In late Q1 of this year, when trade shows first canceled and sales reps faced travel bans, many tech marketers reallocated resources to digital efforts. For example, user exchanges went virtual. Sponsorship dollars went toward social media ads. And email marketing became the primary channel for prospect communication.

After just one quarter of online-only marketing, an overwhelming 97% of IT marketing executives said they had “definitely” or “somewhat” proved the value of digital marketing to executives, per ARPR’s 2020 Tech Marketing Report: Marketing in a Post-COVID World.

This is in stark contrast to marketers’ pre-COVID challenges in proving ROI. For example, the 2020 CMO Survey, a partnership between Deloitte, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association released in February, reported that 65% of respondents hadn’t been able to use quantitative metrics to demonstrate the impact of marketing.

Finally! The past six months has fundamentally shifted the B2B buying landscape from a traditional to a digital model, giving tech marketing departments the resources and recognition they deserve. And while this might be to the sales team’s chagrin, the trend is poised to continue for two key reasons:

  1. Inability to mine, wine & dine prospects in-person at tradeshows 
  2. Obsolete budget line items are being reallocated to marketing departments who are proving they can do more for the sales funnel with less.

R.I.P Tradeshows

Traditionally, IT enterprises have relied on tradeshows to source leads and engage existing prospects and customers alike. In a 2017 Bizzabo study, 31% of marketers said events were the single-most effective marketing channel. 

Fast forward to ARPR’s survey in June, when 7% of tech marketers said that their companies had already decided NOT to attend conferences and expos in 2021, and another 49% were unsure.This means that over 50% of IT companies could forego next year’s trade show circuit all together. 

And as for the new “virtual conferences?” So far, data indicates that attendees and brands aren’t finding them as valuable. A recent Promoleaf poll revealed that 70% of participants actually prefer to attend conferences in-person, in part because networking virtually just doesn’t parlay well over a screen. If this sentiment continues, we could see virtual conferences also fade in the coming months.

According to the 2018 Marketing Spend Decision Report, B2B brands said they allocate roughly half of their marketing budget to exhibitions. So, without event participation (either in-person or virtual), technology companies are freeing up significant financial resources.

Reallocating (a lot of) Marketing Dollars Online

The Marketing in a Post-COVID World Report asked tech marketers how they would reallocate those tens of thousands of earmarked conference dollars. Their response? Content marketing and paid digital ads tied for #1. These are both smart reallocations. Here’s why:

  • Buyers are simply online more. With less professional and personal distractions, like commutes, buyers are spending more of their days online, giving marketers ample opportunity to reach them and retarget them again and again. 
  • Virtual-only buying cycles require more content. Since in-person touchpoints have been grounded (literally), and direct mail isn’t a viable option given remote workplaces, a higher volume of content is required to attract and nurture prospects. While SEO-rich earned and owned content is important to fill the top of the funnel, the sales team needs creative enablement pieces to help close deals over email.
  • Ads are more affordable than ever. Many companies are going out of business, while other marketing teams are faced with budget cuts. As a result, there’s lower competition and cheaper ad inventory – making this the perfect time to test new messaging & targeting. 

Just like technology enterprises are realizing the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of remote workforces, so too are they beginning to appreciate the evolved B2B buying cycle. As a result, online prospecting and nurturing is here to stay. Further, we can expect 2021 marketing and sales budgets to look very different than years past and departments to be staffed differently as these trends continue long after COVID-19 subsides.

From business development to finance to HR, Anna Ruth wears many hats as CEO. But her first love is working with tech companies to guide their marketing and PR strategies.

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