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Global B2B marketing is moving online, but one size (still) doesn’t fit all. Here’s how to optimize your post-COVID strategy through the lens of three key markets.

With trade fairs cancelled and sales teams working from home, B2B marketing has been forced to move online. COVID has accelerated a pre-existing trend, but decision-making is still heavily influenced by cultural factors. For global B2B marketing to succeed, understanding your target audience is critical.

A study from Harvard Business Review found that the number of B2B decision-makers has grown from 5.4 to 6.8. This adds further complexity to a decision-making process that’s already deeply affected by different international attitudes to collaboration and hierarchy. Changing demographics also mark a significant shift, with growing millennial and female participation. 

What does all this mean for your global B2B marketing? We’ve analyzed the current state of play in three key markets to identify the top trends you should incorporate into your strategy.

GERMANY

CHANNEL STRATEGY

Germany is the land of the trade fair. Before COVID, there were 160–180 major events every year – more than anywhere else in Europe. Now, only 20–30% of B2B buyers are open to in-person contact with suppliers.

However, differences exist between SMEs and large enterprises, customer service and sales, and even between industries. For example, banking and finance firms are embracing online communication. Over 71% of B2B decision-makers in this sector believe it’s an effective way to reach new customers. In the retail sector, fewer than 60% of respondents feel the same way. Although this is still a majority, it suggests greater resistance within B2B retail than in banking.

CONTENT STRATEGY

So how can you maximize the impact of online B2B content in Germany? Promote your experts with detailed bios and formal photography – across blogs, web content and even presentations. German teams prefer decisions to be made by experts in the relevant subject area. They also favour a more formal style, based on authority and clear roles. Introducing your experts builds trust and includes them in the decision-making process.

German translators often have to tone down enthusiastic English marketing texts. There is a general trend towards more informal content, but salesy copy can come across as insincere and unreliable. Facts and figures help German readers make up their own minds. Steer clear of direct comparisons to competitors though, as they’re illegal.

TARGET AUDIENCE

Germany’s worker participation laws arguably set the tone for debate and decision-making. Companies with more than five employees in Germany may have a ‘Betriebsrat’ (works council), with substantial powers. Like union membership, participation varies by industry. This traditional system allows workers to challenge authority within a formal framework. Empower your advocates to champion you with clear, easily accessible arguments. And stay on top of audience research to understand what matters to them most.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • German B2B audiences want to hear from the experts. Establish your credentials and then lay out the facts. Create strong biographies with formal photos and lots of case studies.
  • Adapt your content and include plenty of facts and figures from reputable sources. Don’t neglect your brand voice though. Your content must be recognizable, while also culturally appropriate.
  • Listen carefully to stay up to date with COVID-related changes in customer behaviour.

CHINA

CHANNEL STRATEGY

A generic global B2B marketing strategy won’t work in China. You’ll need to adopt a highly tailored approach.

E-commerce and social media are key. Almost 80% of consumers shop online and they expect to do so for work. Email ranks behind phones, SMS and fax. This trend has only accelerated during the pandemic. In fact, almost all B2B decision-makers believe this new sales model is more effective.

The role of WeChat is hard to overstate. It’s China’s largest social network, and its companion app WeChat Work provides video conferencing and a centralized lead directory. Before the pandemic, Chinese businesspeople would scan each other’s QR codes instead of exchanging business cards. 

If you’re planning a video call, Google Meet and Zoom have been banned. Facetime and Skype do work, but the call quality is often poor and Facetime requires an iOS device. This is not the norm in China – Android enjoys a 78% market share. By contrast, WeChat and Voov from Tencent both offer international accounts and reliable connections.

Another key platform is Q&A site Zhihu. It’s similar to Quora, with over 220 million users. It was initially invite-only and enjoys a high percentage of well-educated professionals. Amazon Web Services regularly answers questions on the site, such as “How will 5G change cloud services?”

LinkedIn is one of the few unblocked Western sites. It boasts around 52 million Chinese users, but recently paused new sign-ups while it reviews compliance with local laws. 

Marketplaces are important for selling physical products. Alibaba has the biggest market share at 28%. Alibaba-owned 1688.com site also hosts foreign B2B sellers, including 3M, BASF, Dow Chemical and Mobil. Even smaller platforms have millions of users, so research the options for your sector. For example, HC360 and Cogobuy specialize in IT/telecoms.

TARGET AUDIENCE

China is a highly collectivist culture. This means that people prioritize the interests of the group, rather than the individual. Relationship building – in-person or online – is crucial. In fact, research has found that personal relationships are considered to be more important than company- or project-level loyalties. In other words, offering a great product or service isn’t enough. Investing time in getting to know your customers will pay dividends, even when those contacts switch employers.

How can you get to know your customers? Social media is a key tool for B2B marketers, including for fast and personalized customer service. For more on social platforms in China, have a look at our blog

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Online marketing is the norm in China for B2B and B2C. Help your customers to understand your product with detailed stats and information.
  • Offer prompt, personalized customer service on a range of channels. Social media and e-commerce are two sides of the same coin.
  • Consider the importance of relationships when choosing text and images, e.g. by increasing the number of group shots in your content.

RUSSIA

TARGET AUDIENCE

In Russia, Generation Pu is taking over the workforce. Named after President Putin, this demographic is known elsewhere as millennials. And they’re bringing their own attitudes and behaviours with them. As well as being more patriotic and religious, research has also found that they’re more risk-averse than other generations.

Uncertainty avoidance has long been a strong feature of Russian culture, scoring 95/100 on the Hofstede scale. (Geert Hofstede is a social psychologist who pioneered a popular system for measuring cultural traits.) Russians generally favour high levels of context and background information.

CONTENT STRATEGY

In B2B marketing, this means you should provide detailed information so your prospects have the facts and figures to hand when they need them. Think case studies, explainer articles and data sheets. Localization is also a must, as Russia has one of the lowest English proficiency levels in Europe.

CHANNEL STRATEGY

Most people use search engines to research new brands, with a 52%/45% split between Google and local platform Yandex. (For more about Yandex SEO, see our blog.) However, 42% of internet users start their search on social media. And for B2B, that means YouTube.

The Russian government has threatened to block YouTube for allegedly censoring content. However, since over 84% of Russians use the platform, it seems unlikely that Russia will follow China’s example. 91% of marketers feel that video has become more important during the pandemic, with viewing figures expected to continue rising.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Demographics in Russia are shifting. A new generation of B2B decision-makers is bringing with it new attitudes and behaviours. Staying on top of audience research is crucial.
  • Russian audiences tend to avoid ambiguity and will look for detailed briefing information. Providing this upfront will provide reassurance about the quality of your product or service.
  • Video usage is continuing to grow, including for B2B.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The COVID pandemic has accelerated the move to digital in global B2B marketing. Each country has progressed, relative to its status before the outbreak. Behaviour shifts due to millennial workforces make business as usual even less viable. However, the underlying cultural trends, such as attitudes to uncertainty or hierarchy, take much longer to change. That’s why we recommend audience profiling as the foundation of any localized market strategy.

Whether you have a full local office, a sales rep or no one at all, we can help you successfully improve performance in your international markets. If you need advice on how to approach global B2B marketing, please get in touch. Across digital, language and audience insights, our team would be delighted to help.