doesn’t think they do. She encourages marketers to focus on listening and influencing. How is that different than marketing? Well, for starters, it’s focusing on real relationships rather than throwing advertisements out into the wild west of the internet and hoping they land in front of the right eyes. It’s estimated that on average today’s consumer sees over 6,000 ads daily. Yes, daily. And even moreso, millennials and Gen Z’ers literally unfollow brands that they think do “too much advertising”. So…if you can’t advertise, how can you market? Tatiana says: “persuading people to help you affect change, implement key decisions, and create buy-in around your ideas.” This can only happen if you’re genuinely listening to your audience and know what they care about. If your brand’s social media goals are all about “number of posts” and “impressions”, then you’re focusing way more on talking than you are on listening. It’s time to rethink the goal of your brand’s social media presence.

Show & Tell It Like It Is

B2B has a homepage problem, and Oli Gardner wants you to fix it. How? It’s all in the hero. Ok, it’s not all in the hero, but the hero is definitely the place to start. So many B2B companies rely on stock photos and random illustrations to make their homepage look sleek, trendy, clean, or any-other-buzzword that your C-suite wants more of. But why do we insist on focusing on how the page looks rather than what it says? Oli’s take: if the average scroller can’t tell what your company does from the hero alone, then it’s gotta go. Focus your website efforts on making sure every element of your site points back to your brand and what you sell–I’m talking every image, every header, every paragraph of copy, every CTA. This is an audit you should be doing frequently. Be bold. Be forward. Be honest.

Focus On Connections > Channels

It seems like only yesterday we were frantically Googling “virtual event promotion ideas” because we had no idea how to pivot our huge in-person events to virtual. Now, we’re facing the questions: Do we go hybrid? Are people ready to travel? Should we be the first back for in-person conferences? Here’s the deal: your audience wants connection. They don’t really care about the channel. Our recent Break Sh!t virtual event was the result of knowing that our audience wanted something new, fresh, and exciting, while also knowing many weren’t ready to travel. We had over 2.5K people register, and over 1K attend the live virtual event. They actively participated in the chat. They posted about it on social media. They loved it. The feedback was amazing. And this is because we focused on connection rather than obsessing over the channel. And this goes far past events, too!

Take a look at all of your annual marketing campaigns and events. Are you doing them just because “we’ve always done them” or “we always have a webinar/eBook release/product announcement at this time of year”? Time to re-evaluate. Because if your campaigns, events, and programs aren’t fostering two-way connection with your audience (AKA–not you just spewing information at them with no regard for what they actually are wanting at this time), then you need a major revamp.

Here’s the bottom line: Your current marketing playbook cannot look exactly the same as it did two years ago. If you’re still using 2019’s playbook, we hope the above marketing rules help you rethink your strategy in a way that works for you. Nobody’s playbook should look the same anymore. Which means you need to get to work on writing your own 2021 playbook for your brand and your goals.