I think most of us are surprised that COVID-19 conversations are still relevant, having hung our hopes on 2021 as the year things would move closer to “normal,” even if it was a completely new normal. But here we are, still working on being agile in a world that has felt very chaotic.
Not only is the pandemic still relevant, it has permanently changed nearly every business-to-business technology brand in the world. It has changed how technology brands position themselves in the market, how they communicate and connect with buyers and even how they develop and launch new products.
First to act will be last to leave
From a communications perspective, it was easy to see which technology brands were leaning in to change and which weren’t. Cloud software companies and mobility applications were some of the first to recognize that the pandemic presented a business opportunity to move customers to innovate and adopt new platforms for a newly-remote and distributed workforce. Then came connectivity and engagement solutions such as telemedicine and video conferencing to support the sudden shift away from in-person interactions.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '21 Technology PR Magazine
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As it became apparent that consumers were staying put at home, logistics and delivery companies stormed onto the scene with new platforms that enabled businesses of all kinds to move products through the supply chain and to the last mile, straight to their buyer’s doorsteps. A business model previously dominated by Amazon swiftly became standard for moving both business and consumer products around the world, backed by the latest data-driven, AI and automation technology. And, eCommerce technology brands, already well established, rolled out new features to make online shopping a permanent habit for businesses and consumers alike.
As we settled into the routines of a new work environment, people across all walks of life began to feel the effects of burnout and stress, as well as the impact of being confined to a smaller work/life social circle. Workforce engagement, mental health platforms and online training soon expanded to fill the gaps in productivity and wellness-related services and solutions.
And, finally, technology companies catering to industries that relied on in-person interactions brought forth new health and safety technology like temperature scanners, traffic monitors, contact tracing and in-school COVID-19 testing platforms.
Branding beyond the immediate need
What we all thought—or hoped—pandemic-wise might be a short window of opportunity to build the brand value of these technologies has turned into a long-term play. As the pandemic permanently changes the way we think about the nature of work, initiatives around digital transformation, hybrid work infrastructures, secure remote access, connectivity and more have become critical elements of immediate technology planning, as opposed to future technology goals. And technology buyers are getting hit from every side with sales and marketing from current vendors as well as technology brands that were forced to jump into the conversation for fear of being left behind.
Technology brands that made a significant marketing push early on in the pandemic now need to consider how to maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded marketplace. This is especially difficult as buying behaviors continue to be erratic and late-entry competitors start to catch up. Plus, technology buyers that made fast decisions out of necessity may now be reconsidering the technologies and brands that they embrace, long-term.
Now’s the ideal time to step back and re-evaluate your brand strategy. With all the changes, how well do you still know your buyers? What opportunities or threats exist in the market that weren’t there two years ago? How will you tell your brand story to maintain and build on the success you had during the pandemic?
Re-evaluate to maintain relevance
To ensure that your marketing and sales efforts continue to be relevant going forward, consider running your executive and communication teams through a new strategic integrated PR and marketing planning process. Redefine your business goals for the next three to five years and outline your key buyer personas, paying special attention to new buyers or buyers that are no longer relevant. Assess each persona to define changes in buying behavior and why or how their buyer’s journey has changed.
Ask your team to walk through new or revised buying channels and outline significant influencers and barriers to adoption. Are your buyers more or less apt to trust certain industry experts, read certain media, or respond to traditional or digital communications? Are they attending live events, or have they moved to virtual engagements?
If you’re unsure of too many of the answers or if you have more than a few new buyer segments, consider performing a formal audience assessment, such as path-to-purchase research which can help lay out the behaviors and the steps your stakeholders take as they progress along the buyer’s journey.
Don’t be surprised if the buyers you thought you knew pre-pandemic have changed significantly. The entire point of slowing down to re-evaluate is to uncover these changes and reposition your brand to be successful. Similarly, you may need to implement change communications with internal teams to reinforce how your buyers have shifted, shake people out of their old ways and get them to embrace new sales and marketing tactics.
But, once you understand the new landscape and get your teams onboard, it will be much easier to define the PR, marketing and digital programs that will help you engage with your buyers, effectively articulate your brand value and connect with real purpose.
Technology brands that take a step back and re-evaluate now will be able to make more meaningful connections with existing customers and prospects, reinforce their value as technology providers and build stronger, longer-lasting partnerships. And remember, you don’t have to tackle this alone. Padilla’s role is to guide B2B technology companies through the integrated planning process. We do this in partnership with all our B2B technology clients at different stages of growth and change, from start-ups to Fortune 500 brands. Your journey and purpose are unique, but leveraging tried and true brand planning methodologies can help you quickly re-adjust to meet the needs of today’s customers and solidify your relevance in the market.
Amy Fisher, APR, is a Vice President in Padilla’s Technology Practice focusing on integrated B2B marketing, PR and digital communication across health, industrial, food and enterprise technology.
Nov. 14, 2021, by Joe Honick
Ms. Fisher is a wise, articulate and excellent adviser here. It is these assets that raise another question I'm sure she too would come to wonder about: are the agency personnel who survived the pandemic and who deal with actual and potential clients up to what she counsels here so well? It's a human question. My sense and experience are that clients who have come through both emotional and commercial uncertainties may well look for some sense of balance from those like professionals in our field who have confronted the same thing. Being able in these ways require careful and sensitive attention.