B2B marketers are almost universally relieved to be turning their calendars over to 2021. 2020 has been a difficult year in many respects, though there have been some noteworthy bright points.
But what should marketers expect from 2021, particularly if they market globally? What does the online environment look like for B2B global digital marketing, digital usage, and social media activity across the globe?
Fortunately, we have enough data to be reasonably sure about several aspects of 2021 already.
Here’s what the data forecasts:
Internet Usage is Increasingly Mobile.
There is more activity on mobile devices than on desktops now. Per research from September 2020, device usage breaks out accordingly:
- 50.2% via mobile phones
- 47.1% via desktops and laptops
- 2.6% via tablets
- 0.06% via other devices (such as gaming consoles)
This has significant consequences for B2B marketers. Mobile integration needs to be a priority in 2021, though for many B2B marketers, it’s been a priority for most of 2020.
The most obvious impact of this is that websites must be mobile-friendly. A good starting pointing is to check your website’s URL in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. That will give you a quick assessment of how well your page performs on mobile devices. Google’s tool will also give you a few specific suggestions about what needs to be done technically to your page so it can be more usable on mobile devices.
That’s a good first step, but it is not the last step. These other aspects of the mobile experience also need to be addressed:
- Page Speed (Site Load Times)
- Image Optimization
- Mobile-First Website Layout
- Content Readability
This aspect of the user experience may become more or less of a priority for global marketers depending on where their campaigns run, because mobile connection speeds around the globe can vary so much. The chart below, from my recent webinar, Reach Global Markets Through Social Media and Creative Content Development, may be helpful to access how fast the connection speed is for your target audience.
Internet Usage is Increasingly Social.
According to recent research from Datareportal, “social media accounts for more than one-third of our connected time. We now spend an average of almost 2½ hours per day on social platforms.”
Social media usage and adoption has grown in the last year. And people aren’t just commenting on photos posted by their friends, either. The use of social media for brand research has increased considerably. “Worldwide an average of 44% of respondents ages 16 – 64 use social media websites for brand research” according to Datareportal.
Oddly enough, US users are actually less likely to find and research brands on social media. Only 32% of US consumers use social media for brand research, putting the US in 35th place among nations reporting how people research brands globally.
Even among B2B buyers, social media has become a top channel for researching brands, as the graphic below illustrates:
The B2B Buyer Journey is Increasingly Self-Directed.
The B2B buyer’s journey – even in 2020 – was largely self-directed. Per the chart below, 27% of buyers’ time is spent researching independently online and 18% is spent researching independently offline. That’s a total of 45% of buyers’ time spent in self-directed research. Compare that to the mere 17% of their time they spend meeting with potential suppliers.
B2B buyers now spend more than 250% more time researching products on their own as they spend meeting with potential suppliers.
This highlights exactly how important it is for B2B companies to make it easy for buyers to find and consume their content, whether that is via the company website (via mobile device or desktop) or on social media. B2B buyers now self-educate, and B2B marketers need to help facilitate that.
If B2B decision makers are spending so much time self-educating themselves, exactly where and how are they doing their research? Here’s your answer, per research cited earlier by Datareportal. This list shows the percentage of B2B decision makers who say they discover new products or services through each of these channels or activities:
- 42.9% Supplier Websites
- 40.6% Search Engine Results
- 37.6% Video Sites (E.G. YouTube)
- 36.6% Social Media Websites
- 36.4% Printed Newspapers and Magazines
- 36.3% Online Newspapers and Magazines
- 35.9% Online Advertising
- 34.7% Blogs
- 34.0% Television Ads
- 28.1% Radio Ads
Site Structure Needs to Reflect Regional Language Use.
It’s clear that if B2B buyers are going to be doing so much self-directed research, B2B marketers need to make that research as easy as possible for them. Here, global marketers have a mission-critical priority that local or regional marketers don’t have to worry about as much: Language.
Your customer education materials must be in the language of your prospective customers.
This brings up two primary issues:
- The reader or researchers’ experience of your content
- The search engine optimization for that content in multiple languages
Fundamentally, both of these issues are about data structuring. But the execution of an optimal user experience can be tricky; we’ve seen vendor websites where the page content was optimized for readers’ language, but the navigation was still in English.
Fortunately, it is possible to fix these problems, or even to work around them under a solution can be brought online. For one of our clients, whose site has fairly poor language optimization, we’ve added more calls to action to contact sales. That way, even if a buyer is looking at product data in the wrong language, we can make it easy for them to learn about the product – in their own language – almost instantly.
Optimizing multilingual content for search engines is a bit more complex. Here are some of the best practices we recommend:
- Keep the content for each language on separate web addresses. I.e., don’t mix languages on the same web page.
- Avoid side-by-side language translations.
- Consider cross-linking each language version of a page.
- Use robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site.
- If the content is identical or very similar across regional web pages – such as English variation content on a German website – utilize the rel-canonical tag to alert Google to the preferred destination.
B2B marketers will also need to focus on their site’s structure, so content can be served to the right person in the right language. The chart below, borrowed from Google support pages, outlines how to best achieve this:
Content marketing best practices continue to be important.
This is another effect of self-guided B2B buyers’ journeys; now that content supports so much of the sales process, it’s critical for B2B marketers to develop the right content so it can be shown to the right person at the right time.
Here are the types of content B2B marketers tend to use the most, per research from The Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs.
And here are the distribution channels marketers have used the most.
Note how social media has finally beaten out email as B2B marketers’ primary distribution channel, if only by 2%. Social media, email, and the company’s website are clearly the leaders when it comes to distribution. No other channels come close.
Successful B2B Marketers Measure Performance.
This isn’t a new trend for 2021, but it has become more prominent recently. If you remember hack even a couple of years ago, most marketers could not yet tie revenue directly back to their social media work, or even to their content marketing. That’s changed a lot, though marketing attribution is still a challenge for most firms.
What B2B marketers measure is also important. The metrics shown in the chart below are currently used the most for content marketing.
Measurement is especially important – and complex – for marketers who manage accounts globally. What works well in one country or region may not perform nearly as well in another. So not only do global digital marketing campaigns have to be tracked, but they need to be tracked by region and/or country.
This can create some headaches (IP addresses don’t always exactly reflect where users truly are), but there are ways to make it work. Even free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console have impressive capabilities and are often enough to accurately track results.
The Effects of COVID-19 Will Linger.
Our last point reflects a new condition in B2B marketing, one that most of us are still trying to figure out completely. COVID-19 was the single greatest factor shaping 2020, and its effects will continue well into 2021 if not beyond. Those effects absolutely seeped into online behaviors, including how B2B marketers can connect to their customers during the pandemic.
Here are some of the changes COVID-19 has brought to the online space, according to recent research:
- 43% spending longer on social media
- 42% spending longer on messaging services
- 36% spending more time on mobile apps
Of course, none of that reflects the economic consequences of COVID-19, which are still unfolding. Some industries have been left almost untouched economically, while others, like travel, have been devastated. We’ll see how things shake out in 2021. It’s possible that once the vaccine is distributed, there could be a substantial burst of economic activity.
B2B Global Digital Marketing in 2021 and Beyond
B2B marketing is constantly evolving. That’s what makes it so challenging, and so interesting. B2B marketers have to be constantly learning – learning new technologies, learning new B2B marketing strategies, learning from their own data so they can adjust their campaigns. In this sense, 2021 won’t be any different than any prior year.