2020 was a crazy year. There’s no way to overstate it. 

Looking back on this past year, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have predicted just how much the account-based marketing landscape would change. Gone are those long caffeine-fueled days of rubbing shoulders with our peers at tradeshows, and with that, all those badge scans and meaningful connections with potential buyers have vanished as well. In addition, third-party cookies are on their last leg with their inevitable demise right around the corner – making website visitor tracking more difficult. To top things off, Google removed Network Domain & Service Provider from their reporting. 

In this article, we will talk through some trends we’ve seen as a result of both the pandemic and larger changes in the account-based marketing (ABM) landscape as a whole, and hopefully provide some workable solutions that can help your team not just survive these changing times but thrive!

Here are some of the overall trends we saw in 2020:

Digital, virtual, online

With tradeshows, industry workshops, cocktail parties, and all other in-person networking events canceled until further notice, marketers are turning to digital and virtual solutions to keep their brands top of mind and drive inbound leads. 

In response, the U.S. has seen an overwhelming digital shift, with an estimated 70% of event marketing companies moving some or all of their events to an online medium such as a virtual trade show or webinar, according to Statista. Furthermore, many companies reported increased website traffic since the lockdowns began in March of 2020. This would indicate that B2B buyers are looking to digital assets to answer their questions and find new technologies as opposed to going to tradeshows.

In general, today’s B2B buyers are consuming more digital content than ever before. With that, it’s important to be able to measure, quantify, and track these behaviors to continue to power our ABM strategies that we worked so hard to create. Leveraging first-party intent data gives you everything you need to capitalize on the major shift toward online content consumption.

The rise of digital ads

While digital ads aren’t a new technology, their popularity has jumped this past year due in large part to the fact that for many companies, online advertising has become a primary source of generating inbound leads and driving greater brand awareness. In fact, research from eMarketer indicates that U.S. B2B organizations spent over $8.14 billion on digital ads this year – a staggering 22.6% increase from 2019. While this massive growth is expected to slow down in 2021, digital ad spend is still expected to grow by a healthy 10.9% in 2021. 

However, with third-party cookies on their deathbed and more people than ever working from home, many traditional targeting and analytics tools will become ineffective – paving the way for ad waste to run rampant. If B2B marketers want to maintain a high degree of granularity in this new age of digital ads, they will have to adopt an IP-based B2B targeting strategy that will allow them to identify and target B2B companies even with most teams working from home.

Budgets and priorities have changed

Yes, some budgets have been rolled back due to the pandemic. There’s no getting around that. However, one bright spot in all this is that overall, B2B marketing budgets have remained relatively intact. According to Statista, of the companies surveyed, 81% said they either increased their marketing budgets or kept them the same when compared to 2019. Looking ahead to 2021, the future is bright. A survey of CMOs conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business found that companies expect to increase their digital marketing budgets by 8.4% over the next year. 

While this paints a nice picture for the future of the digital marketing landscape, it’s important to note that spending may not be as loose as it once was. Now every dollar must be accounted for, and more companies than ever are looking to technologies that can prove high rates of return and save companies money.

Looking to the future

While we all remain optimistic that one day (hopefully soon) we will once again be able to bask in the beautiful fluorescent glow of a tradeshow booth or long night at a company cocktail event, one thing is certain – 2020 was a very different year than the one we thought we would have. 

Companies that have already adopted an ABM strategy will continue to enhance their efforts, and those that have not made the leap will soon follow. As we enter into this new era of ABM, we will rise to adapt to whatever new challenges 2021 has in store for us.

Stephen Oachs
Founder & CEO of KickFire