Traditional B2B marketing plans were scratched this year—shifting many ad dollars to digital channels.
Prior to COVID-19, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reported that B2B marketers who participated in events spent about 40% of their budgets on trade shows, which was five times more than online marketing spending.
This year, trade shows and exhibitions are not taking place—and digital B2B ad spending is growing.
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Without events, B2B companies invested in digital marketing
The first half of 2020 was all about pivoting. Prior to the outbreak, B2B companies were running online campaigns and doing account-based marketing—but without physical events or meetings, digital efforts became even more vital.
“Everything is digital now,” said Toni Clayton-Hine, EY’s CMO for the Americas. “And because of that, we actually have more information to help us create and develop user journeys.”
With digital marketing, there are many ways to attract leads and track their customer journeys. EY created a series of virtual events with helpful information relevant to the chaotic first months of the pandemic. One of their webcasts on the CARES Act had more than 18,000 registrants.
Even though professionals had hoped that events would come back by the fall or the end of the year, large events in early 2021 are already being cancelled.
CES, one of the world’s largest tech events, cancelled their in-person 2021 event, saying it will be all virtual. Last year, more than 171,000 people attended the event.
“With the growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it is not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person,” announced the Consumer Technology Association.
Professionals will not be ready to return to large events until there is assurance that it will be safe. For now, many marketers are focusing on leveling up their B2B content by producing the most-consumed content asset types during the pandemic—webinars, videos, eBooks, and reports.
Digital isn’t the only option for ad dollars to be diverted to—but it is the most optimal. Digital allows advertisers to buy ads efficiently, understand buyers better, and understand their campaign performances accurately. Alternatives—such as print—can’t compete.
B2B print advertising was already in decline, but COVID-19 accelerated the trend.The number of advertisers buying B2B print started the year down 13% due to pre-existing market trends. With the pandemic, the number of advertisers fell 47% YoY in June.
Without confidence in print and in-person events, ad dollars quickly went to digital.
Webinar ads saw massive growth as they replaced in-person events. Between January and June, the number of companies running webinar ads on B2B websites was up 165%.
Mirroring this growth, digital ad spend across B2B websites saw massive growth. In the early days of the pandemic, weekly ad spend was up 35% year-over-year.
As live events, direct mail, and other popular B2B marketing tactics were rendered not available during the pandemic, digital picked up the slack.
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